In the glittering, noisy mess of item numbers and all-star casts that makes much of commercial Indian cinema, there never seems to be enough room for that oh-so-divisive genre of horror. Though Hollywood for years has been raking in six figure sales on the backs of commercial horror, Indian audiences don’t seem to have the patience for it. This is evident with the laughable special effects and the titillating trend of ‘horrex’; using horror as the canvas for erotica along with the lack of funding when it comes to Indian horror films. Most regular horror watchers will tell you however, that it comes down to so much more than just the CGI. Though a killer soundtrack (pun definitely intended) and a few jump-scares never went amiss the essence of a successful horror lies in finding a story that will captivate the audience and will send shivers down their spine when they least expect it! The allure of the genre lies in the evocation of exploring visceral human nature and it takes a true master to let you live out your darkest fears in the safety of a cinema hall. Fortunately India is home to some such creators and we we tracked down the very best of Indian horror movies to amp up your Sunday night.
I. Kuheli (1971)
Director: Tarun Majumdar
On a terribly windy night a middle aged woman; Sheba arrives on a deserted obscure town called Nijhumgarh, to be the governess of a renowned household called “Raykuthi”. But little does she know that the bungalow and its dwellers were involved in two mysterious murders before her arrival. When the incidents around the house begin to eerily transcend the rules of the physical world, Sheeba must dig deeper to get to the bottom of the truth. With a remarkable star cast of of actors like Biswajeet, Robi Ghosh, Utpal Dutta, Sandhya Ray, Chhaya Devi and Ajitesh Bandopadhay this has become a much loved cult classic in Bengali cinema. If you are looking for horror complemented by a riveting suspense thriller, you cannot go wrong with this one!
II. Makdee (2002)
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
In a small North Indian village, legend has it that a 100 year-old witch lives in an abandoned mansion and turns anyone who trespasses her house into an animal. In the same village resides the mischievous adolescent Chunni who lives with her widowed father, grandmother and identical twin sister Munni. On a fateful day Chunni tricks Munni into entering the witch’s house only to later find out that her sister has been turned into a hen! Determined to bring her sister back Chunni strikes a deal with the witch Makdee- she will produce a 100 hens for Makdee to feast on in exchange of bringing Munni back to the human form. How Chunni attempts to keep her end of the bargain forms the crux of this comic horror film. Though the climax and some unnecessary song sequences in the film dilute the impending sense of dread Vishal Bharadwaj’s directorial debut this is still a rare horror film with a novel plot and sophisticated cinematography. This hindi film that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival when it was released has some fantastic performances from actors like Makrand Deshpande and child actress Shweta Prasad and is an engaging watch for those who prefer horror mixed with moments of delights.
III. Yavarum Nalam (2009)
Director: Vikram Kumar
A family sets up their new home in an apartment on 13th floor of a new building. While setting up their house, suddenly at 13:00 hours, the television channel automatically changes to the 13th channel, which premieres a serial ‘Yavarum Nalam’; all is fine. The women in the family are easily addicted to this soap opera only to shockingly realise that the events of the drama resemble the events of their own lives. With impending murder and revenge promised by spirits that control the television serial, this film has a fresh plot and an equally unusual climax. Made simultaneously in Tamil and English this one is for those looking for a riveting thriller in an intriguingly horror filled package.
IV. Kothanodi (2016)
Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Set in pre-colonial India this Assamese film begins on an ominous note: a man buries the first of many wailing newborns in a jungle. During the course of the film various gruesome and bizarre acts follow; a weaver gives birth to an elephant apple while a greedy mother symbolically marries her daughter to a python for want of gold. Based on four folktales that are re-imagined through a narrative treated with magical realism, this film explores both the physical and mental demons that surround the characters. The film which has received significant international attention also highlights the crimes against women in Assam, including infanticide and witch-hunting through its plot. This film is for those looking for indigenous sensibilities and horror filled twists.
V. Lapachhapi (2017)
Director: Vishal Furia
In the beautiful outskirts of a quiet village a couple is forced by circumstances to stay in a small house right in the middle of a large sugarcane field. The wife who is is eight months pregnant soon discovers that supernatural forces around her are after her unborn baby-she must find out who they are and stop them. This Marathi film derives its horror from the juxtaposition of stillness with mental chaos laced with haunting metaphors and symbols. The film which is path-breaking in its commitment to pure horror in Indian cinema also addresses certain social evils through the dark obscurest practices showcased in the film. This one is for those looking for a well-made film that also powerfully weaves the pleasure of horror.
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