There is a scene in The Exorcist where the doctors are discussing what could be done with Regan, the 12-year-old girl, who is probably possessed by a demon. Her mother is also sitting there. They tell her that they could use electric shocks but they are not sure about the effects on a girl of that age, and they’d rather not do it. However there is one outside chance that they are contemplating.

‘Have you ever heard of Exorcism?,’ one of them asks her.

It’s an ancient ritual which has been pretty much discarded these days except the Catholic priests have kept it. It’s a kind of a thing where they use power of suggestion, they explain.

‘Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?’ she says.

That, is the basis of horror for me. When are you scared? You are scared when what you depend upon lets you down. And when it happens where you least expect it to happen, it scares the living daylights out of you. This scene in The Exorcist happens in the hospital.

When I was making Bhoot (2003), I used to meet a psychiatrist called Sunil Shah. He had told me that sometimes, when he doesn’t feel that there is a cause for alarm about the symptoms of some of his patients, he prefers to send them to a tantrik. It’s eventually a psychological thing; if the patient believes that she has been possessed, the tantrik will cure her faster.

He had shared some of his experiences. He told me about a 19-year-old girl who had paranoid delusion. She claimed that there is a man following her all the time: in the bus, in the college in the classroom, standing outside the window, in the bedroom when she is sleeping. During his first session with her, when he was asking her questions, at one point, she stopped and looked behind him.

‘What is it?’ he asked her.

‘He is standing behind you,’ she said.

Dr Sunil said it had taken five seconds to turn and look and for those five seconds he was shit scared. He is a psychiatrist, he had already decided that she is suffering from paranoiac delusion, but he was scared of the conviction in her eyes.

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I have had three scary experiences in my life. Once I was traveling from Mumbai to Chennai. Shiamak Davar was on the flight. I had just met him once in Amitabh Bachchan’s house. I didn’t know him very well, but I recognised him. I said ‘Hi Shiamak’ and went and sat next to him. He was on the window seat, I took the aisle seat, and the plane was mid-air. After some time, he suddenly started looking like as if he is staring at someone standing and asked me if my father has died.

‘Yeah,’ I said.

‘He is here,’ he said.

Now how are you supposed to react to that? Shiamak Davar is a choreographer, and my father had died recently at the time, maybe a few months back or something.

‘Shiamak, I don’t believe in all this,’ I said.

He told me that my father was also an atheist, and he didn’t used to believe in these things either. But now he knows better. I was filled with fear, anger, I was disturbed. Because for one, I thought it was very wrong for an outsider to talk about my father’s death, and claiming his spirit is there, on the flight. And giving me information about how he was also an atheist was bizarre! I just walked out from there, and went back to my seat. Later, I told myself that maybe he took a chance. We are from the same industry, and maybe he had heard that RGV’s father has passed away. And what are the odds that my father is dead, and that he is an atheist?

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The second incident happened about 15 years ago, when rumours of Ganpatis drinking milk were floating. I first heard it in office and I laughed it off. Then I went home and my nephew came running out and said ‘Uncle, Ganpati is drinking milk inside.’ I was scared, I didn’t want to see it, I have been an atheist ever since I was conscious. I went in. It didn’t drink; but nephew claimed it drank just before that. But what if it did? When I was crossing the door to see it, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Will I see something that will completely destroy my belief systems so far?’

The third incident is when my distant cousin’s daughter’s 4-year-old son came to my house. My mother had told me that some ‘Kalki baba’ has blessed the kid with some kind of a power. The kid can’t read or write, he hadn’t even gone to school yet. But if you asked him any mathematical question he would write the answer. This was happening in my home, my living room and my mother, sister, aunt, cousin were all there. I asked him, just in humour, 338 multiplied by 587, or something. He was like any other kid; his mother said to him ‘Beta, uncle asked you something,’ gave him a notebook, a chocolate, handed him a pencil, and he wrote the answer, a triple digit multiple, in front of me. I was shit scared. Everybody else was fine because they thought it’s Kalki baba’s blessing, matter closed. A friend at the time said that it’s probably the mother manipulating the kid into writing the answers; because I don’t think even Shakuntala Devi can solve those problems.

But after all these years, I think it didn’t happen. It was just a dream of mine. And I am too scared to ask my mom if it really happened because if she says yes, I’ll be fucked. It suits me to believe it didn’t happen. If I take that as a real incident I’ll have to change a lot of my thinking. I’ll have to become, I don’t know, maybe a religious guy. That’s scary.

(As told to Sankhayan Ghosh)

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