Recently, Hollywood horror-thriller ‘IT’ smashed the box office breaking several records taking in a jaw-dropping $500 million dollars and counting. The film was well received among Indian critics and thrilled the audience in the country as well. Indians seem to have an unquenchable thirst for supernatural and horror flicks with every major Holly horror doing fairly well in the country. Last year’s ‘The Conjuring 2’ completely dominated itself over Indian box-office grossing over 5.25 crores on its opening day, even surpassing major Bollywood releases ‘Houseful 3’ and Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘TE3N’ on its debut day. And more recently its prequel ‘Annabelle Creation’ scared off other major releases. India has an appetite for scary dolls, ghosts and demons- that is for sure. Ironically, the audience has barely welcomed its own horror pieces. Shockingly only one major horror release followed this year- ‘Dobaara: See Your Evil’, which itself was the remake of horror hit ‘Oculus’. A talented cast did little to help ‘Dobaara’ which proved to be disastrous both critically and commercially. Bollywood has made some exceptional pieces in many genres like romance, comedy, crime and social dramas but horror despite some good efforts remains more or less untouched by the industry
‘Mahal’ considered by many to be the first Indian horror film was a noble debut attempt and even some of the films that followed it including critical and commercial successes like ‘Bees Saal Baad’, ‘Gumnaam’ and ‘Woh Kaun Thi’ satisfied. The 1970 and 80’s were dominated by the Ramsay brothers who gave several consecutive horror hits, but their formula too got really repetitive almost to the point of being annoying- abandoned house, a monster( who is not your CGI created one but a human whose face is smothered with make-up), scantily clad women, some heat and a loose script. Just when India’s future for horror industry seemed dark (not positively), the 90s came and it is this period that gave two of the most memorable horror films that raised the bar for Indian horrors- supernatural thriller ‘Raat’ and the psychological horror-mystery ‘Kaun’– the latter still stands among one of the most intelligent Indian thrillers. Interestingly, both of these gems were made by Ram Gopal Verma, a man who would continue to impact horror films in the 2000’s and to this day.
2000s are what I would like to call the most significant period for Indian horror films beginning with 2002’s ‘Raaz’– a film that made most of its isolated surroundings and its source material the Hollywood hit ‘What Lies Beneath’. Little did we know that ‘Raaz’ would establish Bipasha Basu as Bollywood’s very own ‘Scream Queen’ who later starred in several other horror films like ‘Aatma’, ‘Creature 3D’, ‘Alone’ .
Ram Gopal Verma struck back with Urmila Matondkar starrer ‘Bhoot’-widely considered by many to be one of the scariest Indian horrors ever made, with Matondkar receiving widespread acclaim for her performance. After that a series of very inventive and successful horror films followed- the 2003 anthology ‘Darna Mana Hai’ featuring an ensemble cast, its satisfying sequel ‘Darna Zaroori Hai’, the horror-comedy ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa’, exorcism based ‘1920’ and the edge of a seat thriller ‘13B’. The 2010’s however saw a significant decline in the quality of filmmaking. It is not that we have not got some really memorable pieces- the found footage ‘Ragini MMS’, ‘Horror Story’, ‘Ek Thi Dayaan’ and the recent Radhika Apte’s psychological ‘Phobia’ –all have proved that horror isn’t dead after all, but other horror ventures haven’t been that appealing or even watchable for that matter. This year proved to be more disastrous with just one horror release and that too disappointing.
The biggest problem for Indian horror films lie in their lack of inventiveness and following clichéd techniques every time. Just because something worked once, does not mean it will work every time. Ramsay brothers followed repetitive style in each of their films- excessive makeup and boring plot and a climax who always have seen it coming; Vikram Bhatt- some Hollywood rip-off plot, couple of jump scares and an ending involving chanting of mantras by tantriks-— this style has become so potboiler like that it is now being parodied and mocked at in standup comedies. Also lacking a talented cast or a major production house which leads to little marketing and promotion of films also keeps the horror films suppressed under big releases. Lack of originality in films, copied style from Hollywood film making have really led to the downfall of horror industry in India.
What remains ironic- is that India is a country where horror tales are being told since the beginning of time- witches, ghosts of all kind, monsters, evil spirits, misleading fairies and dreadful jins– have been a part of these tales. Yet Indian filmmakers haven’t found an effective story to tell nor has been their ventures skillful enough to scare the living daylights out of us.
Yet with the growing popularity of indie and stylistic techniques being employed in films- we can sincerely hope that the coming years will finally yield a gem to add in the horror genre.