There has been a wide exploration of genres in filmmaking in India; however one genre that seems to be crawling is that of horror films! Please forgive me for saying this, but I think when it comes to horror films, our story writers cannot even make it comic enough to be a spoof on something! At least if the west is not able to scare the audiences with the movies, they are definitely able to crack them up with the spoofs! There are some typical ingredients of an Indian horror film – actors with large eyes which they can widen and scare the daylights away, a creepy looking maid-servant, a deformed ghost, protagonists living on the thirteenth floor or in a house where the family was previously murdered, a grandmother or some scary actor who jumps in to ‘warn’ you, a back ground score and the latest addition, an innocent child who can see things you cannot!
Well, the journey started off pretty well in 1949 with Kamaal Amrohi’s Mahal starring Madhubala and Ashok Kumar which was a stepping stone into this area. However, after that we basically had all movies capturing lost spirits (I mean bhatki hui aatma’s) moving about deserted cemeteries in white and carrying a lantern! Of course, there was the 1962 film Bees Saal Baad starring Waheeda Rehman, based on Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of Baskervilles, which saved the day. Two other surprise super hit films were Naagin and Jaani Dushman which are also considered as memorable films. But apart from these, I cannot recall any memorable Hindi horror films.
Talking about the downfall, about which I have loads to write about; let me start with the re-definition of “spookism” by the Ramsay Brothers who actually defined the B-grade film genre with some pathetic movies, some of which were actually runaway successes. I still wonder why! Okay, well these movies’ titles speak volumes for them. Let me share some with you – Do Gaz Zameen ke Neeche, Purana Mandir, Shaitani Ilaaka, Khooni Saya! With names as grotesque as possible, the movie plot revolved around evil spirits and deformed creatures terrorizing villages. The most popular targets were thinly clad women. In between the horror (if there was any) there was a liberal sprinkling of sex and as much nudity that could pass un-censored! It was their “success” formula which they rarely deviated from. Interestingly, these movies gave many present-day famous personalities like Deepak Parashar, Kiran Kumar, Vijayendra Ghatge, Navin Nishcal and TV superstars Sumeet Saigol and Javed Jaffery.
Well the situation did not improve even in late eighties when lazy rip-offs from Hollywood were made. We had the classic Exorcist remade as Jaadu Tona! Poltergeist was remade as Raat by none other than Ram Gopal Verma. Where in Hollywood, horror and thrillers were emerging as a competing and memorable genre with path breaking films like Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, Hell Raiser, The Shining and Frankenstein to name a few; in Bollywood we saw this genre being cornered by low budgets, stereotyping and bad filmmaking.
In 1999, we saw Ram Gopal Verma return with the psychotic thriller Kaun? which was like fresh air for this dying area of films with Urmila Matondkar’s performance. However, later years were disappointing. The Bhatt camp produced the famous Raaz which was an adaptation of What Lies Beneath. There was a string of some bad films like Hum Kaun Hai starring Amitabh Bachchan which was a blot on The Others, Hawa starring Tabu, which I never saw and some others which no one really bothered about.
In the recent past, we have seen only Ram Gopal Verma trying to come up with horror movies which really don’t scare you but just disturb you enough to make you think why you come to see this movie in the first place. Bhoot was an exception due to good acting, but as far as the plot is concerned, the lesser said the better. Then of course, the Darna Mana Hai series, Vaastu Shastra and Darling proved to be detrimental to the careers of the actors concerned. I would like to remind you of the apple story in the former which was “really” scary! This was some movie which dragged people to the theatre after a person suffered a heart attack while watching it. Bless the poor soul! Question is: did he suffer from fear or sheer agony of the movie?
Well the director does not want to give up. Seems he is not going to till he gets a forced super hit (no pun intended). Here I find it necessary to mention the recent Phoonk which was actually the inspiration to write this article. Apart from the weird name, it really has not much in it. And I don’t know how critics are giving it positive reviews as it has nothing new. Probably they are tired of ripping apart all movies that have come their way this year or maybe it has been really a long time since some horror film hit the silver screen. Anyways, if you share my views, definitely avoid it. However, if black magic fascinates you in 2008 please do see it. If nothing else, you will definitely be scared of children, as you may not know if they are real or possessed by black magic.
Okay I have a mere hope that someday, not very far from today, we might have an opportunity to have M. Night Shyamalan come to Bollywood and make a memorable horror movie. In hard times like this, I think our comedy filmmakers could come out and make some better movies inspired from our “scary” horror movies.
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