Are we seeing a revival of sorts of the horror genre in Bollywood and will it scare audiences enough this time to
keep them coming back for more? Industry voices weigh in…
We enjoy the idea of fear. Being scared and scaring others is something we find entertaining. And most film industries, including our beloved Bollywood, have always zeroed in on it. The genre of horror was always popular among Indian audience but came to life in the 80s with the influx of Ramsay films like Purani Haveli, Veerana and Bandh Darwaza among others. In the 90s, movies like Raat, made by Ram Gopal Varma and Papi Gudia, featuring Karisma Kapoor raised the level of the genre which was then taken ahead by films like Darna Marna Hai, Bhoot, Raaz and Vaastu Shastra. However, for the last few years, we have seen a decline in the quality of this genre. Directors invented a new category under the horror genre called ‘horrex’ which depicted the movie having less horror and more sex. The ridiculousness of the stories caused the hungry audience to divert their attention to Hollywood horror films which were scaring the socks off everyone, one film after another. From The Conjuring series to Insidious to Annabelle to the latest release IT, all international horror releases have amassed shocking numbers at the Indian box office. This at least proved that we had the right kind of audience for the horror genre but not the right kind of movies.
Not just the audience, even noted actors from the industry think the same. When Sidharth Malhotra spoke to team Box Office India in November 2017, he shared that he wanted to explore the horror genre as an artiste. “I was just thinking that we don’t do horror any more. We don’t do good horror movies, like, clean horror, psychological thrillers. That’s been on my mind, like, let’s see if there’s an interesting script… If someone can come up with a clean horror script, well written, I think I would be interested. But, sadly, most filmmakers use the sex angle in horror movies, which I feel is not good writing. Somebody has to make it and cast big names. In Hollywood, it is huge. Here, many Hollywood horror films do well, like Annabelle. I believe it did crazy business because people don’t get to watch that kind of stuff in our films any more. I feel it is a good genre,” he said.
Even young actor Saqib Saleem, who has been part of horror movie Dobaara had similar thoughts. “I really like horror as a genre but I have decided not to be a part of it because we don’t know how to make the right kind of horror movies,” he said.
The genre might have gotten a bad name in recent years in Bollywood, but it seems to be making its comeback slowly and steadily. With more and more actors wanting to try their hands at being a part of a horror film, it seems that quality of films is on their way up now. We saw Vikram Bhatt’s latest offering 1921 run in the theatres for quite a bit and scare the audiences. It laid the groundwork for the upcoming movie Pari which has attracted a lot of buzz thanks to an A-list star like Anushka Sharma starring in it. We also have other popular actors exploring the horror genre like Emraan Hashmi with his yet-untitled film directed by Jeethu Joseph and Nargis Fakhri’s next project Amaavas directed by Bhushan Patel.
We spoke to a group of industry folk as to what they think about this revival of the horror genre in Bollywood. Do they think that horror will be brought back in its truest sense? Here’s what they had to say:
VASHU BHAGNANI, PRODUCER
Horror always attracts the youth because it keeps them on the edge of their seat. People love the feeling of fear. When we make a movie we always have to look at what the audience wants to watch. Nowadays, we also have horror comedies like Golmaal Again!!!. Now Pari is around the corner, which is an out-and-out horror film. My own film is also on the go which has Tamannaah and Tabu in it. It is not a complete horror film but it has the elements of both horror and a thriller. Music in horror films plays an important role. Audiences are mostly drawn towards the sound used in horror films. The sound has to be phenomenal. You cannot watch a horror film in silence. The audience will be happy even with smaller films if the sound is good. This is my own judgment.
PRERNAA ARORA, PRODUCER
Audiences have evolved and are asking for more content-driven films, be it in any genre. I took a gamble with Pari as we at KriArj just loved the script and I am sure the audiences will also be entertained. As for replicating the success of Hollywood films, we at KriArj are here to make original, content-based films and if the film is entertaining, I am sure others will follow.
ANUJM RAJABALI, WRITER-PRODUCER
Actually, in Hindi cinema, we haven’t really explored the horror genre. There are just very few examples of horror films from here. One of the reasons is that our tradition of filmmaking has never been genre-based. Almost all our films have been of the composite genre of ‘drama’, with sub-genres attached. However, after the Ramsay brothers’ slew of horror movies of earlier years, it seems that an interest in this did pick up a few years ago. Unfortunately, not many of these managed to succeed. In recent months, Golmaal Again!!!, while being hugely successful, was hardly a horror film. And, 1921 didn’t connect well at all, it appears. So, given our precedent-driven mentality, a lot rides on Pari now. If it succeeds, we may expect other mainstream actors to give this genre a shot. And only then can you expect horror to really receive the kind of seriousness, respectability and support that it needs.
