Tales of terror

Bollywood, in the last decade, has proved its worth in the horror genre. Here’s how

Hideous prosthetics. Poor animation. Deafening background score. Creepy creatures. These are often used to describe the horror films Bollywood made before the 2000s – helmed mostly by the Ramsay brothers. But then came Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot (2003), and the horror genre entered the mainstream Bollywood landscape, catering to the urban audience – and things began to change.

Varma took a bold step by exploring the genre which probably was considered a risky one. But not many are aware that this was not his first venture into the spooky zone. He made Raat back in 1992, which was well-appreciated as well. But that probably did not open the floodgates for films in this genre.

Be it the makeup or the plot – Indian cinema was far behind Hollywood and global cinema when it came to the horror genre. Now, after 17 years of its release, where does Bollywood stand?

There is no doubt in it that this genre has seen its heydays, but it had its share of downs as well. Varma himself, after tasting success with Bhoot, delivered a few other horror films like Vaastu Shastra, Phoonk, Darna Mana Hai, among others. Before all these, horror was considered B-grade, made with low budgets and no big stars.

Then came a time when the Bhatts (Mahesh Bhatt and Vikram Bhatt) took this genre up and delivered quite a number of films – 1920, Raaz, Shaapit, Horror Story, among others. None of them, except 1920, were appreciated. Bhatt’s idea of horror was seen as ‘erotic horror’ because some of their films had more sensationalism than spookiness in them.

Apart from these, attempts to reinvent this genre were being made constantly by various filmmakers. Some of the mentionables are Ragini MMS (2011) and Ek Thi Dayan (2013). Both were well made and appreciated by critics as well. But then, one major concern which still haunted the film fraternity was the box office collection! Horror films seldom drew a large audience into theatres, nor were any big stars seen helming these films.

But the year 2018 changed the industry’s horror landscape in a major way. Amar Kasuhik’s Stree,  a horror comedy starring Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor — broke all box office records and went on to become the first horror film to be considered one of the best films of the year, or probably  the decade!  It was a pathbreaking development in Bollywood’s ‘horror’ history.

Stree is a first of its kind horror-comedy to break Bollwyood’s box office records

The same year, Anuskha Sharma starrer Pari hit theatres. Directed by Prosit Roy, the film revolved around myths and folks. It was considered as one of the scariest horror films that Bollywood made so far.  Its attempt to create a modern story from a folk tale was praised by audiences and critics alike.

But that wasn’t all. The year was also special because of Tumbbad, directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Anand Gandhi, starring Sohum Shah. It was a period film rooted in a mythological tale. The film, despite having any big names attached to it, received wide recognition and acknowledgement. One can rightly count it among one of India’s best horror films.

Now, coming to the streaming platforms – one can see how in recent times, the genre made its way there too, especially Netflix.

In 2018, Radhika Apte and Manav Kaul starrer Ghoul was released on the streaming platform. It received rave reviews and undoubtedly was hailed as a finely made horror series – first of its kind in India. This paved the way for many such good works which surfaced on Netflix. The next year, Sujoy Ghosh’s Typewriter made its way too. Unfortunately, it was a total disappointment.

But again, 2020 tried to redeem itself in this front. The year began with Netflix’s much-awaited anthology Ghost Stories – helmed by four prominent filmmakers Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar. But apart from Banerjee’s film, none could leave a mark that strong. Then came Vicky Kaushal starrer Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship – but it turned out to be a bigger disappointment.

Mid-2020 saw Anushka Sharma produced Bulbul. This Netflix original was a horror film, but it was more of a tragic tale of a tortured soul, with the touch of feminism. It was termed as a ‘feminist fairytale’ by many. The year is yet to end, so we are yet to see if Bollywood has any other surprises in store for us. But the way the horror genre has grown in the last decade, one can definitely expect the unexpected!


(Cover: Poster of the film Tumbbad)

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