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.


Samsaaram Aarogyathinu Haanikaram Review

Samsaaram Aarogyathinu Haanikaram (Speaking is Injurious to Health) is a Malayalam romantic comedy starring Dulquer Salman and Nazriya Nazim.

The film is about Aravind (Dulquer) and Anjana (Nazriya). Aravind is a door-to-door salesman whose dream is to be an RJ. He is a great speaker and believes that people can solve any problem by speaking to one another. Anjana is a doctor who doesn’t like to speak much and believes that speaking too much creates unnecessary problems between people.

Their town is hit by a nasty virus (some variation of bird-swine flu it seems) that directly affects the vocal cords. People with the virus may lose their voice or may die. The Health Ministry determines that that the virus is being passed on from person to person through speaking. So the ministry bans speaking until a cure for the virus is found. So everyone is forced to communicate through other means.

Meanwhile, Aravind has the virus and visits the hospital where Anjana works for regular injections for treatment. They develop a friendship and end up making a bet about their different views on speaking. Aravind says that he can get two groups to stop fighting by simply talking to them. If he succeeds, Anjana has to be honest to her boyfriend about her likes and dislikes and speak to her step-mother as well. Will Aravind succeed?

This is the second film of this lead pair that I have seen. Previously, I saw Salala Mobiles which I had liked. I like SAH more however because it has a funnier, more interesting story. The comedy was very good, especially the scenes of the Health Minister and the scenes involving the two at-odd groups. I also loved the scene in which Aravind’s close friend has to ask the nurse where the ENT specialist is without speaking. I had a fun time watching the film. I found the idea and story very fresh. The Malayalam film industry seems to be good at this. They come up with new, different ideas that have never been used before and they can treat the story in both a serious and a comedic manner at the same time. So the story, despite not being very realistic, manages to hit some serious issues and manages to touch us. I saw a little bit of this in Salala Mobiles as well, but it was more prominent in this film and I think it was done well.

Dulquer Salman is so very charming in this film. I liked him in Salala Mobiles too, but in that film, he was a little underwhelming. His acting was a bit restrained, he seemed a little withdrawn and distant from his character. Whereas in this film, he is completely in character. He is vibrant and has perfect expressions and dialogue delivery. He is the star of the show. Despite the excellent performances from the supporting cast, I felt that Dulquer carried much of the film on his shoulders.

Contrary to Dulquer, I did not see any difference in Nazriya’s performance ┬áin this film from her performance in Salala Mobiles. I’ve noticed that Nazriya often has this slightly bored look on her face when she’s performing, as though the character is not intriguing her enough. And watching the bored Nazriya, I too felt bored during some of her scenes.

Overall, I recommend this film. I think you will enjoy the satire and the comedy. Watch it for the different story and for Dulquer’s performance. The film also has good dialogues. One I particularly enjoyed was “Some things happen when we try. Some things, no matter how much we try, don’t happen. Whether something happens or not, it’s all for good.”