Bite nights!

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Christopher Lee as Dracula

There’s a new alpha male stalking the matinee arclights. He’s tall, mysterious, saturnine — and can bite. Yes, 2012 is the year of the vampire for cinema. Mind you, this year he won’t just be the classic bloodsucking monster from a gothic horror tale. He’ll be sexy, goofy, handsome, ghoulish — and even desi. You’ve just seen Johnny Depp as the part-comic, part-creepy Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows. Up next are The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Underworld: New Dawn from Hollywood. And at least two Bollywood films that promise to introduce the concept of genre horror in Hindi movies. 

Hollywood has always been besotted with vampire flicks — from Nosferatu and Christopher Lee’s Hammer horror Dracula classics to Francis Ford Coppola’s period masterpiece Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the ultra-slick Blade series — but it’s the Hindi films that’s opened the crypt of curiosity. In the reckoning is Shantanu Dhar’s horror novelThe Company Red that will soon be made into a slick flick by Bollywood director Satish Kaushik who got interested in making a movie out of the book two years ago when Shantanu was still writing it. 

“It’s a brand new idea, very original and workable in Bollywood. I remember my childhood days when we would flock to Chanakya Theatre in Delhi to watch Dracula films,” says Satish. We asked him about the secret to the formula which would make vampire-themed storylines a success in Bollywood. “If there are takers for Twilight and Dark Shadows, there’s no reason why the audience won’t accept Indian vampire films. The plots are dramatic with a heightened sense of intrigue. This works well in Bollywood,” he says. 

We hear that Shahid Kapoor might be part of the cast. “He (Shahid) has shown interest after reading the script. I’ve also made director duo Abbas-Mustan read it. Nothing is finalized yet. Setting up this film is a lot of work. Studios have to be allocated, the budget has to be chalked out. We want to take it to the level of a Mission Impossible film,” says the director. 

The book itself makes use of scientific premise while talking about vampires. Says author Shantanu, “To prevent the book’s plot from being reduced to absurdity, I actually sat with doctors to discuss the kind of genetic mutation among humans that would lead to vampirism.” 

Siddhartha M Jain, from whose stable came the concept-horror flick Ragini MMS, feels that the Indian audience is ready for vampires and zombies. “Everybody knows what a vampire is thanks to the Internet. Even in a small town like Rajkot, I have heard people say, ‘Haan, suna hai Dracula ke baare mein… khoon choosta hai…’

Siddhartha is now producing a film that he tentatively touts as a vampire movie. “It’s a Wake Up Sid meets Twilight and is called Bloody Veer.” And no, Ranbir Kapoor will not be playing the vampire. “It’s just a rumour. I am more interested in casting a new guy for the role,” says Siddhartha, who is ready with his ‘zomcom’ — a zombie comedy — Rock The Shaadi starring Abhay Deol and Genelia D’Souza. 

But then, vampires are a cultural lingua franca for cinema that resonates across all continents and all ages. The lore of the bloodsucker is steeped in Christian iconography and goes back centuries to tales of horror in medieval Europe. The story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was been inspired by the real-life account of Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian nobleman known for his cruelty. 

In cinema, the first so-called vampire films saw a scheming woman, played by Theda Bara, seducing gullible men. This was in 1915 and the movie was named A Fool Was There. However, our most famous and authentic portrayal of the supernatural villain was in Nosferatu made in Germany in 1922, directed by FW Murnau and starring Max Schrek as the hideous Count Orlock. This was an unlicensed adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. 

Dracula — the king of filmic vampires —has undergone many metamorphoses since then. From Bela Lugosi’s dark, brooding count to Christopher Lee’s skin-crawling monster and Gary Oldman’s tragic hero from Coppola’s film, the character has been distilled stylistically to suit the changing tastes of a worldwide audience. 

Today, you have Blade as the ruthless vampire hunter, whereas the upcoming Byzantium shows Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play mother-daughter Nosferatus on the prowl. Then, of course, there is Jim Jarmusch’s untitled vampire movie starring Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt

“We have to remember that Twilight isn’t the ‘beginning’ of the vampire saga,” says author Samit Basu, whose favourite vampire flick is Buffy The Vampire Slayer as it “celebrates the romance as well as exposes the silliness of it”. 

“The whole notion of romance, albeit dark, mixed with the feeling of impending doom makes the vampire franchise so appealing to young filmlovers. Dracula has been one of the most popular characters with adolescent girls. There’s a market for brooding, bionic, Heathcliff-like tragic heroes. And yes, I call the vampires heroes! Vampire films are the antithesis to romcoms. The whole concept of ‘vampires’ is such a safe option for filmmakers. Everyone’s looking for the next big thing — the next Harry Potter. Twilight filled that void. I feel, a lot of vampire films will be made in future. In publishing, the ‘in’ thing right now is ‘angels’. It’s the same with vampires on celluloid,” he adds. 

Sociologist Prasanta Ray feels that human beings’ love for the macabre is the main reason behind the popularity and sustenance of vampire flicks and other verticals of the horror genre. “Romans used to fight in the amphitheatre till one of the warriors used to die. Take a look at the boxing ring for example. The frenzy for violence is at its peak. Even women scream when their favourite fighter gets his opponent down by landing death-blows. Bloodshed, gore, all that’s repulsive, is inherent in our psychologies. But the whole notion of vampires is typically patriarchal. Most vampires are undying alpha males. Even if there are female vampires, they’re beaten up by the male vampire. As far as movies is concerned, Hollywood has already shown its inclination towards this favourite subject of theirs. I would love to see a Bengali vampire movie being made,” he says. 

Big fang theories 

Christopher Lee, known for portraying Count Dracula in a series of Hammer Film Productions, started his career with the same production company by playing the monster of Frankenstein 

It’s said that Bela Lugosi, who became famous for playing Dracula in the thirties, was buried wearing one of the Dracula capes. The original cape that he wore in the 1931 film is now owned by Universal Studios 

Before becoming Edward Cullen, Robert Pattinson played the role of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He rose to stardom after being offered the pivotal role of a vampire in the Twilight series 

In the 1993 film The Hunger, Catherine Denevue plays a vampire named Miriam Blaylock. In one scene, her character is shown wetting her white tee over her breast by spilling her drink and seducing Susan Sarandon, who plays a doctor, before digging her fangs into her 

In the Underworld series, Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, the leader of a group of Vampires, who is trying to fend off beasts like the Lycans. Selene is no fang-bearing monster but a kick-ass do-gooder in slick black tights and wielding weapons.

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