The dead walk in Bollywood

The graphic novel may be India's first ever, but does it have anything original to say?

If you consider Zombie Talkies, touted to be India's first zombie graphic novel, as a serious 'zombie' work, then the comic book makes an important contribution to the lore of the undead. One of the most burning questions puzzling, plaguing most aficionados -- or to put it derogatively, fans -- of this popular genre, is that of the origin -- how did the zombie apocalypse occur?

So far, most answers have suggested that the first zombie was created either through witchcraft and voodoo (as seen in the Victor Halperin's 1932 film White Zombie), or through a radioactive contamination from a space probe that explodes in the Earth's atmosphere (as indicated in George Andrew Romero's seminal 1968 film The Night of the Living Dead). Other answers have ranged from a military experiment gone awry (in films like The Return of the Living Dead 3), to a virus created by multinationals (the Resident Evil franchise).

It is here that Zombie Talkies makes a contribution, albeit contrived. Believe it or not, the zombies here are created when a Bollywood film director gets a creepy-looking saadhu to utter a few mantras for a film shoot. The saadhu who is literally picked up, when the film's pujari is unable to deliver his lines, warns the cast that his mantra can have unintended consequences, making this more like a Ramsay flick in a comic book format than a zombie work. The foreword, however, somewhat apologetically mentions that the attempt has been to keep the storyline simple.

Here, the first ever zombie film in Hindi is being made, when real zombies attack the area. The protagonist is a selfish wuss who in the end steps up. There are what seems to be, a few Bollywood inside jokes. The lead actor is a womaniser named Aakash Kumar, while the director is called Karan Karnani. And the climax, a bloodbath to put it lightly, takes place at the Taj Mahal.

The graphic novel to its credit has been illustrated well. Meant for the hip urban consumer, there are plenty of cuss-words like f**k thrown about, big-breasted women, sex and a protagonist so irresponsible, he almost sleeps over his first day as a director, brushing his teeth while on his way to work.

The book is in itself almost a pastiche of a number of old zombie films put together. For anyone who knows their Romeros and Shaun of the Dead well, they will find a number of similarities. So for instance, zombies get fascinated with fireworks (Land of the Dead), the protagonist tries to save himself by applying ketchup and walking like a zombie to pass off as one (Shaun of the Dead), and they learn about the apocalypse from a news bulletin (in this case from a computer) which is then suddenly disrupted (Dawn of the Dead).

The book is at its worst an unoriginal zombie graphic novel and at its best -- a plug. In its back cover and foreword, it mentions that India's first ever zombie film (Shaadi of the Dead) is currently under production.
Zombie Talkies, Pop Culture Publishing

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