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silhouette of person on a dark place with smoke

By Prakhar Patidar

There’s a charm in tales of haunted houses, dark forests, possessed dolls, uninvited guests, possessions, the supernatural, etc, that draws us to the world of horror cinema. It demands a suspension of disbelief and vulnerability from the viewer to work its magic. Horror films scare us plenty but rarely do they surprise us because we are all familiar with the common tropes. We almost expect voices from the dark, sudden reflections in the mirror, uninvited knocks on the door, and perhaps that’s why it is difficult to make a great horror film. That hasn't stopped filmmakers from experimenting with the genre and occasionally, artfully surprising the audience.

Indian cinema currently may not be in the league of Hollywood or other Asian countries when it comes to this genre with the occasional exceptions such as Gandhi and Barve’s Marathi film Tumbad, but we did enjoy an age of classic horror courtesy to the post-independence cinema.

The golden period of the Hindi film industry (50s and 60s), is believed to be where our saga of horror starts with Amrohi's 1949 film Mahal. This Ashok Kumar and Madhubala starrer introduced the trope of ancient houses haunted by the mysterious woman, carried forward masterfully by Raj Khosla’s horror trilogy with Woh Kaun Thi (1964) as its first instalment. However, it is the Ramsay brothers most associated with the genre when it comes to Hindi horror. They are very central to the age of classic horror. Their films known for their sticking to the conventions of gothic horror, shoe-string budget and exploration of eroticism in the genre had a 20 year run from the 70s to the 90s.

They defined the Bollywood B movie genre with films like Sannata (1981), Purana Mandir (1984) and Veerana (1988). A typical Ramsay brothers film is set in a mansion/ancient site and has prosthetic heavy demons and monsters haunting the characters. The modes of horrifying the viewer with creaking doors, monsters jumping in out of nowhere, etc, are borrowed from western counterparts of the genre and originally was aimed to amaze the audience from tier 2 and 3 towns and villages.

These films may not have been exemplars of critically acclaimed cinema, but they didn’t lack in entertainment which drew audiences to the theatres. They haven’t aged well either. The entertainment value of these has shifted from being horror fixes to being viewed as cringe cinema. However, what still remains appreciable, despite all the qualitative shortcomings, is the meet-cute of creativity and budget filmmaking and the genre-defining contribution to Hindi cinema.


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