Digital Ghosts: Spectral Presences on YouTube
This is the third research note by Vibhushan Subba, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2016.
Geert Lovink made it clear that we have started watching databases rather than films and TV. 2015 YouTube statistics seem to be in serious agreement with that statement with over 4 billion videos viewed every day, between three to four hundred hours of video uploaded every minute. The vast unregulated folds of the internet has created infinite avenues of accessing cinema by way of easy exchange, transfer, uploads and downloads which in turn has created a new cinematic culture. Everybody is contributing to this growing archive of films- fans, cinephiles, production houses, DVD labels and such. In this post I track the creation and sustenance of B-movie YouTube channels operated by fans.
Neelouli – Getting to the Bottom of the Worst
Haiwaan (1998) and Khooni Panja (1991) were Aseem Chandaver’s first films. It was a road trip to Rajasthan that led him to them. Near the suburbs of Ahmedabad, in a small town called Kanera, Aseem found a shop run by one of his relative’s friend. It was a small shop selling VCDs that also doubled as a makeshift parlour screening B-films along with Hollywood films. It was here spread across the counter, stacked with the Ramsay’s and other horror titles that Haiwaan stared back at him and he recognised it immediately, having caught snatches of the movie on channel V’s Colossal Chaos Countdown (a show on Channel V on Indian B-movies). Having watched it several times and reflecting on it much later he said, “I had never seen anything like Haiwaan before.” On his way back to Bombay, on the same trip he picked up another title, Khooni Panja at Silvasa. Haiwaan, directed by V.Prabhakar would be a better example of a B-grade horror film in terms of everything- the shots are almost always in focus, camera movement is smooth with traces of track and crane shots, lighting is appropriate with decent source lighting, the actors give a fair performance, the locations change according to the scenes, the screenplay makes sense, the continuity remains intact and the makeup and costume design is impressive, ghost and otherwise. In fact Haiwaan would give the Ramsay’s a run for their money which explains why Aseem wanted to dig deeper for more basic content like Harinam Singh’s Shaitani Dracula (2006) which almost completely lacks Haiwaan’s technical prowess.
Why these films?
“It was like a decay down the grades from B to C to D. So, that is what drew me to it…getting to the bottom of the worst. Their main mission was their intense dislike for Bollywood. From not showing the lovemaking scenes, showing that the girl is sometimes actually hornier than the boy, necrophilia, the bhoot winning and even showing that our religion is not as sacrosanct as it looks, we too have our Shaitaans. So, its almost like a parallel universe where everything is wrong and that is what drew me to it.”
Thus inducted to the world of B-movies Aseem has since then become one of the most active B-film enthusiasts and collectors making his presence felt on the net under his pseudonym Babajogeshwari on telly.com, Neelouli on YouTube and Gina Kholkar on Twitter. Aseem Chandaver has watched most of his films at home since he started collecting around ten years ago. He started his YouTube channel Neelouli in February 2007. These were times when he struggled to capture clips from his television using an inferior mobile camera. He used to upload them without editing but these were also times when his channel was growing fast because there were hardly any other YouTube channels like his. Since then he has concentrated on quality often editing films on an editing software trying to preserve the resolution and clarity of the original film because the lead channels (channels owned by the DVD companies like Shemaroo, Moserbaer and others who own rights) have started up loading entire films.
On digital platforms –
“Due to digitization and easy access through Youtube a sudden interest has been generated. And also because of the universalisation of these movies through GUNDA. Gunda was made so accessible by Arnab Ray, also known as the great bong. Gunda became famous partly because of him just like Sajid made Clerk and Teen Ekkay famous. Since then everybody is watching say like three films a year of this type and are trying to search for more films like Gunda. The resurgence will grow and grow and grow while these films decline. It has made life easier for the cinephile and also for the filmmakers because they are informed about the YouTube partner programme from which they can make money. In the eighties it was direct to video. Some of the movies were so cheap- now it is direct to YouTube.”
His channel Neelouli attracts thousands of visitors because it is known for the notorious clips that Aseem exhumes from the stygian depths of Hindi low budget horror films. Although it focuses on horror it cannot be classified as a horror channel because it has an eclectic collection of clips- snatches of television shows, edited tributes and sequences, news clips and such. The channel started as a collection of these smaller clips of horror films and has since then diversified into uploading entire films. Calling it “the most basal film to come out of Kanti Shah’s home-brewed enterprise Pali Films,” in the section on information Aseem uploaded S.Gawli’s film produced by Pali films, Bhoot Ka Darr in April 2012. This was one of the first films to be entirely uploaded on his channel that falls under the Neelouli World Premiere category and it has generated over six hundred thousand views. The “neelouli deuce world premieres” section features entire films where titles like “Bhoot Ka Darr”, “Gumnam Qatil-Part 2”, “Jeb Katri”, “Sexy Chudail”, “Khaufnak Mahal” have appeared. Then there are edited versions, little three or four minute videos with a soundtrack and references and citations from other films that he has created as a tribute to these films.
On the audience and fans –
“We watch more than Bollywood and Hollywood, foreign and world cinema, art and what the fuck cinema and snuff films. We watch everything that these movies have to offer. First of all this genre has a hate for Bollywood. The C and D genre hate Bollywood and they create stuff, their mission is to create stuff that you normally do not see in Bollywood. Say for instance if an audience member has a fetish about watching people having sex with ghosts, they will show that. Where would you get this in normal Bollywood? We are the people who watch these kinds of films and we are on YouTube, Twitter, FB, blogs.”
