IIM Calcutta

Evolution of Horror in Bollywood: Journey from ‘Mahal’ to ‘Ghost’


Most of us would not be able to remember a film named ‘Mahal’ which was probably the first Bollywood horror film. Ashok Kumar and Madhubala-starrer this film was released in 1949 and it dealt with horror and reincarnation in tandem as its plot. If we talk of reincarnation, then it was probably the first film in the world dealing with it. The film was a big hit which inspired the Indian filmmakers to enter into the horror genre. The song ‘Aayega Aanewala’ from the film was sung by the ‘Melody Queen’ Lata Mangeshkar and is hummable even now. This song is said to be a milestone in her singing career.

Mahal was followed by ‘Madhumati’ (1958) which, again, was a mix of horror and reincarnation. Dilip Kumar and Vyjayantimala-starrer this film was directed by the famed Bimal Roy and became an inspiration for the much-talked film ‘Karz’ (1980) starring Rishi Kapoor and more recently for ‘Om Shanti Om’ (2007) starring Shahrukh Khan. The film won several filmfare awards and was an official entry of India for the Best Foreign Language Film in Academy Awards.

After Madhumati, Biswajeet-starrer ‘Bees Saal Baad’ (1962) was released which played down the supernatural element. The song ‘Kahin Deep jale Kahin Dil’ was a big hit along with the film. Lata Mangeshkar won the Filmfare Best Playback Singer Award for the song.

The 1970s witnessed the emergence of sound effects, fearsome ghosts and display of extreme violence in horror films of Bollywood, thanks to Ramsay Brothers. Ramsay Brothers became synonymous to Bollywood horror with their films. Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (1972), Andhera (1975), Darwaza (1978), Hotel (1981), Purana Mandir (1984), Haveli (1985), Tahkhana (1986), Dak Bangla (1987), Veerana (1988), Purani Haveli (1989), Bandh Darwaza (1990), Ajooba Kudrat Ka (1991), Mahakaal (1993) and more recently Aatma (2006), Ghutan (2007) and bachao (2010) are some of their creations. They also came up with a much-popular television horror show on Zee TV with the name ‘The Zee Horror Show’. This show made them a household name. Ramsay Brothers were also the first in making a 3D horror film named ‘Saamri’ (1985), much before ‘Haunted’ (2011) claiming to be the India’s first stereoscopic 3D horror film.

Ramsay Brothers played a significant role in making horror films a part of commercial cinema, but their films lacked newness and innovation. Also, their films contained a lot of adult content and were summarily marked as B-grade films by the critics. Other low-budget production houses copied their style and produced a number of horror films like Cheekh (1986), Kabrastan (1988) and House No 13 (1991). Big production houses were also briefly involved in horror films. Rajkumar Kohli directed Nagin (1976), Jaani Dushman (1979) and Bees Saal Baad (1988), whereas Chetan Anand directed Kudrat (1981) and B. R. Ishara directed Woh Phir Aayegi (1988). Some of these films became very successful, but as a whole Bollywood remained indifferent towards the horror genre until the end of the 20th century.

Bollywood started taking the horror genre seriously after the surprise success of ‘Raaz’ (2002). The film became the second highest grossing film of 2002, just behind ‘Devdas’. The sound effects, the cinematography and the dialogues of Raaz played importantly for the commercial success. This encouraged the film industry to produce horror films with offbeat stories. Raaz was followed by many hit horror films like Bhoot (2003), Saaya (2003), Naina (2005), Kaal (2005), Bhool Bhulaiya (2007), Phoonk (2008), 1920 (2008), Raaz: The Mystery Continues (2009), 13B (2009), Ragini MMS (2011) and Haunted (2011). The main reason for the success of these films is claimed to be the freshness in the story.

One can easily see another important shift in the films of 21st century from the horror films of 20th century. The ghosts of present time are not projected like some hairy animal-like creatures with big nails. Directors have started using gore, suspense and the state-of-the-art visual and sound effects to make the scary scenes more realistic. ‘Fired’ (2010) and recently released ‘Ghost’ (2012) can be said to be one step ahead of other Bollywood horror films as they contain excessively violent scenes and are touted to be equivalent to Hollywood horror style. The Censor Board had to object on a number of scenes of these films and many scenes were trimmed to make the films suitable for public viewing. Ghost had also a very gory scene depicting crucifixion of a girl just like Jesus which was believed not to be suitable for the religious sentiments of the Christian community. The films failed to do well on the Box Office and the plausible reason for that is the lack of a tight script. But, these films have made a bold move by stepping forward towards the Hollywood horror style and we can expect some good Bollywood horror films in Hollywood style.


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