#BigStory: How horror has evolved in B’wood

#BigStory: How horror has evolved in B’wood

Who doesn’t like a good scare ? According to a recent survey, horror is one of the most popular genres with audiences world wide. A research said that around 75 per cent people love a good scary movie and will prefer it over any other genre. Bollywood’s love for the genre has evolved over the years. From the camp over the top gore-filled horror classics of the Ramsay Brothers in the 80s to the stylish slick special effects of a Vikram Bhatt film, horror has come a long way. The love for horror is not just restricted to the big screen but TV as well. Horror shows like ‘Aahat’, ‘The Zee Horror Show’ and ‘Kille Ka Rahasya’ were popular with audiences on the small screen. Bollywood horror is synonymous with petrifying voices of creaking doors, scary red eyes, or a woman clad in a white saree with a candle in her hand, singing a dreadful song or whispering, ”
mujhe mare hue to 100 saal ho chuke hai‘. Earlier, horror films were always about spooky visuals, intimidating sound effects, and those disgusting ghosts that kept the viewers on tenterhooks.

Nevertheless, Bollywood and horror as a genre have changed over the years. From slasher horror movies, creature films or films from the 80s and 90s which were the classic horror films, the horror in the early 2000s changed with Ram Gopal Verma‘s 2003 film ‘Bhoot‘, Prawaal Raman’s ‘Darna Zaroori Hai’, Vikram Bhatt’s ‘Raaz‘ and few others. Horror was no longer just people being slashed with a knife or creatures coming out of the dark and the creaking doors, horror was then more psychological. With the help of advanced technology, make-up, special effects, and an appealing storyline, the genre was never taken lightly by the audience who once laughed at those unrealistic looking bloodthirsty demons.

Expectations from the movie-goers are so much that the recently released Akshay Kumar’s ‘Laxmii’, which was a Hindi remake of a popular South film, ‘Kanchana’ failed to impress audiences. But again, we must not forget that Bollywood had produced some of the brilliant gems of the era which are still fresh in everyone’s mind. For our #BigStory this week we take a look at how horror has evolved in the entertainment space over the years.

Vikram Bhatt

ETimes got in touch with Vikram Bhatt, who is the pioneer of the Horror genre in Bollywood and he shared his opinion on how Bollywood has changed over the years. He expressed, “Over the years horror has become more about the scares and less about the emotional quotient of a film. At one time there used to be a lot more at stake for the protagonist which is not the case anymore. The audience wants a two-hour fear ride and perhaps that is just wanting more of the genre, which is fair.”
He also revealed why horror is close to his heart and what compels him to work on the dark side of the people. “I have always believed that all people have two sides. A social side and a dark side. I like the dark side. I like making content on the dark side of people. The thrill is in what people hide and not what they show. Besides, I love to sell fear. I am a fear peddler, ” he concluded.

The history of horror
Though the first horror film in Bollywood was the 1946 film ‘Khooni’, Kamal Amrohi’s 1949 thriller ‘Mahal’ is considered as the first legit horror film of Bollywood. The Ashok Kumar and Madhubala starrer film was based on reincarnation drama and the film was also included in the British Film Institute’s list, “10 great romantic horror films”.

Then came the iconic film, ‘Bees Saal Baad’, the song ‘
Kahin deep jale kahi dil‘ scared the masses in theatres and seems it will continue to haunt generations to come. This 1962 film is loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound Of Baskerville’. Not just this film but 1964 Biren Nag’s film ‘Kohraa’, starring Waheeda Rehman, Lalita Pawar and Biswajeet was inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel ‘Rebecca’. Joining the bandwagon, the multi-starrer ‘Gumnaan’ that released in 1965 was an adaptation of the 1939 mystery novel ‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie. Though ‘Gumnaam’ was a thriller and not purely horror, one of the very popular songs from the film, ‘
Gumnaan hai koi…’ still scares the hell out of us, isn’t it?

