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Munshi Premchand wrote the first zombie story — Death anniversary tribute

Theatre personality Mujeeb Khan shares some interesting info about the legendary author. 

Keyur Seta

The first zombie film can be traced back to Hollywood in 1932 when director Victor Hugo Halperin came up with White Zombie. The genre was made popular in the modern era by George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, which released in 1968. The idea finally arrived in India in 2013 with directors Luke Kenny and Devaki Singh’s Rise Of The Zombie. The same year, Krishna-DK came up with another film on the subject, Go Goa Gone. 

But what if we tell you that a zombie story was written in India much before 1932? And that too by the legendary Hindi writer Premchand? The author’s short story Jwalamukhi dealt with the subject of zombies. And surprisingly, it was written as early as 1914. The information was revealed to us by theatre director Mujeeb Khan on the occasion of the author's 80th death anniversary (8 October). The veteran artist has been staging plays based on Premchand’s stories almost every week since a decade for free. 

Informing about this rare aspect about Premchand, he said, “He wrote Jwalamukhi in 1914. It was the zombie story.” But the idea proved to be too ahead of its time. “The story wasn’t accepted then as people couldn’t understand it,” he added. 

Khan expressed extreme surprise that not a single filmmaker tried a zombie film in the olden era. “Hollywood started making films on zombies much later. We got inspired by them in this genre and gave credit to Hollywood. What were our filmmakers of that era doing? How come they never adapted this story into a film? Did they never come across it?” he wonders in amazement. 

Premchand’s relation with Hindi cinema was very brief and unpleasant. “He wrote the film Mazdoor (1934). However, he was very upset with the way his story was presented. So he went back disappointed and never returned to films,” informs Khan. After the author passed away, quite a few of his stories were adapted into films. Some of the prominent ones are Godaan (1963), Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), Bade Ghar Ki Beti (1989), Gaban (1966) and Sadgati (1981).  

But Khan is not happy with how some of his short stories are made into films. “Few short stories of his were made into two or two-and-a-half hour long films. You can’t stretch a short story so long. That’s why we do short plays on his short stories. A story you can read in 15 minutes can be presented in 20 minutes.” 

The veteran theatre artist strongly believes that the late author’s stories are very relevant in today’s era. But going by the films made in the last decade, he isn’t sure whether filmmakers of today’s era would succeed in creating the impact Premchand did.