Anushka Sharma's Pari to Vikram Bhatt's 1921: Here's why B-Town horror films are not scary enough

This year has seen two horror films hitting the marquee so far — Vikram Bhatt’s 1921 in January and Anushka Sharma’s Pari: Not a Fairytale in March. While the former was the fourth instalment in the 1920 franchise, the latter was given the onus of being the game changer for the genre, right from the time the teaser was released. As the film’s lead and producer Anushka Sharma dared the audience to check the movie out, spook fest lovers geared for a scare fest. The excitement for a Hollywood-like horror film was palpable. Pari released on March 2 and received mixed reactions. While Hollywood usually gets the horror formula right, the makers back home can’t seem to nail it. 

THERE IS AN AUDIENCE

The success of Hollywood movies like Conjuring (2013), Insidious (2013), IT (2017) and others establishes the fact that we do like the jeepers creepers. However, we have our reservations when it comes to Indian horror movies. That’s no thanks to the decades of dilution of the genre, which makes such flicks tickle the funny bone rather than send chills down the spine. Much has already been said about cringe-worthy monsters, songs, and horrex (horror+sex — Hawa (2003), Ragini MMS (2011) and Ragini MMS 2 (2014) to name a few) that Indian fear files have been reduced to. 

Ifrit-spawn Pari was the manna from Heaven (or Hell, as it were) that was meant to turn things around. So, what happened? Well, the film is just… different. It has the elements — the darkness, jumpscare, a stellar performance by Anushka, and a not-so-filmi treatment. But, the audience expected the film to be scarier.  However, the film’s director Prosit Roy explains, “Pari is an atmospheric horror film. It’s not the conventional genre because we don’t see that kind in India.” He admits that the film was an artistic experiment. And, from the looks of it, people will take time to accept it. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he says.

IT’S A TRICKY SITUATION

Fans of the horror genre hanker for the good stuff like Conjuring — closer home Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat (1992), and Bhoot (2003) — and anything lesser just doesn’t cut it for them. Vajir Singh, Editor, Box Office India magazine, agrees, “Since foreign film lovers don’t like Indian films, filmmakers are only left with audiences that expect song, romance and titillation with a few scary scenes thrown in. It’s a tricky situation because flicks that are made like Hollywood ones have a limited audience.” Central India distributor, Aditya Chowksey, concurs, “Offbeat films like Pizza (2013) don’t really work for the Indian audience yet, especially in smaller towns. They are more welcoming of Vikram Bhatt’s Raaz (2002) and the 1920 (2008) series or Bhushan Patel’s Alone (2015). If you make a movie for multiplex goers, it won’t work.”

STAR PRESENCE

Other than the chills, also usually missing in the genre is big names. There was Golmaal Again (2017) with Ajay Devgn and Tabu, but that was primarily a comedy. Bhool Bhulaiya (2007) starring Vidya Balan and Akshay Kumar was also horror comedy. Before Pari, leading names were perhaps last seen 15-odd years ago — Urmila Matondkar and Ajay Devgn in Bhoot. Vajir says, “When a big actor does something out of the box, it grabs attention. Look at the success of Bhoot or even Jaani Dushman (1979). It had a cast like Sunil Dutt, Rekha, Jeetendra, etc and Sanjeev Kumar playing a monster.” Aditya also mentions Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970), supposedly the first horror movie by Ramsay that starred big names of the time, Prithviraj Kapoor and Mumtaz. But the front line actors now stay away from these movies keeping the more-crass-than-creeps treatment in mind. Vajir emphasises, “I think if we want Bollywood horror to be as big as Hollywood, A-list actors must take up such films.” 

Thankfully for Prosit, Anushka has always chosen character-driven roles and didn’t need much persuasion to come on board. The director-writer is confident that big actors would be open to horror films. He says, “It purely depends on the quality of the story. If it’s interesting, they would do it.” Vajir drives home this point by giving the instance of Sidharth Malhotra who told Box Office India that he’d like to star in a horror film if the content is good.

SOMEONE HAS TO START

Just like stars, if leading production houses backed such films, scary movies will cease to be a niche category. Like Vajir says, “Leaders are supposed to lead the way. If big players decide to take up this genre, we will see a change.” Prosit urges, “Someone has to start. We can’t always think of making things that are conventional. India has the tendency to make the same kind of stuff in this genre — there’s a ghost or a demon and every other element — comedy, romance, action. Ultimately, it does not seem like a horror film. That’s something that needs to be broken.”

Whether Pari will break that remains to be seen but we are hopeful. “I’ve heard of some upcoming horror projects,” Prosit says. “I hope the reasonable success of Pari pushes the envelope,” Aditya concludes.