Ramsay films

The Ramsey era

Did you know that Ramsey Brothers never had a different production team for their films? as all the eight brothers handled eight different departments of filmmaking. Not many may know that after giving flops like ‘Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh’ in 1954, ‘Rustam Sohrab’ in 1963 and ‘Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi’ in 1970, Ramsey brothers discovered their talent for creating films with horror genres and they launched their first horror film ‘Do Gaz Zameen Ke Niche’. With this film, the meaning of horror changed a bit from being classy, musical, yet scary to ugly, funny, and disgusting. Soon with their films like ‘Darwaza’, ‘Purani Haweli’, ‘Daak Bangala’, ‘Veerana’, and a lot more, Ramsey Brothers became synonyms to horror. From thick forests to spooky atmosphere and coffins, Ramsey brothers successfully introduced their kind of horror to the audience. Though they then became a brand of selling horror, we can rightly say that some of their movies have spoilt the reputation of Bollywood horror flicks. However, soon in the 90s, their era faded with new talent entering Bollywood. Interestingly, before the 90s, the makers did not experiment with horror as hardly one film with this genre was released in a year.


Trade Analyst Taran Adarsh shares how horror films play at the box office and his views on how A-listers have also shown interest in doing horror films in the recent past. He said,” How good or bad a horror film does at the box office is how well it is treated and if noticed it is not a new phenomenon, as even during the black and white era, there were horror films that were made right from ‘bees saal baad’ and many horror films. There was one production house by Ramsey brothers who were specialised in making horror films in the 70s and 80s. They made low-cost films which did wonders at the box office. Then came Ram Gopal Varma, who made ‘Bhoot’, ‘Raat’, ‘Phoonk’ and few of them did extremely well. So there have been many films with the horror genre, some worked while some failed. So it all depends on how the film is treated. In between there was a combination of horror and comedy like Rohit Shetty’s ‘Golmaal’ franchise, where there was comedy injected in horror, it was a different genre completely but it worked very well.”

“Moreover, I don’t agree with the saying that A-listers never did horror films. Because back in the black and white era there were big stars who did films but the transition came with color cinema and focus shifted to romance and musicals so very few horror films were made.”

While Ramsey Brothers were ruling the genre on big screens. In the year, 1993, horror found a new address. Ramsey Bros produced television’s very first spooky show – ‘The Zee Horror Show’. The series magnetized the small screen audience and soon many horror shows were made. ‘Aahat’, ‘Maano Ya Na Maano’, ‘Ssshhh.. Phir koi Hai’ are the few shows that knocked the doors every week with their spooky stories.

When Bollywood re-discovered horror

The entire perception built by the Ramsey brothers was shattered by promising and spine-chilling Bollywood films like Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Raat’, which was one of the finest works of the director. The film kept the demons, tantriks, the coffins at bay and played with spirit in a unique way. The sight of Revathi possessed with the spirit of a kitten can still give sleepless nights to many. Films like ‘Junoon’, ‘Paapi Gudiya’ was also appreciated by the masses and are capable even now to give shivers.


Early 2000s then turned promising for the genre as Bollywood was bestowed with horror films like ‘Raaz’, ‘Bhoot’, ‘Darna Mana Hai’. Then came Vikram Bhatt’s 1920, starring Rajneesh Duggal and Adah Sharma. The film is loosely inspired by 1973’s American supernatural horror film- ‘The Exorcist’. Though failed to attract major eyeballs, the film did well commercially. Interestingly, the re-runs of the film on television gain better TRPS.

Adah Sharma

Adah Sharma, who debut with Vikram Bhatt’s ‘1920’ said, “I am lucky to have done 1920. Since it was a period film, I feel it will always remain immortal. I have even made a hashtag on Instagram #100YearsOfAdahSharma because I have been here since 1920. Honestly, I think horror as a genre is still the same, but the perception towards it in the industry has changed. When I made a debut with a horror film, the genre was not the celebrated one that it is now. The audience has always loved horror. Selling fear convincingly I think is the toughest thing to do.”

