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Bollywood horror-comedies: Exploring a combo of genres

Bollywood watchers say this is an effort to turn the traditional horror genre on its head and churn out films based on folklore and legends

Even before the impressive numbers of Roohi came in last weekend, Bollywood had decided it would bet on horror-comedies that combine two equally popular genres. The makers of Roohi, known also for their hugely successful Stree, are now planning Bhediya, starring Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon next year which will complete their horror-comedy universe.

Later in 2022, Aaryan will appear in the remake of Akshay Kumar’s Bhool Bhulaiya. Bollywood watchers say this is an effort to turn the traditional horror genre on its head and churn out films mostly based on folklore and legends while bringing in cultural nuances of different parts of the country instead of simply having stories that revolve around supernatural forces.

Dinesh Vijan

Horror has worked in India since the days of the Ramsay brothers and when it is merged with comedy, it only drives audiences to laugh louder and get more scared, an experience that is ultimately aimed at enticing them to enter cinemas

– Dinesh Vijan, founder of Maddock Films

“The idea is to build a universe but for that, these individual characters have to be successful first so they can be repeated,” Dinesh Vijan, founder of Maddock Films, producers of Stree, Roohi, and Bhediya said. While Stree had made close to Rs 125 crore in domestic box office collections when released in 2018, Roohi has earned Rs 13.75 crore at last count since its release on 11 March.

Vijan says horror has worked in India since the days of the Ramsay brothers and when it is merged with comedy, it only drives audiences to laugh louder and get more scared, an experience that is ultimately aimed at enticing them to enter cinemas. That makes it an important ploy for an industry struggling to fill seats in movie theatres with the emergence of video streaming platforms and the plethora of options they offer, a trend that has only been accelerated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh said, unlike many other genres, horror is not dependent on stars and it is up to the content to make a mark, send shivers down the spine or in these cases, make people smile. Films made by Ramsay brothers such as Do Ghaz Zameen Ke Niche (1972) and Purana Mandir (1984) had worked without any familiar faces.

“Filmmakers are trying to subvert and reinvent the horror genre because people have outgrown the binary, one-tone idea of a ghost that can pull tricks,” film critic Manoj Kumar R said. New horror films speak to our basic nightmares and reflect on human mistakes and follies, he added. For instance, the 2018 horror fantasy Tumbbad touched upon the consequences of human greed while the recent Tamil film Nenjam Marappathillai spoke of child abuse and negligence.

Also, picking up subjects like Roohi, Bhediya, and Stree gives makers a chance to dabble with folk tales, myths and legends. While the Karnataka urban legend known as Nale Ba about a spirit who knocks on people’s doors at night had inspired the plot of Stree, Bhediya is centred around the Western legend of werewolf and full moon.

“It helps keep alive a certain and region and shows that we’re not aspirational about the West anymore. These are films of and by India,” Maddock’s Vijan said.

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