Horror and Bollywood – Not Made for Each Other

How does it feel to watch horror films churned out of Bollywood? We know you’ll have a lot to say on this. Most of them are either complete rip-offs of their Hollywood counterparts, and more recently East Asian horror flicks, or they lack any coherent aesthetics. They often come across as a parody of a director’s vision, or rather, a lack of it. What they are struggling with, apart from an absence of knowledge of basic story building, are the right proportions of aesthetics, themes and motifs, to concoct a horror film that complements an Indian context.

Conventionally the man plays the hero rescuing the damsel from distress. However, horror is one genre that has globally grown out of its Gothic inheritance by radically experimenting with the narrative, form and structure. A woman no longer has to rely on a gentleman to save her from the menacing monster. Looking at the recent popular Bollywood horror films and it is evident that filmmakers employ age-old alien elements of the Gothic genre such as the self-sacrificing virgin maiden, the hero with a scientific bent, a villain, bandits, the clergy and a haunted castle or mansion. Further, by mistiming their frights, being too generous in the number of wails and shrieks, using mud-cake makeup on a possessed leading lady and placing the narrative in plastic Gothic settings that have no relation to Indian landscape whatsoever, Bollywood filmmakers fail to create a sense of horror. Thus they deliver a film that fails to connect with their immediate audience.

By being so one-dimensional the narrative, plot and characters render the work as being hollow and vacant with no critical insight or intent whatsoever. There is a thin line between horror and comedy and most Bollywood films seem to manage a spoof rather than a good spook. The 1970s and 80s were marked by a rise in the production of “masala” films. With the introduction of VCRS in the 1980s, most middle-class movie viewers chose to watch films at home rather than in the theatre which was increasingly regarded as an immoral space that was infested with crass and loud “masala” films. The narrative and plot of these films mostly revolved around urban crime, loaded with visceral graphic visuals. VCRS also opened up an avenue to global cinema, mostly represented by Hollywood. Many Indian filmmakers referred to these films for inspiration and started adapting these new plotlines and reworking narratives to make them fit with the Indian context. The Ramsay Brothers (a team of seven siblings) deserve a special mention here as they brought about a tremendous shift in both Hindi and Indian horror cinema. Even though aesthetically and narratively they lacked originality, mostly reworking Hollywood monster movies, they managed to experiment sub-textually with taboo issues and themes such as incest and exploitation that can be considered largely absent in earlier mainstream social films.

The absence of imagination and original thinking is what is hurting the horror genre. The lack of artistic will to create something daring and original for once has caused the genre to reach a saturation point. Our filmmakers are no longer bothered to invent, innovate and redefine the way we perceive horror films. In the meantime, the only evolution that the horror genre has achieved here in the past few decades is that female ghosts now wears a variety of flashy, colourful dresses and ornaments as opposed to just a dull white saree.

Bollywood cannot be credited with producing the most sensitive of films, and although there has been a welcome change in the recent past, there is still a long way to go in terms of appropriate and sensitive representation across genres. While genres such as romance and comedy are actively dissected regarding how they often portray skewed gender relations on screen, one genre which probably needs to be spoken more about is that of Bollywood horror films.

Ankur Baruah

A creative communication specialist and a true music & movie enthusiast. Apart from writing for bread and butter, I have a deep interest in the mysticism of space, cuisine styles, local art and human behaviour. And whatever time I am left with every day, I dream of making a horror movie.
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