How Films Influence Our Notions of Death and the After-world

I think it was in 1993 or 1994 that I had a birthday party screening the one and only 1988 cult classic “Beetlejuice.” (A 7 year old’s birthday party with Beetlejuice, and that too in Turkey, weird family I know…). As an adult, I still love this film, and not only because of its unique premise, but also how the usually ghastly topic of death is portrayed in such a humorous way. Until then in cinema, we had not considered that the dead could be a sweet couple from the suburbs, or that the after-world could be a waiting room not too different than a dentist’s. There are very few films that have actually tackled death in this satirical way, and maybe this is also why the film obtained such cult status over the years.

Bhoot World Mein Teen Cheezo ki Kami HaiThe 2008 Hindi film Boothnath starring Amitabh Bachchan followed a similar path, albeit with less humor. It was successful in normalizing death and the dead however, just as Beetlejuice had done. In Boothnaath, the dead was a grouchy but good-hearted old man (based on Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost in fact), and the after-world was basically an Indian government office.


There have been a few other Indian films that have helped disseminate some of the stigma attached to death, for example the 2013 Telugu horror comedy Prema Katha Chitram and the 2012 Bengali film Hemlock Society. Rather than using satire to display a fantasized and ironically ‘normal’ death, these films mocked suicide by suggesting suicide, thereby bringing attention to high suicide rates among youth in India.

2012 Bengali film "Hemlock Society"

It’s rather sad that this humorous and satirical take on death and what await us afterward, cannot become more mainstream in cinema. There is a plethora of films and TV shows releasing daily that remind us of the horror that we normally associate with death– serial killers, revengeful murders, painful accidents, and after it’s over, zombies, vampires, ghosts and demons to haunt us and give us sleepless nights. If you notice, death is the main thread in all horror products. I don’t think we even realize the extent to which the big screen influences how we think of death. If only more cinema could take death as lightly as it often does life, and remove some of the stigmas and subconscious fears usually associated with it.

Also read, Suicide in Indian Films.


Prema Katha Chitram Review

Meaning “Strange Love Story,” Prema Katha Chitram is a Telugu horror romantic comedy. We are seeing more and more films combining genres that are generally thought to be opposite of one another. Go Goa Gone, another horror comedy, pulled it off successfully. In this film, in addition to horror comedy, there are also romantic/dramatic elements. Prema Katha Chitram is also a good example of irony because a serious topic like death is discussed in a light way. These are the must have elements of a thriller– irony, and trickery; a character pretending to be something else.

The film is about three youngsters– Sudheer, Nanditha, Praveen– who want to die and go to a guesthouse to commit suicide. Along the way, they pick up another guy– Saptagiri. The night that they arrive at the guesthouse, Sudheer and Nanditha tell their story about why they want to die. Sudheer feels sorry for Nanditha and feels that she should not die. So Sudheer and Praveen make a plan to delay suicide for three days so that they can convince Nanditha to live.

There is also a backdrop to the film, where the guest house is shown as a place where a murder took place. We are also told that the owner of the guesthouse will be arriving soon.

All of the actors use their real names in the film.

I became interested in this film because the plot sounds slightly similar to a Bengali dark comedy called Hemlock Society.

There are a few good twist in the film that I won’t tell you about. It’s not a good idea to read detailed reviews of films with suspense as they spoil all the excitement. The official synopsis of the film already gives away too much in my opinion. So please watch the film without reading too many reviews. In fact, if the film sounds interesting to you, stop reading this right now!

Lead actors are very good, their acting is natural. The actress has a very innocent look and expressive eyes and she is immensely talented. If a girl with innocent looks hadn’t been selected for this role, I don’t think the film would have worked. So I think that Nanditha was the perfect choice for this film. I’m also happy to see an actress who is not very thin.

The actor, Sudheer, is handsome and charismatic. I really like his gait. Pause the scene where he goes to steal a car for Nanditha. I really like that moment when he walks toward the car. His face is also very expressive. His role takes a back seat in the second half of the movie because Nanditha starts dominating with her performance.

Praveen is a good actor and has an important role in the story. Saptagiri– the film’s comedian– was a bit over the top in a few scenes but did provide effective comedic relief in the film. I like how he wears a skeleton outfit before committing suicide.

The main fear element of the film is not a new concept for Telugu cinegoers. The possessed woman is a favorite characer in Indian horror films and shows up again and again. How many horror thrillers owe their success to Manichitrathazhu? This familiar idea was shown in a fresh way in Prema Katha Chitram but it didn’t work too much for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m all too familiar with the Chandramukhi character. I only experienced surprise and thrill at the first transformation of the character. It was no longer thrilling after that. So the horror was weak in my opinion but the film is more about the comedy, so it’s okay.

Something else I like about the film is that the girl is crazy about the boy. Usually it’s the other way around. In this film we have a girl who is head over heels for a guy and has been wanting to be with him for a long time. So there is this built up tension, the desire to complete her love story. But every time she gets close to achieving it, she is forced to part from him.

In Prema Katha Chitram, Nanditha is very much the hero. Her acting and character dominates others in every single scene. Although she plays one character, she had to deliver two different types of performances and she excelled in both of them. It’s not easy to play the role of an innocent and the role of a bloodthirsty avenger equally convincingly. Nanditha is quite impressive.

Background music is very good and arouses curiosity. The songs of the film are very nice, probably one of the top albums of the year. The songs are very much a part of the film. As I’m sure most of you know, the Telugu film routine is five meaningless item songs that have nothing to do with the script. Most of the songs of Prema Katha Chitram are regular scenes taking the story further. The best song of the film is Kothagunna Haye. Even if you don’t watch the film, you should have this song in your playlist. And the picturization of the song is perfect. It couldn’t have been done better.

There is only one action sequence and it’s at the very end of the film. The action was adequate.

Comedy is distributed throughout the movie. There was nothing rib trickling but the dose of the comedy was enough to keep the film light-hearted. I especially like the scene where they go to a supermarket to buy equipment for suicide and the shop owner tries to help them.

There is a great scene in the film, after the characters have arrived at the guesthouse, where Sudheer sits next to himself and has a conversation. It’s a brilliant cinematic expression of someone struggling with himself, what he feels and what he thinks. The depressed, dark part of him wears all black, puffs on a cigarette and taunts and ridicules his other part. Isn’t this what we really go through when we are experiencing low self esteem? We fight with our dark side. The best part of this scene is that it implies that our dark side is not the true us.

The ending of the film was endearing and sweet.

Prema Katha Chitram is an entertaining film, a little different for Telugu cinema and a good time pass. I do recommend seeing it once.