ABHINAY DEO, DIRECTOR
Horror is one genre which has not yet been explored in India in different ways of storytelling. I totally believe writers and directors should explore this genre as it’s a favoured genre across the world. Hollywood has been experimenting with it for decades. Rohit Shetty did an amazing experiment with horror comedy where he included a brilliant twist; Pari is making the right buzz now. So, if made well, this genre can work. One can always tell a new story but yes, at the end everything boils down to having a good script.
RATAN JAIN, PRODUCER
We made Gang Of Ghosts, which was the remake of a Bengali film. It was a horror comedy experiment. That film didn’t do well with the audiences. But today, audiences are ready to accept experimental content. And horror with a twist is something which has not been experimented with in India so far. So yes, if made well, horror will garner a good collection at the box office.
SHIBASHIS SARKAR, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER - RELIANCE ENTERTAINMENT
Horror has always been an established genre. There is always an audience which looks forward to horror films either in Hindi, regional languages or even in English. Over the years, we have also seen sub-genres in horror like horror-comedy like Kanchana 1 & 2 and Golmaal Again!!! or horror-sex like Ragini MMS 1 & 2. Looking at the business recent horror films have done, whether regional like Aval or Golmaal Again!!! and 1921 in Hindi, or even the business of Hollywood franchises like The Conjuring or Insidious in India, it’s a no-brainer that there is an audience for horror films in India. However, it is unfortunate that not many filmmakers dabble in this genre, currently. I definitely see more makers working in this genre going forward. The objective necessarily should not be only to replicate, but to make good stories. We have talent and I hope we get to see more films in this space.
MAHENDRA SONI, DISTRIBUTOR, PRODUCER
True horror has been ignored in Bollywood for long and looking at Pari’s trailer I am really excited that they have something really scary to offer. Horror is a tried and tested formula in Hollywood and we have seen many success stories. I feel in India when we attempt horror movies, we move away from the main genre and try to punch in extra stuff which becomes na idhar ka na udhar ka! Hardcore horror, if made well and within the budget, would certainly do well I am sure.
VIKI RAJANI, PRODUCER
Today, audiences have more choice, with everything available on digital. The competition is with world content. And audiences are looking for fresh content. When you get horror with a twist, it will work. One can do many experiments with horror, be it horror comedy, thriller with a horror twist and more. And that’s why Golmaal Again!!! did such good business and now Pari is looking very interesting. Our film Phobia was a thriller with a horror element. Earlier horror was mixed with sex which was for mature audiences and that formula was very successful too.
BHUSHAN PATEL, DIRECTOR
Every genre has had its share of hits and flops, so it is unfair to say that horror as a genre is struggling in India. I do not think that horror as a genre has died for it to be revived. However, with mainstream actors giving it their nod, I am sure that this will see a spurt in horror films. I have had three successful horror films behind me and the fact that mainstream actors are available, excites me. Horror has always been one of the most widely watched genres which will definitely get a fillip. I believe that horror will always be a genre to contend with and hence have joined hands with Vikram Khakhar, who has a dedicated horror vertical called Weeping Grave which is focused on making only paranormal content for movies, digital, TV and live events. So apart from Amaavas, I am also making a digital show based on the life of a paranormal investigator. I am absolutely confident that we will do better than Hollywood in the coming years!
MILIND RAO, DIRECTOR
I think that the masses are coming of age and are watching a lot of interesting horror content from digital platforms. And they are expecting the same from Bollywood as well. Horror as a genre has done well, especially in Hollywood. There is a chunk of people who like it, they are loyalists. People will take it seriously as they are seeing pure horror on other platforms and if we are able to give the same experience without diluting it, it will definitely work. I think it is very good that mainstream actors are becoming part of this genre. It opens up the market. It is a lucrative market and will widen the bandwidth. As I said, it is a coming-of-age market and it is a good trend and will open up the genre to much more profitability. And there will be more budgets with big names involved.