Sharad Kelkar

Sharad Kelkar, who featured in the ‘1920’ series, – ‘1920- The Evil Returns’, shared his opinion, “Horror is a very niche genre and in Bollywood films are been made from years now and it will continue so. India has an audience for horror, there is a set of people who are horror watcher. Talking about the evolution of horror, films in the 50s, 60s, and 70s were more well-executed. After that, there was a bad, ugly zone of horror with films made by the Ramsey brothers. I never liked those films as they were more of sex and lust and not horror. I think that was a dark period for horror. But over the years horror has evolved much better with VFX and sound effects. If you study horror, the best part to create the ambiance and to create horror is to play with lights and sound which I think was done well by Ramu sir (Ram Gopal Varma) in ‘Bhoot’. He achieved a lot with ‘Bhoot’, the film was a game-changer. Without any ugly face, he created horror like anything.”

Narrating an incident he continued, “I went to watch ‘Bhoot’ and one of my friends had already informed me about the doorbell sequence. I said, ‘
ab tu bata raha hai.. toh main kaise darunga‘. but even after knowing the doorbell sequence, I got really scared, despite knowing that now the doorbell will ring. I think the body of horror is how one treats the film and how one uses the background score in the film which I think has evolved. With films like ‘Stree’, it has improved a lot. people have understood how to make horror. Touchwood we are making good films in horror now. Again in ‘Laxmii’ if you see there is no ugly face but the film is treated in a better way.”


To get more details about the make-up and hair aspects of a horror movie, ETimes got in touch with Nishi Singh – a make-up and hair expert who has worked closely with Bollywood A-listers for some renowned films. ‘Dhadak’, Karan Johar’s ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Prithviraj Chauhan’ are a few films on which the young talent is associated with. As a make-up artist, she has a different perspective of looking at a horror film and the characters. After all, they are the ones who give the final touch to those spooky characters.


Nishi shared, “Horror genre is one of my most favorites. ‘Bhoot’ is one of the scariest Bollywood movies I have ever watched and it gave me sleepless nights. Unlike today’s horror, in the early ’60s major reason for a horror film to be popular was petrifying music. As a makeup artist, I really need to know and understand what vision, event, image the director has in his mind. As a makeup artist, I feel the horror stories are the same but the graphics and makeup have changed so much. There are expensive kits which we use to create MOVIE MAGIC. Cream makeup palette, alcohol color palette, 3rd-degree silicon, airbrush compressor and gun types of blood, setting powder, tooth paints, hair white, fake hair, setting spray, SFX makeup brushes, liquid latex, gelatin, spirit gum, collodion for making deep scars, pros-aide, Modeling compound, etc.”

Ek Thi Daayan

Bollywood’s fresh take on horror

Bollywood also saw horror films inspired by Indian folklore and mythology with a little fiction added to it. Ekta Kapoor’s multi starrer ‘Ek Thi Daayan’, ‘Ajay Devgn’s ‘Kaal’, Sohum Shah’s ‘Tumbbad’, Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Makdee’, are good examples of how Bollywood present horror in a different way. Vikram Bhatt’s 2015 film, Khamoshiyaan’ was categorized as a romantic horror film while films like ‘Bhootnath’, ‘Phillauri’, ‘Golmaal Again’, ‘Great Grand Masti’ are few films that made the audience laugh and scream at the same time with their horror-comedy genre.

Urvashi Rautela

Urvashi Rautela’s character added the horror factor in ‘Great Grand Masti’, the sequel to the ‘Masti’ franchise which is originally an adult comedy. Though Rautela played the sensual ghost in the film, she personally has a very different opinion about horror films in Indian cinema. She explained, “Talking about horror in Indian cinema today has definitely been an evolution and I personally believe horror has been reduced down to camp and never quite reaching the reputation that rightfully deserves. Today, it’s more about sketchy makeup, overdramatic background scores, wafer-thin plots, and cheap production designs that have walked down the level of horrors that we have seen in B-town’s past. At times these movies are not scary because they introduce an element of supernatural but because they give a Sinister spin to everyday objects. By definition, they exist outside the realm of logic and rationality, but now we’re seeing a new genre of social horror which has emerged to weave the existing social issues like racism and patriarchy into the horror genre. That I feel is the role change.”

