Why 2018 may see a revival of Indian horror movies
New Delhi: The Holi weekend next Friday will see Anushka Sharma dabble with a genre Bollywood doesn’t take to very often—horror—in her home production Pari. Along with a horror comedy called Stree, starring Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor, there are a bunch of regional horror films scheduled for later this year, including Kanchana 3 (Tamil) and Karu (Telugu).
While the Indian horror movie scene has been heating up with the success of Vikram Bhatt’s 1921 and Tamil-Telugu horror thriller Bhagaamathie last month, Hollywood has supernatural horror films like The Nun and A Quiet Place ready too.
Meanwhile, over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms like Amazon Prime Video and Viu have already gotten into the horror game with shows like Shaitan Haveli and Gehraiyan. The former is a satirical take on B-grade horror movies, while the latter is a supernatural thriller based on a couple whose relationship is challenged by dark forces.
For a country still relying on the Ramsays, a group of seven brothers who produced more than 30 horror films with sparse crews and shoestring budgets during the 1980s, for its primary horror inspiration, there is suddenly a lot to look forward to in the genre.
“There was a change that came in the 1990s with films like Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat, where we started exploring the idea of taking horror beyond the stereotypes of the putlas (idols) and the chudails (witches) as we started getting exposed to Hollywood cinema,” said Varun Thakur, writer of Amazon’s Shaitan Haveli. “When you saw this paradigm shift, you realized the Ramsay horror was really campy, though it was really interesting for the time it came in, but there were other stories that you could explore, and the setting of those older films seemed ridiculous.”
Still, even towards the 2000s, in the name of horror, most Indian films were simply remakes of Hollywood flicks. Even a superhit like Raaz, for example, Thakur said, was basically What Lies Beneath, a Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer film, punched with five songs.
But the genre faces other challenges too.
“Indian audiences are basically divided into two. While the mass audience likes the more in-your-face and easy to understand horror stories, those in the multiplexes like to be engaged with their minds,” Vikram Bhatt said. “So while we respect the intelligence of the audience, the question is how to make holistically for the entire country. One way would be to get a major star to do it, so that people come to see the star and then the story. A second way would probably be to have a simplistic story without too many other emotional angles.”
Plus, the fact that most horror movies are adult films restricts a lot of the viewing audience and limits potential on satellite television. At the same time, horror is a genre, Bhatt added, that has a very loyal audience both ways. There are some people who will always watch horror and some who never will.
“There’s a huge percentage of people, especially women, who are extremely scared of scary films and don’t want to pay for the nightmare. So it is always going to have slightly less revenue than a comedy or a love story that is all encompassing,” Bhatt said.
Clearly though, that hasn’t deterred him, or the numerous emerging OTT platforms from attempting horror stories.
“The opportunity to tell various stories through (services like) Prime Video is bringing a lot of creators forward with ideas and concepts that are in the face of supernatural thrillers, horror and such adjacent genres,” said Vijay Subramanium, director (content), Amazon Prime Video, adding that horror has always done well for them in terms of international movie franchises like The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity and, more recently, Annabelle. “Web series lend themselves very well to this genre, you can keep customers engaged for a longer period of time and build multiple story arcs which is very liberating for a lot of creators.”
While Subramanium said the great deal of VFX and technical skill involved in putting horror together has proven to be a challenge, Thakur pointed to the focus on spectacle rather than story, hoping that credible names like Anushka Sharma will change that this year.
“While horror done well is very popular, if it’s half-baked, you’re not going to get anybody to consume it. Unlike drama where you can get engaged with any character track you fell in love with, in horror you have to love the whole story otherwise you don’t have the customer’s attention,” Subramanium said.