Making horror films in India, specifically in Hindi, is not taken seriously. Or, at least, not as seriously as it should be. Far too often – and this is something we have historically been guilty of – horror films are merged with other genres, such as romance and, more recently, comedy.
Corn Chhorii, the new movie on Amazon Prime Video, features another subgenre we weren’t quite prepared for: the ‘Message Horror Movie‘. These are films in which cinematic devices like symbolism and metaphor – both of which can be used to convey serious themes – are replaced by someone who literally spells things out. In Chhorii, Nushrratt Bharuccha’s character Sakshi interrupts the film at a particularly crucial time to lecture the antagonists about female feticide. She then says something about motherhood and walks away, convinced that she has won the argument.
It’s a totally unnecessary addition to an otherwise solid movie. Before he started pointing the finger at you, like you’ve actually murdered a few babies in your day, he relied heavily on atmosphere and tone, and enthusiastically took inspiration from classics like Rosemary’s Baby. It was a surprisingly pure and refreshing tone for a Hindi horror image, with no musical sequences to disrupt the narrative, and no comedic relief characters to reduce the tension.
To be clear, Hollywood also makes movies with messages. Director Jordan Peele works exclusively in the genre; he calls his films “social thrillers”. But you can tell how Get Out and Us are different from, say, Bulbul, law? The main themes are built into the narrative, and Peele trusts her audience enough that she doesn’t have one of her characters spell them out.
For decades, Hindi horror has been associated with the B-movie buffoonery of the Ramsay Brothers. These films were made cheap, poorly executed, and in all honesty, funnier than scary. It was an unfortunate trend, especially since it emerged after a particularly strong first wave of Hindi horror, of which Coronation Mahal and Madhumati remain extremely influential to this day.
Horror and genres adjacent to horror, such as fantasy and science fiction, are often used as vessels through which filmmakers and storytellers can talk about certain realities without actually talking about them. The genre is used as a shroud, and also as an armor. Filmmakers can communicate ideas through genre films that they couldn’t do in simple dramas – Godzilla isn’t talking about a giant lizard, but a nuclear holocaust; and District 9 is not about an alien invasion, but apartheid.
So why don’t more Indian filmmakers rely on this crutch to make meaningful cinema instead of what Dinesh Vijan is doing with films like Stree, Roohi and the next Bhediya? Well, the short answer is they are, but good horror is hard to find in mainstream Hindi cinema other than, of course, outliers like Tumbbad and Pari. Instead, we get nonsense like Durgamati and Laxmii– and that was our reward for surviving the Vishesh Films run in the 2000s.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best genre films are currently being made outside of Bollywood, by directors such as Lijo Jose Pellissery (Jallikattu) and, more recently, Bhaskar Hazarika (Friends). These films are artistically rich and thematically daring. They may not make a lot of money, but at least they have a large enough audience to justify the modest financial investments they require.
But what is happening in horror can be likened to what happened in the Indian streaming industry – it has been overrun by mainstream stars looking to branch out and attract new unsuspecting audiences to their dens. of mediocrity. Watch shows like Betaal, or movies like Bhoot the police– without the involvement of big names, none of these projects would have started and, realistically, would have been stopped at the script stage.
The need for a good genre film has grown in recent years, especially with what is happening around us. We need more Dibakar Banerjees and less Amar Kaushiks.