Tusshar Kapoor

Actor-producer Tusshar Kapoor explains his stance on changing pictures of horror films and working in horror comedies in Bollywood said, “My first horror film was ‘Kucch Toh Hai’ and it was a kind of horror with more thrill to it. It was a sort of a horror-comedy. You can even call it a campus horror or a slasher horror. After which films like ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa‘ happened and we started horror-comedy in India. Though there were not many horror comedies in Bollywood then as the conjuring series did so well in India, the audience has really woken up to the genre and it got much bigger than before. Later on, after a few years, the first film to join the bandwagon of horror-comedy was ‘Golmaal Again’. The film very successfully took the horror-comedy to higher levels. ‘Stree’ is a good example of it. However, over the years what has changed in horror movies is the packaging and the novelty each of these horror films has brought in as it is very important to stick to the grammar and the essence of a pure Hindi film which has emotions and entertainment in it.”


Apart from comedy, romantic, and horror films based on paranormal activities, Bollywood also saw a film that left an open-ended climax for the cinephiles to think, whether it was the priest or the psychiatrist, who helped the lead actress cure. Yes, we are talking about ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa’ starring, Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, and Shiney Ahuja. The film is a Hindi remake of a Malayalam psychological horror, ‘Manichitrathazhu’. The film played with the mind of the audience for sure. The film received rave reviews and was appreciated so much so that the makers are now working on the sequel of the movie starring Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani.

Vikram Gokhale

ETimes got in touch with Vikram Gokhale who portrayed, a pivotal role in ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa’ and is a versatile actor, who has been around in the industry for almost more than five decades now. He expressed, “Horror in Hindi films has followed an interesting graph. It had subtlety in films like ‘Mahal’, ‘Woh Kaun Thi’, ‘Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayeg’i, ‘Bees Saal Baad, ‘Gumnam’, ‘Kohra’ etc… to brash ones like ‘Jaani Dushman’ and a whole lot of Ramsay films which had guys in bad makeup and scary cheap clothes. Returning to the 21st century we again had a mix of good and bad ones.”

The veteran further spoke about the hindrances that Bollywood horror face. “The problem I noticed in Bollywood horror films these days is that our filmmakers have failed to understand that horror is not what is always SEEN. It is the UNSEEN which is scarier. For instance, the music in jaws gives us the jitters even before we see the shark. It is more effective than ‘Lake Placid’ or ‘Anaconda’.

“Our filmmakers do have the know-how and potential to make good horror films. But I don’t know why….. perhaps our audience is more pro to drama in films, that they are not venturing wholeheartedly in the subject. Given a chance, I would certainly like to direct a good horror film that would be commercially viable and at the same time have healthy horror content,” concluded the actor.

Anees Bazmee

Anees Bazmee, who is directing Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani starter, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ feels today’s horror is like getting into a psychological space. He explained his stance on changing aspects of horror, ” Horror films earlier were primarily about showing dismembered bodies, blood gushing out, skulls, skeletons, and scary faces. The objective of a horror film then was to just make audiences scream and shiver in fear. Add to it lots of sex and scary shamshan ghar. Horror as a genre has evolved a lot over the years like we are getting into psychological space and adding a lot of meaning to fear. Intact fear has a new definition and the films are more polished now. Horror films these days are about attacking your mind and thought. Special effects and advancements in technology have also added a lot of change in horror films. We see psychologically traumatized characters in the films these days.”