PAVAN KRIPALANI, DIRECTOR
I hope the film Pari does really well and it gives wings to the genre of horror in Hindi cinema. I do not know, I still feel this genre in Bollywood has not been explored much and is still down in the dumps. I hope people come up with more horror films after this film without adding other elements and then I wouldn’t be sitting jobless. A lot of things depend on how the audience will receive the film. I have seen people not really willing to appreciate horror films; they somehow want to appreciate a white guy playing a ghost but they have a problem accepting horror films coming from their own home ground. A lot of bad horror films have been made and the process continues. Hopefully, more filmmakers will come forward to make horror films and it will get a makeover. People wouldn’t want to restrict themselves to watching only Annabelle 1, 2, 3. I hope they make it more diligently, put more thought and story to it and it gets its due positioning.
PRAWAL RAMAN, DIRECTOR
Horror will always remain one of the most important genres in the Hindi film industry. The most successful commercial movies in this genre are already made by Vikram Bhatt. And he has always maintained that horror works well. This genre always had its own audience; they are a very true and dedicated audience. Pari has a mainstream actor, Anushka Sharma, and this in a way helps boost the genre and increases its acceptance among the audience. The makers in India are working hard to match up with the level of Hollywood horror films.
KAMAL GIANCHANDANI, CEO, PVR PICTURES AND CHIEF OF STRATEGY, PVR LTD.
Hindi horror films have been few and far between, and vary from the truly scary like Gehrai (1980) directed by Aruna Raje and Vikas Desai, the genre-defining Raat (1992) and Bhoot (2003), both by RGV, and the increasingly campy fare from Vikram Bhatt who gave us the 1920 series. The audience is now getting a steady supply of horror films from both Hollywood and Bollywood. While Hollywood is going for serious scare fests, Bollywood is mixing it up with comedy, producing varying results. Anushka Sharma’s friendly ghost in Phillauri met with mixed response at the box office. She’s back with a serious ghost story Pari, so we will have to wait to see the trend. Going by the lineup for 2018, Bollywood doesn’t have a horror story as yet except Pari. The horror genre has tremendous scope to strike gold at the box office. Going by the success of The Conjuring and Annabelle series, as well as IT across all languages, it can be safely said that Indian horror stories, if told ‘scarily’ enough, can whet the appetite of Indian audiences.
RAJENDER SINGH, CHIEF PROGRAMMING OFFICER, INOX LEISURE LTD.
Horror has always been a special interest genre in the Indian film industry. The success of movies in this genre is heavily dependent on the content. In the recent past, we have seen many successes like the Raaz series, Bhoot, 1920, Ragini MMS series, etc. Horror films add to the refreshing mix of content at regular intervals to bring a variety of audiences to the movies and the genre has its ardent followers like superhero films. The trend of mixing horror with comedy increases the appeal of such films, as demonstrated by Golmaal Again!!! and earlier with Bhool Bhulaiyaa. Such themes will increase the appeal and reach of the genre attracting a wider audience and also pique the interest of mainstream actors and productions.
DEVANG SAMPAT, EXHIBITOR
Any genre with right engaging content for the audience works at the box office. Horror for Bollywood has a special place in India with such a large audience preference. If presented well, the audience will surely go for it. Besides that, leading stars and directors will only help this space to grow.
JASPAL DHINGRA, DISTRIBUTOR
I feel the horror films that were made in the past like Anita and Woh Kaun Thi? had great background score. That has continued in the films of (Vikram) Bhatt sahab, be it Raaz or other films he has made. Also, the films that were made by Vikram Bhatt had great songs or the music was overall done well. In films like Golmaal Again!!!, the audience did not go for the horror zone but for its comedy track. The music definitely clicks with the audience and I feel with passage of time horror films failed to make a mark because of their weak music composition. Also, I have always given credit to the technicians for creating the special effects in horror films. In recent times, horror films didn’t work mainly because of their weak content.
RAJESH THADANI, DISTRIBUTOR
Horror films, in a way, are a bit safer than other genres. Also, I think too many films in this genre should not be made at the same time. There should be a gap and then only will this genre survive. Also, these days, we see stars trying out different genres. They are not stuck doing the same thing again and again. Obviously, a star attached to a genre like horror will always bring more importance to the project. If we talk in terms of content, then Hollywood definitely uses a different concept. With the kind of business they do, the avenues are open over here. This is, in fact, a chance to say that even Indian films can do good business.