For decades, Indian horror film were often equated with purani havelis, chudails or possessions triggered in isolated places. It’s only the in the past one decade that the horror elements have been brought to the city. Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot was one such film that changed the trend where the story of possession was set in a penthouse in Mumbai. The times are changing, which is why we see a spurt of upcoming horror films set in cities or carrying an urbane ring to it. For instance, Ragini MMS 2, Darr @ The Mall or even Neighbours, which I have directed.
The audience have seen enough of horror films based in havelis. So how do you engage them now? Especially when it is the young that make up for a large segment of audience. They are exposed to all kinds of films, including horror flicks from the West, most of which are set in cities. When you set a story in a city, it’s a backdrop that an audience instantly connects with. And the fact that these familiar places can breed horror intensifies the fear factor. The audience is able to connect and identify with the story unfolding before them. What Ragini MMS did is use a familiar technology, like a video footage of an incident to tell a story. A format made popular by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity series. This kind of story telling not only turned out to be a novelty for the Indian audience, but also lend authenticity to the horror experience.
Does that mean that a horror film set in a city works better than the ones set in a castle? Not really. Backdrops are relevant only to a certain point. They are decided according to the script, which is why Vikram Bhatt’s 1920 set in a castle worked as well as Bhoot, which unfolds in a penthouse. After pioneering the trend of horror films in India, 32 in all, my next Neighbours is unlike any of our previous films. It is set in Mumbai city and introduces vampires as a source of horror. The heroine of the film, a horror buff finds that her neighbours are blood suckers from beyond the grave, and on a killing spree.
But whatever the backdrop, what really matters in the end is the execution of the story. Besides today, there’s state-of-art technology (like special effects) available to support in the making of a film, or even watching it with surround sound. I don’t have to use extensive make-up or prosthetics in my horrors like I did in the past; it can all be achieved with the help of special effects.
In taking inspirations from the West or experimenting with horror films, one must not forget to keep the soul of the film Indian. Because finally, it’s one element that draws our audience to connect with the films. Go Goa Gone, which was India’s first zombie flick, was a well made film, but it didn’t do too well because it was too western for our audience. Besides, one should also remember that a western plot cannot be stretched for three hours, it then becomes a mockery.
As told to Priya Sugathan