It’s Time for Bollywood Horror Movies to Get a Major Upgrade

[A still from "Khamoshiyan" Photo Source: Screenshot/Fox Star Studios]


By Karthyani Satish

“Hate Story.” “Hate Story 2.” “Hate Story 3.” And…. “Hate Story 4”?!

Creative naming, it seems, is not a strong point of horror movie directors.

Bollywood has no shortage of horror-romance movies. None at all! In fact, during the slow periods of the year, there seems to be an inundation of Bollywood horror movies coming to our theaters a dime-a-dozen.

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Movies like the eloquently-named “Hate Story” or “Raaz” series, “1921” and “Khamoshiyan” fill the screens in India and internationally, acting as poor, “I have nothing else to do so I might as well watch it” fillers in between “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’s” and “Padmaavat’s.” They have neither the sheer grandeur of Sanjay Leela Bhansali magnum-opuses, nor the indie cred and artistic shots of an Imtiaz Ali film, and they definitely lack the typical masala of a good old-fashioned Karan Johar spectacle.

No, these films seem to be rooted in two different types of script that took about five minutes to write, possibly when someone was half-asleep. First, there’s the supernatural horror flick, and second, the erotic thriller.

There has been, and I’m not making this up, a movie where one of the scariest things that happened was a laptop auto-deleting texts. I mean, I guess I’m living in a horror movie because my Macbook has been doing that for months now. Should I call the Apple store or an exorcist?

In the supernatural cliche horror film, boy moves into palatial mansion shot entirely in greyscale, inherited through suspicious means and located, conveniently, at the outskirts of some town or the other. Said hunky, permanently brooding protagonist — who takes his shirt off as frequently as possible to show off his chiseled chest (I mean, if I spent six hours at the gym every day I’d want it to be appreciated as well) — proceeds to be haunted by a female ghost who spends more time at the makeup counter of Sephora than doing any actual haunting. Because if you’re going to be undead and killing people, you might as well do it with your contour on point. Mascara > murder.

After a montage of blood dripping from several walls, expensive chandeliers breaking and a few completely unnecessary screams echoing from the far corners of the theatre, the movies come to the main point of the franchise. The sweeping, no-holds-barred love story between the two leads, including yet more brooding and greyscale. You thought interfaith marriage was gaining traction in India? Hah. Inter-states-of-aliveness marriage is where it’s at. Seriously. A non-beating heart is the most wanted criteria on now.

Then there’s the erotic thriller which has little to no plot and just features women in the least amount of clothes possible without technically being considered naked.

But here’s the thing about these movies; they’re indistinguishable from the jumbled mass of the same type of movie that came before them. It’s almost scary how similar these movies are; I’m willing to bet there’s some scriptwriter out there who just faxes copies of the same exact script to directors year after year, just with the names of characters changed. And what’s even worse is that the stars and starlets that act in these movies every year have become indistinguishable too.

Dressed in the skimpiest thing the director could get past the censor board and covered in pounds of makeup, the acting ability of these women is cast aside in favor of their attractiveness and male-appeal. I’m not saying they can’t act, that’s not it at all — it’s more a case of they’re not given a chance to. A few screams, a dream song sequence and some tears. Boom, film done and it’s onto the next one. Except, it’s not.

The actresses in some of these movies have made it out of the cycle into mainstream Bollywood horror movies — Kangana Ranaut being a prime example. But the majority of actresses in these films just move onto the next bad horror-romance, going around the circuit two or three times before they begin to fade and slowly recede into relative anonymity. Actresses like these seem to be everywhere in Bollywood these days — acting purely as eye candy for the male lead in a film or two before they are discarded for the next pretty girl to come along.

One or two break the cycle and stay on, but for the majority, the story stays the same; your time here will be unmemorable and short, full of one-star reviews and the rare tabloid headline when Deepika and Anushka and Katrina weren’t doing anything controversial. It’s a grim reality, but one that shows no signs of ever stopping. As long as there is Bollywood, it seems, there will be movies like these.

And it’s not a phenomenon limited to Bollywood horror movies. No, there are plenty of romance movies, and crime thrillers, and every other genre under the sun that undervalues its female actors. To speak only of Bollywood would be a crime; regional films are no better. They, it seems, have given up on even the stereotypical romance plot that might give the female lead more than ten minutes of screentime.

Malayalam movies these days operate along even worse lines. Introduce the pretty, well-mannered heroine for a few minutes (more for the poster than anything else, it looks to me), give her a few speaking lines. Throw her in a song that exists purely to appease the audiences and prove that the male lead has female appeal as well as talent for sniffing out crime in his small town, and discard her in favor of following the aforementioned hero along a path of turbulent, violent adventure.

The heroine mostly fades into obscurity after this, but if she’s very, very lucky, she might be allowed to come back to feature in a wedding scene. But only if she’s lucky.

It’s about time this was changed, both in Bollywood horror movies and the wider cinematic world in India as well. Female-led movies have proven to be successful — look at “Kahaani,” or “Lipstick Under my Burkha,” or “Queen.” Even Anushka Sharma’s new horror film, “Pari,” has proven to be commercially successful since its March 2nd release, already becoming the fourth highest grossing film of 2018 so far. We as a community have to shun the trope that female-led movies are boring or unsuccessful, and start giving women a much, much larger role in the film industry.

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So, this spring, when the Bollywood horror movies begin to pop up like mushrooms and fill my screen with their trailers, I’d like to see a horror movie led by a woman. And not just any woman, but one who’s given a chance to show her acting chops on screen. Perhaps even a horror movie without the romance angle, a la “Conjuring” or “Lights Out”? Maybe even without the abundance of same-sounding songs? I may be asking for too much, but I can dream. Until then, at least we’ll always have auto text-deleting ghosts.

KarthyaniKarthyani Satish is an aspiring doctor/novelist, currently in high school. When she isn’t rhapsodizing about George R R Martin or pondering existentialism, she can be found eating California Rolls and re-watching Marvel movies with her dog, Bruno. She also has a passion for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and the intricacies of Westerosi politics. 

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