Vicky Kaushal, who has been quite a man about town since last year’s Uri: A Surgical Strike’s unexpected success, is back in the cinemas to give you the creeps. The much-awaited Bhoot: The Haunted Ship, a horror-fest reportedly based on a true incident that occurred in Mumbai, is his first release of 2020. In one recent media interview, Kaushal, while talking about Bhoot’s haunted setting, invoked Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining which famously made use of the abandoned Overlook Hotel to corner its characters (including frontman Jack Nicholson as a writer slowly losing his sanity) into unspeakable isolation and psychological tension.
While The Shining seems to be his favourite, like millions of viewers who continue to revere the terrifying Kubrick masterpiece, Kaushal claimed in the same breath that he is “too scared to watch horror films.” That’s the reaction of most Bollywood-goers. Perhaps, that’s why horror has always been a niche genre, explored from time to time by only a handful of risk-takers. In mainstream, Vikram Bhatt comes to mind with his B-movie spooky aesthetics whereas there was a time when the maverick Ram Gopal Varma was showing unnatural interest in all things-bhoot. Before he lost the plot, RGV set new precedents with smart horrors like Kaun?, Bhoot and Darna Mana Hai. Ekta Kapoor has also tried to milk the genre in recent years, as the saas-bahu era drew to a close and stopped being the cash cow it once was.
Yet, the one name that’s most synonymous with Indian horror is the Ramsay brothers who made spooking unsuspecting audiences their life’s mission. But Shyam Ramsay’s death last year was an end of an era, the indisputable zombie king taking his soft-core secrets to the grave — all the way down ‘do gaz zameen ke neeche.’ That loss, however, does not spell the end of the genre. Those adventurous viewers queuing in for Bhoot: The Haunted Ship might just as well have an appetite for the concise list below. (We aren’t going as far as Mahal to make the list more recent and less history). Bet, many hardcore horror fans already might have seen these. In any case, pop the popcorn and revisit them for the shocks and thrills.
It takes conviction — and a little madness — for an A-list star to headline a scare-fest. The bubbly Anushka Sharma, who gave a hard-hitting performance in the road trip slasher (mired in a miasma of North Indian machismo) in NH10, takes the giant leap to satanic horror with Pari. Rare for a Hindi film to draw from Islamic mythology, which is what makes Pari novel.
With its breathtaking visuals and cutting-edge suspense, Rahi Anil Barve’s racy debut is a rain-soaked delight through and through. Set in pre-Independence Western Maharashtra, the period piece takes Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote on ‘greed’ and turns it on its head — the ill-fated story of one family, a fallen god and a gold treasure at the bosom of the earth below the old, crumbling mansion. Looking for some spine-chilling action tonight? You are at the right address.
“Aye, stree, kal aana.” That graffiti on Chanderi homes is enough to send the terrorising female ghost away, postponing the moment of horror. Director duo Raj & DK, credited with Saif Ali Khan zombie thriller Go Goa Gone, subvert the genre with this Rajkummar Rao-Shraddha Kapoor crowd-pleaser. Immensely enjoyable, the Amar Kaushik-helmed ghost comedy blends horror with satire on crimes against women. The stree may not come tomorrow — but bros, prepared to be spooked.
Ek Thi Daayan (2013)
Offering audiences well-deserved respite from the perennial shower of kisses, lover-boy Emraan Hashmi, for a change, plays a magician haunted by hallucinations. What could they be? When things get bad, he seeks psychiatric help to reconnect with his past. There may be a daayan (witch) haranguing him from childhood. Konkana Sen Sharma, Huma Qureshi and Kalki Koechlin, who’s the witch? No spoiler alert: we aren’t telling except that Hashmi’s situation gives you the chills and thrills.
Darna Mana Hai (2003)
One from Ram Gopal Varma’s golden years, DMH is an anthology transcending the usual horror concepts. Starring Bollywood’s who’s who, the film is a fun supernatural take consisting of a smattering of different ghostly storylines coming together. The fear factor goes up with every episode. For one, you will never look at apples the same way ever again. Watch and find out yourself!
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