Horror: DESI style

  • SumoMe

During childhood, horror movies for me used to be a major source of entertainment as well as fear. While my cousins and acquaintances of my age group were fascinated by animated and comic films, I was thrilled by only one particular genre. Though my dad never used to allow me to watch such flicks as they, according to him are ‘absurd’ and ‘gory’, but I was always accompanied by my elder siblings, who used to keep a track of all the movies going to be shown each day. However, I don’t remember even a single occasion when I was not scared to death and hid my face inside the bed sheet. Sleeping alone in the room was far beyond imagination, I could not even go to get a glass of water all by myself. In the darkness, I would get terrified imagining the evil spirit coming out of the movie and appearing by my bedside. Even the slightest noise in the room or outside was more than enough to take my breath away. But the next day again, I would be glued to the television and the trend continued.

That was me 10 years back. However, at present horror movies seem to be nothing but a bag of laughter. Taking inspiration from certain English movies, which are scary enough to frighten the audiences in theatres, Bollywood has also tried its luck on horror movies. If one carefully analyzes the evolution of the horror genre in Bollywood, it is observed that the earliest horror movies turned out to be super hits at the box office, but the filmmakers of the 80s and 90s were not able to do justice to such movies, since they lacked good scripts, proper research, direction and resources which is a prerequisite to make a good horror movie.

The earliest groundbreaking Hindi horror film Mahal was released in 1949. Directed by Kamal Amrohi, it had reincarnation as its theme, and was one of the biggest box-office hits of the year. The 1960s witnessed two major blockbusters; Biren Nag’s Bees Saal Baad (1962) and Raja Nawathe’s Gumnaam (1965) that topped the box-office charts. Moving to the era of 70s, the horror movies were usually based on the concept of the supernatural. The two films by Rajkumar Santoshi featuring a huge ensemble cast; the 1976 Nagin and the 1979 Jaani Dushman were major success and super hits at the box office. 1980s Gehrayee (inspired by The Exorcist) based on the subject of possession, is one of the finest and the most remarkable horror films to emerge from Bollywood, which invested more in its plot and superb performance of the actors, than the gruesome horror techniques and nasty exorcisms. The 80s and 90s marked the entry of various new filmmakers who came up with numerous low-budget films. Ramsays in particular cornered the low-budget market for horror movies and continued producing such movies for years. Starting with their initial success Do Gaz Zameen ke Neeche in 1972, they kept the trend alive for almost two decades, few of them being Bandh Darwaaza, Veerana, Sannata, Purani Haveli, Guest House, Tahkhana, Shaitani Ilaaka, Purana Mandir etc. The movies ran on an average basis and often grossed good collections at the box office The creations were mostly B-grade films with low-budget, inexperienced cast which undeniably failed to make a mark on the screen. The stories had nothing unusual to offer, the plot being usually of distorted faced creatures and evil spirits haunting the villages or an ancestral bungalow. The opening scene would usually be a dark-stormy night, pouring down ominous hosepipes of rain, with the howling of dogs and wolves as the background music. The ghosts wore those typical, ugly rubber-masks, seemed to have been bought from some substandard shop. And they would end with a ridiculous exorcism being carried out by some brainless, ultra-idiotic personalities (Read tantriks). Most popular attraction about these movies was women with microscopic-mini skirts accompanied by the shower and bedroom scenes featuring unattractive bimbos with voluptuous bodies. The cheesiest things perhaps were the names, some of them being Shaitaani Khopdi, Khooni Aankhen, Chudail No.1, Bhayaanak Panjaa, Khooni Dracula and the like. Can you imagine yourself watching such nasty flicks?

Then came Raaz in 2002, a thrilling and musical remake of the Hollywood flick What Lies Beneath. The approach employed by Vikram Bhatt here was much better than the usual Hindi horror movies. There were no ghastly rubber masks, nor was there much of nudity (though the movie did have a few steamy scenes). The cast’s acting was far better than expected, though viewers ended up laughing at a few scenes than getting scared. There was an exorcism, but the customary tantrik with a long-beard and black robe was replaced by a modern, scholarly Professor who also possesses a sixth-sense. The film made for a good one-time watch. At present, Ram Gopal Varma seems to be monopolizing the Indian horror film market. It is evident that he spent considerable time in watching the foreign classics like Poltergeist, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, The Exorcist, Amityville Horror, Childs Play, The Eye and so on. His creations, which include Raat(1991), Kaun(1999), Bhoot(2003), Darna Mana Hai(2003) ,Vaastu Shastra(2004), Naina(2005), Darna Zaroori Hai(2006) and the newly released Phoonk, are clearly a very Indianish blend of scenes carefully morphed from all these films. But thanks to the strong performances by the actors, good direction, subtle special effects and chilling sound effects, the movies have done fairly well at the box office and proved successful in sending chills down quite a few spines.

Kanika Bedi

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