Flopped horror show

Flopped horror show

Scary movies

Flopped horror show

A lot can pass off as horror, in some Hindi films that is. And by this, I don’t mean the acting, the direction or even the bad script, story and dialogue. Yes, they scar the soul and probably traumatise you for life; I write this from my shrink’s office, waiting for my next appointment where she (the shrink) will attempt to find out why being a Hindi film critic is injurious to one’s mental health.

But my terribly sad story aside, when I mean horror I’m being strictly technical — horror as in the spine-tingling, chilling emotion when you watch a film, eyelids minced together, peeking through your fingers and hands firmly glued to your face. But sadly (or horrifyingly if you prefer it), there is little of it in Indian cinema. When it comes to Indian films, horror is truly a second-class citizen. We either roll our eyes at the superstitious mumbo-jumbo often found in traditional Indian horror, or laugh out loud at the creatures that populate it. The horror genre has been around for quite a while, but unlike drama or romance, it hasn’t quite evolved. 

Horror in Indian cinema is naturally derived from its rich folklore. Found in abundance around the country, the beauty of folklore is that it is amorphous, ever-changing and names no authors. Thus there many stories which sort of ‘float’ around, about haunted havelis and injustices done. They might be rumours, things just heard from a passerby or tall tales passed down from generations, but they comprise a set of stories which have always inspired filmmakers. There are creaky gates, evil zamindars, and beautiful, ghostly women. 

Deriving as it does from the supernatural, and mired in folksy superstition, the genre of horror has had a presence in numerous languages. Bhool Bhulaiya in fact was a remake of the 1993 Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu, in which starred Shobhana and Mohanlal. The Tamil adaptation of this was called Chandramukhi, in which actor Rajnikanth acted along with Jyothika and Nayantara. There are other examples in South-Indian cinema, like the 1984 Tamil film Nooravathu Naal, which was inspired by the Italian Giallo genre of films. In it, a young woman has mysterious flashbacks where she can see murders being committed. This film was remade in Hindi as 100 Days and starred Madhuri Dixit. Also inspired by the supernatural was the 2004 Marathi film Pacchadlela, which starred Shreyas Talpade.

Hindu philosophy has much to say on the phenomenon of rebirth, or as Bollywood filmmakers will have it, reincarnation. From the 1949 Kamal Amrohi film Mahal which catapulted Madhubala to stardom, to the Rishi Kapoor starrer Karz, and the recent Om Shanti Om, the story of a tortured soul hanging around waiting for vengeance has inspired many a filmmaker.

While all that’s well and good, times they are a-changing. Modernity has seeped in, spawning our very own uniquely Indian whackos (move aside Norman Bates). From the good-looking young man who can’t stop stuttering k-k-k-k-Kiran (Darr), to the deranged co-worker who’s jealous of the hero’s wife (Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya), harmless looking psycho Cyrus (Being Cyrus) and the tremulous young woman all alone at home and scared to death (Kaun), psycho-horror is a sub-genre doing well in current day cinema.
Indians are tale-spinners. Grandmothers and mothers tell us bedtime tales. And then in the filmi context, friends do it too. Sitting by the fire, at an appropriately deserted camping spot, each friend tells spooky tales to scare the others. Which is not a problem really, unless you have to answer the call of nature. In the woods, all by yourself. Remember Darna Mana Hai?

Traditionally, Indian cinema has been dismissive of the horror genre, considering it B-grade (almost like Hollywood). But while horror outside of India has come of age, getting absorbed into the mainstream (Carrie, The Ring), desi horror never did find its place.

Although Indian cinema excels in many categories, and newer, talented directors seem to be sprouting out of the woodwork with unfailing regularity, horror is not the fine art it could be. Apart from the horror-thriller genre which has been absorbed into mainstream Hindi cinema, and directors like The Ramsay brothers and Ram Gopal Verma who have done their bit, horror does not seem to have much attention paid to it. 

Indian horror has also been inspired by Hollywood films. Where desi horror is still limited in its scope, horror in Hollywood has many sub-genres, like ‘scientific’ horror or ‘armageddon’ horror. And Hollywood is prolific whereas Indian horror films are a handful per year, if that. So in 2008, there was only Phoonk that was visibly popular. In 2009, we had Raaz — The Mystery Continues and 13B, which was released in Hindi and Tamil, and featured Madhavan. In 2010 so far, there’s been only Click. Phoonk 2 and Shaapit are slated for later.

Many of Hollywood’s earliest horror films fall into the ‘personality’ horror, or ‘demonic’ horror category. Traditional horror films in Hollywood featured demons, werewolves, zombies and vampires. The 1975 film Omen dwells upon the AntiChrist. There was also the 1982 film Poltergeist and Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street. Skilled directors working on horror have given the genre some credibility. Steven Spielberg brought horror elements like gore and splatter into a mainstream film like Jaws(1975). The classic Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (1960) brought about horror via Freudian psychology, whereas The Birds (1963) was inspired more from the horror of ‘catastrophe’ or armageddon. 

In the 1990s and the 2000s, horror returned to the slasher/splatter sub-genre, I Know What You Did Last Summer being a prime example. There was also Seven, Saw, The Blairwitch Project and Wes Craven’s Scream series. Directors have also remade some  classic horror films like Friday the 13th and the recently released Wolfman (2010). And realistic horror has made a comeback, like in Paranormal Activity in which a young couple rigs up a camcorder to show the eerie happenings in their apartment.
Horror well done is scary stuff. Bring it on !


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