Using De certeau’s poaching model Henry Jenkins explores fan cultures which he finds nomadic, ever evolving and expanding. For Jenkins, a fan is a poacher who collects, gathers, draws from other texts and recombines the textual elements by a forging a distinct aesthetic that is as much about the recombination, recirculation and borrowing as it is about original creations. Jenkins uses the word plunder where fans get to keep their plundered goods (like pirates) and mould them into a form of their choosing which might not even remotely resemble the original. At the centre of fan activity Jenkins recognizes the battle for the possession of the text, the appropriation of which creates the foundation of an alterative cultural community.
Almost echoing the poaching culture that Jenkins talks about Aseem Chandaver’s edited clips combines fragments, borrrows, selects, and rearranges them into short clips that do not resemble the original creation. For instance, in the world premiere category he has added a short opening sequence to the film Bhoot Ka Darr. The opening sequence is a sequence from the film cut to the beat of “Kathmandu dub” (Mad Professor). He has sped up the footage which lends an urgency to the woman’s predicament- she is on the verge of being run down by a foul shape shifting creature of the night in a black ambassador. The dub track resonating with bassy panoramic delay though provides a leisurely electronic rhythmic reggae vibe, something befitting a psychedelic evening at the beach, not a life threatening event.
In another clip titled Full Metal Dharamji, he borrows the sequence from Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) is leading the “This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun” march and at the end of the sequence cuts to Dharmendra gesturing similarly. In Whiplash he cuts paralelly from the film, scenes where J.K. Simmons holds classes on tempo to various scenes of drumming in Hindi films ranging from Amjad Khan to Jackie Shroff. Thomas Elsaesser has forwarded the term ‘re-mastering’ alluding to among other things a re-appropriation or a mastery on a text by twisting it to fit one’s meanings and contexts. ‘Re-mastering’ he says, “also in the sense of seizing the initiative, of re-appropriating the means of someone else’s presumed mastery over your emotions, over your libidinal economy, by turning the images around, making them mean something for you and your community or group”. Aseem’s re-mastering of the clips points to a new found power to re-arrange and re-appropriate images to suit his channel, his viewers and a fetish to play with the text digitally altering its meanings and effect upon the viewers. The channel also pays tribute to filmmakers –Bhootiya Tribute– like the Ramsay Brothers in the form of a montage of lobby cards, film posters, DVD covers, photographs of the filmmakers and film sequences neatly edited into a music video cut to Cake’s Thrills, a cover version of The Chakachas’ Stories.
Apart from the production houses and DVD labels there are individual competitors like legitfreek with whom Aseem competes. “At one point I was the only one uploading these films on YouTube and then came legitfreek and suddenly post 2010 everybody was uploading. These channels like Ultra, Shemaroo and the VCD label groups started uploading directly onto YouTube.”
Legitfreek, another channel owner started uploading entire films getting his hands on such films as Khooni Dracula, Pyaasa Shaitaan, Son of Dracula and other titles before Aseem could upload it on his own channel. Referring to the competition between these YouTube channels Aseem says, “there were many uploaders who came up from tier2 and tier3 towns where they had access to films that I did not have. So, it was a sort of a race, like legitfreek would not repeat the movies I had uploaded and I would not repeat the movies that legitfreek was uploading. He was the first one to find the Son of Dracula directed by Joginder during one of his worst year of filmmaking, a film that I did not even know existed. So, he had Pashto cinema uploaded because Omar was supplying them. So, there has been a change because of lead channels (VCD and DVD labels have their own channels) and different individual up loaders and especially this guy called Saket Gadkari from Pune who uploads entire films.”
Saket Prabhakar Gadkari is another channel owner whose collection stays away from the horror and exploitation titles concentrating instead on epics like “Ram Rajya-Lord Rama’s Pious Rule” “Mahabharata-The Epic War”, fantasy films like “Alif Laila-The Arabian Nights” “Hatim Tai- The Brave Seven Puzzle Solver” and action titles like “Zalzala-The Tornado” “Officer-The Brave Fighter”. Although Video on Demand has not made inroads into the B-movie’s landscape in India, YouTube has made most of the films accessible through channels like Neelouli, legitfreek and Saket Gadkari. Most of these films have never seen the light of day travelling mostly in the rural circuits for brief moments before receding into oblivion. YouTube channels have brought them back and have re-introduced these films back to the people in a different era through different platforms.
On being a public secret –
“It was always out there but somebody else monitored us and tried to act as a protector which was the society itself. CBFC is a voice but it speaks in the lowest decibels. So, its society and stigma and the fear of being ostracised which has kept us away from these. These have been kept away from us because we have pushed it down ourselves, a fear that our quality of cinema will deteriorate and we’ll be only watching this like an addict.”
Like Aseem’s first encounter with B-movie Horror and his consequent urge to foray the land of the ‘worst’, more and more cultists are knocking at the murky doors of B-movie land in search of the worst, damned, forgotten, the most shocking and incompetent bad film. The hunger to dig deeper and share is so acute that it has transformed film collecting into a race where the babajogeshwari’s, the legitfreeks, the saket gadkari’s, the neelouli’s try to outdo each other. Online blogs, forums and communities, YouTube channels, Facebook and Twitter pages have made a great contribution not only in circulating underground texts that have been forgotten or discarded but also in re-animating tastes and a cultist sensibility.
 Lovink, G., & Niederer, S. “The Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube.” Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008.
 Personal interview conducted with Aseem Chandaver.
 Jenkins, Henry. “Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture.” London. Routledge, 1992.
 Elsaesser, Thomas. “Cinephilia or the Uses of Disenchantment.” Cinephilia: Movies, Love and Memory, Marijke De Valck and Malte Hagener eds, 27-44. Amsterdam University Press, 2005.
 These titles have been removed in 2015 from his channel.