How Hollywood inspired Bollywood

The early horror films that were made in Bollywood were indeed inspired by Hollywood. As said earlier, many old Bollywood horrors were an adaptation of English novels. Later, the rise of Ramsey films, which was a pure mix of sex and horror, allowed the B-grade horror film industry to progress in India. Though the ‘Ramsey’ era is unforgettable, the phase faded with the passing time. Characters and the style of Hollywood horror films like The Exorcist (1973), The Evil Dead (1981), Jeepers Creepers(2001), and few other films proved helpful for the filmmakers. In fact, few characters and scenes from ‘1920’, ‘Raaz’, ‘Pizza’, ‘Dangerous Ishq’, ‘Creature 3D’, were inspired by these Hollywood films. Later, there came films based on paranormal activities. ‘Ragini MMS’ starring Ragini MMS is one of the examples of a film that is inspired by the American supernatural horror ‘Paranormal Activity’.

Vishal Karwal

Vishal Karwal who made his Bollywood debut with Vikram Bhatt’s romantic horror, ‘1920: London’, feels horror in India needs to be polished and it can be better if filmmakers stop romanticising it. He also stated that films should take inspiration from Hollywood and stop adding too many songs in it. He said, “To be honest, we can do much better in horror films. Even the film which I did was supposed to be a proper horror film, but it turned out to be more of a love story with a little bit of horror in it. A horror film has to be a complete horror, we cannot have too many songs in it. Look at Hollywood, they have those kinds of films.

Sharing about his favourite films, Vishal added, “My favorite Horror films are obviously from the west. ‘Conjuring’, ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ and Paranormal activity series are my favourite. But again I will say in India we had romantisized everything, even horror in that matter and I think we need to work out on that.”

Talking about his experience working in a horror film, he said, ” My experience working in ‘1920: London’ was a painful one as it used to take 5 hours for me to do the make-up and another one and a half hour to remove it and I had to sit with that make-up whole day. But otherwise, it was a great experience. But again, I would like to add that we can do much better with horror in India.”

With the introduction of the OTT platforms, the filmmaker can experiment more with horror content. Vickey Kaushal’s ‘Bhoot Part One-The Haunted Ship’, Anushka Sharma’s ‘Pari’ and the recently released, ‘Bulbull’ were well received by the OTT audience. These films are good examples of the wide scope that horror has on the digital platform.

Bhanu Pratap Singh

We contacted Bhanu Pratap Singh, who directed, Vickey Kaushal’s ‘Bhoot Part One-The Haunted Ship’ to know his opinion and he said, “Horror movies have evolved, from it being considered B- grade its got to mainstream. We are pushing the technical and storytelling boundaries with the genre, ‘Tumbaad’ is a fine example. Big producers and actors are doing films they wouldn’t have done a decade ago. With the entry of OTT sky is the limit. There’s great horror content available. India is contributing to it equally. We have definitely evolved, but there’s still a long way to go.

” We experience all kinds of emotions regularly, like laughter, happiness, sadness, etc. Fear is one thing that we don’t get to explore much. It makes me inquisitive to explore the fear side of human emotion and that serves as an inspiration,” he added.

He also spoke about how Hollywood films inspired him. “There’s so much great content available I just wish I had enough time to consume as I did during my college and Assistant director days. William Friedkin, Guillermo del toro, James wan, Takashi Shimizu, Hideo Nakata, Dario Argento, Rahi Anil Barve and many many more. Special mention to Blair Witch Project, I think it started my love affair with the horror genre.”


And ‘horror’ continues to stay in Bollywood…

Even though the era of hardcore horror drama diluted in Bollywood over the times, with the mix of comedy, romance, music to it, the filmmakers on and off continue to scare their fans with formidable films. The success of Vicky Kaushal starrer ‘Bhoot-The Haunted ship’ and a multi-starrer ‘Bulbull’ that released on the OTT platforms are a good example that horror will continue to be one of the most liked genres of Bollywood.

Source From : Times Of India

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