NEW DELHI: Indians should prepare to be serially jolted and chilled off their seats. Hindi filmmakers are about to dish out a season of the witch—or what looks increasingly like many seasons of the witch, the ghost, and every other creature of the horror film genre.
Even Bollywood actors Akshay Kumar, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao and Kartik Aaryan—“heroes" with large followings—have decided to dabble in horror.
Kumar will star in Laxmmi Bomb, the remake of Tamil hit Muni 2: Kanchana, while Kaushal has been engaged by filmmaker Karan Johar for a three-part horror franchise titled Bhoot. Rao will feature in a horror comedy called Roohi Afza along with Jahnvi Kapoor, while Aaryan is all set to do a remake of Kumar’s 2007 horror film Bhool Bhulaiyaa.
The chills will not just be restricted to the big screen. Netflix has come out with a thriller series called Typewriter directed by Sujoy Ghosh this Friday, while shows such as Parchhayee: Ghost Stories by Ruskin Bond (ZEE5), Booo Sabki Phategi (ALTBalaji) and Gehraiyaan (Viu) have already grabbed eyeballs. Once the domain of low-budget productions of the Ramsay brothers in the 1980s and the occasional Ram Gopal Varma movie, horror hasn’t been India’s favourite entertainment genre. Unlike romance or drama, the attempts have been few and far between, given that it often alienates women and children and has limited potential on satellite television. However, that seems to be changing.
“The entire (content) ecosystem has woken up and the overall pie has grown," said Deepak Dhar, founder and chief executive officer of Banijay Asia, producer of Parchhayee, adding that horror as a genre has benefited from rise in the amount of content available especially on streaming platforms. “Horror is one of the most sought after genres after crime and investigation. It stays in your mind much after the show is consumed unlike comedy or other genres that don’t stick with you."
Streaming shows definitely enhance the appeal of horror, Dhar said.
“The streaming space is largely catering to the youth, which is constantly looking for something disruptive and differentiated and some kind of a surprise element. So from the perspective of targeting the right audience, this is the genre everybody would want to push," Dhar said. As human beings, we are uniquely imaginative and horror helps us create, escape to and be a part of a virtual world that is full of danger, thrill and excitement, said Srishti Arya, director, international original film, Netflix India.
“We want to create authentically frightening stories that leave audiences on the edge of their seats, but unable to look away," Arya said. Ghoul, Netflix’s first original horror series from India, is among its most popular titles, she said. After Typewriter, Netflix has three original horror films lined up, Ghost Stories, Bulbul and Kaali Khuhi. Global horror titles popular in India available on Netflix include the series The Haunting of the Hill House and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, as well as films such as Veronica, Oculus, and Stree.
The recent success of movies such as Stree and Golmaal Again, which crossed the ₹100 crore and ₹200 crore mark respectively, has thrown open opportunities for horror, especially when mixed with comedy or a social message. Hollywood franchises such as The Conjuring universe, have helped too.
“As a collective (in India), we have never been fans of jolting horror. Personally, even I don’t know if I want to put myself through an intense experience, where your heartbeat is racing and you’re jumping out of your seat every second. After a certain point, I don’t even know if it’s pleasurable. So, for me it’s more fun if the horror film has a point that I’m excited about rather than just scaring the hell out of the viewer every second," said Stree co-writer Raj Nidimoru.
It’s quite natural, Nidimoru said, for filmmakers to want to tap into a specific genre when certain movies have worked. However, the exciting challenge would be to infuse horror with other elements to appeal to mass audiences given that the genre itself has enough going for it.