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Of ghosts, witches and demons

With mainstream Bollywood films and popular streaming platforms coming up with more and more horror films and series, this genre is evolving in India

Whenever we are asked what our favourite horror movie is, the name that comes to mind is definitely a Hollywood one — or maybe a Korean or Thai or Japanese one. But seldom or almost never an Indian film, as none of them managed to leave an impact as deep as an Annabelle, or IT or The Conjuring. But lately, with Netflix series like Ghoul and films like Stree, is this scenario about to change?

Before we talk about what’s in store for the future, a look back at ghosts from the past! Indian films — especially early ones when animation, VFX and makeup were not in a good state – failed miserably to scare the audience with their spooky tales. It was the Ramsay Brothers who started “owning” the genre, only to contribute more to its misery. During the 70s and 80s they made a host of films — all of which were termed B-grade.

Then there were filmmakers like Ram Gopal Verma and Mukesh Bhatt, who tried their luck with this genre too. The results weren’t horrible, but again – to movie buffs who were used to watching Hollywood horror films, they appeared almost comical.

Cut to 2018. Amar Kaushik’s horror comedy Stree – starring Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi and Shraddha Kapoor – went on to become a blockbuster hit. Made on a meagre budget of Rs 24 crore, the film earned Rs 180 crore. One might argue that it was not an out-an-out horror movie – rather, it was a horror comedy. But to be fair, it had its share of scare along with the funny moments.

Coincidentally, another film that left an impact on the mind of its audience as well as critics the same year is Tumbbad. Directed by Rahi Anil Barve, the film revolved around a myth about demons. It might not have earned as much in the box office, but it was praised for the way it created a spooky ambience, the VFX used and the flawless cinematography. Another mainstream film which attempted the genre was Prosit Roy’s Pari, starring Anushka Sharma. It did not do well in the theatres but was applauded for its attempt.

And just about recently Dharma – one of the biggest production houses in Bollywood – announced their upcoming horror franchise Bhoot. It will have three parts, first of which is The Haunted Ship and will have Vicky Kaushal in the lead. Also, a remake of the popular Tamil film Kanchana is all set to be made by Akshay Kumar.

Like Kaushal and Kumar, many ‘heroes’ have opted to try this genre. After his success with Stree, Rajkummar Rao will be seen in yet another horror comedy Roohi Afza, alongside Jahnvi Kapoor. Also, Kartik Aryan is all set to begin shoot for Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2. And Amar Kaushik is reportedly working on the sequel of Stree.

Emraan Hashmi, who has done a good amount of horror films, is set to feature in the remake of Malayalam film Ezra. As per reports, Salman Khan is also making his foray into this genre with Aadamkhor.

As mainstream films gear up for a spook fest, the streaming platforms aren’t far behind. Ghoul (2018), Netflix’s first Indian horror film, was a first of its kind. Starring Radhika Apte, the mini-series took the Indian audience by surprise and did complete justice to the genre. Then came Sujoy Ghosh’s Typewriter (2019), which might not have done as well as Ghoul but did manage to tell a haunting tale.

Recently, Netflix announced it has a few original horror films and series lined up — Ghost Stories, Bulbul, Kaali Khuhi and Betaal. Ghost Stories will reunite directors Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap (after Lust Stories) to bring forth spine-chilling tales. Bulbul, produced by Anushka Sharma, is set in a village plagued by mysterious deaths and will tell the story of a man trying to save the village from a witch. On the other hand, Kaali Khuhi is set in a village in Punjab – which has a history of female infanticide and mysterious deaths of its residents. Lastly, Shah Rukh Khan will be producing Betaal – which is a zombie horror series set in colonial India.

Thus, with a host of horror films and series lined up for release in the coming year, we can definitely hope this genre will evolve for good. And maybe the time is not far when Bollywood will have its own big horror franchise, which will make the audience prefer these over the Hollywood ones!