'Bhoot Bungla' to 'Bhediya': The Evolution of Horror Comedies In Bollywood
With the release of 'Bhediya', let's look at the journey of the horror-comedy genre in Bollywood.
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The rise of horror comedies has been quite evident in Bollywood in the past few years. The year 2022 alone had three consecutive releases in the same genre, with Kartik Aaryan's Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, Katrina Kaif's Phone Bhoot, and Varun Dhawan's Bhediya. For a sub-genre that only appears on the silver screen once every three to four years, it has suddenly managed to pull in a sizeable audience.
To find out the reason behind its surging popularity, let's look at the evolution of horror comedies in Bollywood through the years:
'Bhoot Bungla' & The Rise of Horror-Comedy Genre in Bollywood
Many may not know this, but one of the first horror comedies in Bollywood was released in 1965 - filmmaker Mehmood's Bhoot Bungla. Originally shot as a comedy-musical, it unintentionally catered to all the needs of the horror comedy genre by giving its viewers a solid dose of laughter along with a spine-chilling experience. The film followed the classic horror formula — a haunted house, unexplained deaths, some unsolved murder mysteries, and the haunting of the poltergeists.
However, both filmmakers and the audience resisted the trend of horror films in cinemas at the time. Until the 1970s, when the Ramsay brothers entered the picture with their full-fledged horror flicks such as Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Purana Mandir, Jaani Dushman, Darwaza, Tahkhana and Veerana.
Although their films weren't technically horror comedies, they contributed to the horror genre by establishing it as mainstream in Bollywood. Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay experimented with the genre in all ways possible, from depending on an ample amount of skin show to making India's first 3D horror film, Saamri, in 1985. This helped in escalating the consumption of the genre across India.
But with time, people soon grew tired of the genre and its same old, unidimensional plots with tacky special effects. There was no room left for the surprise element to keep the audience engaged, as they were repeatedly fed the same content. Soon, horror films started to notice a decline in the number of its viewers in cinema halls. In response, not many producers wanted to take the risk of investing in the genre anymore.
Influence of South Cinema
In contrast to Bollywood, where the horror genre was struggling in the late 1990s, the South grew rather fond of it. The Tollywood industry began producing at least more than ten horror films each year, as the genre was well-received by its target audience and was rapidly gaining popularity. Films like Prem Katha Chitram, Arundhati, Nagavalli, Chadramukhi, Kanchana, Raju Gari Gadhi, Rajamahal, and Bhagamathi hit the audience with a fresh perspective by amalgamating their spooky fictional characters with comedy.
While Bollywood was experimenting with its serious approach to the horror genre in the early 2000s, the South film industry played a significant role in reviving the appeal of horror comedies in cinema.
Bhool Bhulaiyaa, a psychological horror-comedy starring Akshay Kumar, was a huge box office success in 2007. Adapted from the 1993 Malayalam horror musical Manichitrathazhu, the film had everything that the Hindi-speaking audience was looking for in the genre. From its excellent comedic timing to jump scares that will keep you on the edge of your seat, the film played mind games with its viewers from the beginning to the end.
But what set it apart from other horror films was the way it approached the genre. Bhool Bhulaiyaa explained supernatural events from a psychological perspective and, at the same time, tried to maintain the authenticity of horror with its engaging story-telling and screenplay.
Soon after, horror comedies began to emerge on the big screens rather frequently. Several filmmakers tried their hands at the genre; while some came up with the friendly ghost, others brought in the angle of romance. Some of these films were Bhoothnath, Darling (2007), Gangs of Ghosts, Phillauri, Golmaal Again, Bhoot & Friends, Atithi Bhooto Bhava, and Nanu Ki Jaanu, among others. However, an exceptional storyline was still missing from these films to attract a fanbase.
Another Hindi-language horror comedy that fell flat with the audience was Akshay Kumar's recent release, Laxmii. Inspired by Raghava Lawrence's popular Kanchana franchise, the remake didn't perform well because of its over-the-top execution and forced comic timing.
Contribution of the West
Not only the South, but Bollywood's horror comedies have been greatly inspired by the West as well. From the Ramsay Brothers to Dinesh Vijan, several filmmakers picked concepts from the West and gave them a desi twist to entertain their viewers.
Saif Ali Khan's Go Goa Gone was one of the first horror comedies in Bollywood to feature zombies. Whereas Hollywood, which created the supernatural creatures in 1968 with filmmaker George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, has produced an ample amount of films in the same genre, including the Zombieland franchise, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Before Dawn, Army of the Dead, Rise of the Zombie, and the Resident Evil series, among others.
Not just zombies, but our filmmakers also introduced the Indian audience to our very own "desi ghostbusters" with the latest releases like Katrina Kaif's Phone Bhoot, and Saif Ali Khan and Arjun Kapoor's Bhoot Police. Although their protagonists were essentially the same, their treatment was vastly different.
While Gurmmeet Singh's Phone Bhoot revolved around the story of two ghostbusters who make a business proposition with a ghost, filmmaker Pawan Kriplani's Bhoot Police followed the journey of two brothers with a missing father who solve ordinary cases of demonic possession in their everyday lives. This was another nod to the popular CW show Supernatural, starring Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki.
Filmmaker Dinesh Vijan's latest addition to his horror-comedy universe is Bhediya, starring Varun Dhawan. As the name suggests, the film is inspired by the western folklore of werewolves, another supernatural creature that we have often come across in Hollywood films like Twilight, Van Helsing, Underwolf, Howl, and The Silver Bullet.
However, Bhediya isn't the first Bollywood film to feature werewolves. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt did it back in the 1990s, with his film Junoon, starring Pooja Bhatt and Rahul Roy. Although the film did not feature a werewolf, it did feature a man who was bitten and transforms into a lion on a full moon night!
New-Age Horror Comedies With a Message
Another reason why horror comedies started gaining popularity in Bollywood is because of the social message they carried along with their spooky tales. Amar Kaushik's Stree, Hardik Mehta's Roohi and even Bhediya are the best examples of such films.
Based on the Nale Ba folklore from Karnataka, Stree, starring Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor, coyly talks about the physical and mental trauma that women go through in their every-day lives. From their constant fear and lack of safety to the degradation that they face in society, Stree was a true feminist tale of laughter and chills. Owing to this, the film not only became an exceptional entertainment but also formed a close bond with its viewers.
Roohi, on the other hand, was a brilliant interpretation of feminism and self-acceptance. Starring Jahnvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in the lead roles, the film is set in a fictional village where kidnapping girls to force marriage is a widespread practice. It follows the journey of Roohi, an ordinary woman possessed by the spirit of a deadly witch called Mudiyapairi, who gets kidnapped by two men who work for a goon.
Mudiyapairi, a local witch with inverted feet, abducts young women on the night of their honeymoon in order to satiate her unquenchable desire to get married.
In the film, Roohi is repeatedly assured that getting married will cure her. In order to do so, the captors take her to the town's best exorcists. But what comes as a welcome surprise is Roohi's decision to live with Mudiyapairi for the rest of her life rather than marry a man. By completing the seven circles around the holy fire and marrying herself, she chooses self-love.
In addition to being a potent drama about a woman's relationship with herself, Roohi is also a befitting satire on a patriarchal society where a woman's worth is measured by the institution of marriage. The film holds the ability to terrify its audience with its on-screen demon as well as the metaphorical demons of society.
Bhediya, on the other hand, delves into the nature versus development debate.
This new-age approach is currently doing wonders for the horror-comedy genre in Bollywood. But for how long? The viewers will decide.
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Topics: Varun Dhawan Kriti Sanon Bhediya
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