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Indepth: What ails the horror genre on television today? – Part 2

Think horror in Indian Cinema and Television and the first and only images that come to mind are the Ramsay Brothers’ brand of scare fests – tacky make-up, amateurish VFX, ear-drum splitting background score, superstitious mumbo-jumbo and not much variation in the story plot. 

Sadly, the horror genre on television hasn’t moved too far away from the Ramsay Brothers’ days. On the other hand, horror in films has evolved, thanks to experimentations by Vikram Bhatt, Ram Gopal Varma, et al. 

In the first part of this two-part Indepth feature report, Adgully delved on what ails the genre, reasons behind the slide, viewership trends, why this genre is stuck in a time warp, as well as why lines are blurring between family-oriented daily soaps and horror series. 

In the second and final part, the report explores the blurring of lines between family soaps and horror, the cost of producing a well-made horror series, budget and time constraints, and much more.  

Lines Blurred 

Adgully asked the industry experts whether the line between family-oriented soaps and horror was blurring, as we are seeing quite a few daily soaps introducing ‘supernatural’ elements in them. 

Monica Ranadive, Producer and Broadcast Consultant:
“Horror in daily soaps always works. The Indian audience is obsessed by daily soaps, and introducing an element of horror makes it look real and convincing. Imagine your newly married sister-in-law who looks and behaves normal turns out to be ghost! The shock element is much higher than regular run-of-the-mill horror stories about a group of friends stuck in a forest or an isolated place and dying one by one. Introducing a horror element in daily soaps is a kickass idea to get eyeballs. And most importantly, it helps getting women on board to watch the show.” 

Ricky Sandhu, Shootingstar.in:
“Yes, it is – and sorry to draw the parallel – but the make-up of some of the women in the soaps make them look like cheesy horror queens! But on a serious note, the infusion of a ‘supernatural’ angle into regular daily soaps also reflects the lack of creativity in those specific soaps. These are forced attempts to add ‘masala’ as they know that their stories are going nowhere. These flights of horror fantasies just allow them to distract the audiences. They come across as a desperate attempt to maintain or hold onto some TRPs. I sincerely hope that this trend stops as it is not doing anything for either genres except coming across as buffoonery, unless that was the attempt to begin with, in which case they are highly successful and I rest my case.” 

Sukesh Motwani, Partner, Bodhitree Multimedia Productions:
“Horror mixed with soaps can only deliver when scary and intriguing motifs from Indian mythology are able to merge organically in modern day settings – like the concept of ‘naagin’ from mythology has successfully found its place in soap storytelling set in contemporary times. So, any of the existing motifs to do with mythical animal-human hybrids from Indian mythology – and some of these motifs and other supernatural concepts like that of ‘daayan’ (Indian witches) – have found interesting merging and retelling in Indian soap storytelling. They have worked and appear fascinatingly ‘credible and exciting to view/ consume’ because they have been a part of our psyche and our storytelling culture for centuries on end.” 

Mautik Tolia, Partner, Bodhitree Multimedia Productions:
“No, I don’t think it takes away from the horror genre; it’s just that you add some supernatural elements into a daily soap to give it a little bit of a visual thrill. Horror comes with its own elements of thrill and makes storytelling racier. When it comes to the Indian audiences or the mass audiences, for them supernatural is a way of life. They don’t really separate it from the reality of their lives. For them, the supernatural element of spirits and witches are part of the daily lore and taken for granted. They will not even question the fact as to why is a witch suddenly coming into my daily show. In fact, there have been parts where a person has become a fly as well! Regular supernatural elements are not even going to be questioned by them. When a ghost appears, they will regard it as an exciting development and keep watching. There is a superstition that a lot of industry people have, where if you bring a snake on to the show the rating goes up. That’s like an urban legend that is supposed to bring you good luck.” 

Abhimanyu Singh, Contiloe Productions:
“The answer is in the question itself – that people love variety and soaps are doing it by taking such a horror or supernatural route and you can create a full horror show instead of being apologetic about creating horror soaps. You can create horror soaps, which is again another genre. People want variety and I will say that is the reason why it is happening.” 

Maintaining balance between the superstitious & the rational 

Ricky Sandhu, Shooting Stars Productions:
“There is nothing wrong with showing superstitions, I think all horror stories are in some way based on superstitions and/or hearsay stories without any convincing proofs that they actually happened. Yes, where the superstitions are leading to real life incidents and are in the general sense something that may lead to untoward incidents, they should be closely considered before being used as fiction. But inherently, horror is ‘Fiction’. Hence, horror stories should just have disclaimers and for the sake of entertainment, the more real they feel, the more terrifying effect they will have, which will, in turn, make the stories more watched and increase popularity of the genre. This has been proved time and again with a lot of horror TV series and films from the West.” 

Abhimanyu Singh, Contiloe Productions:
“If you look at this genre, Korea is huge when it comes to horror, which is as huge as an economy. Horror is an experience, thriller is an experience and crime is an experience. Horror is like a rollercoaster ride, its entertainment. What you have seen is what you fear. We as makers focus on creating more entertainment for people rather than propagating blind superstition, and this is true of both developed and under-developed markets. 

Also Read: Indepth: What ails the horror genre on television today? – Part 1

The Cost Factor 

Ricky Sandhu, Shooting Stars Productions:
“The cost of producing a good quality horror show depends on the story and requirements of the story. Yes, when a story needs great prosthetics and special effects, but they skimp on the spends or don’t have the budget, the films and serials end up looking like a bad joke on the audience. This is where stories and great writing comes in. To write stories that are more in sync with what can be achieved within a certain budget.” 

“Horror has for ages depended on distorted or grotesque faces to induce a sense of horror in the audience. And then again, there have been horror films that have been very slick and stylish, but have lacked the scare element – more style than substance. The same can be said about sound effects in horror stories, of late they have just become louder and grating just to jolt the audience, with hardly any supporting visuals. The jump that film makers are imagining is grossly misplaced. For me, ‘The Shinning’ by Stanley Kubrick is a master class in horror with the perfect blend of all elements used perfectly to make a cult classic.” 

Abhimanyu Singh, Contiloe Productions:
“Doing horror shows is more expensive than doing thrillers or other daily shows because all the ingredients like shooting different stories in different locations, casting new sets of actors, doing workshops with them, creating bots, visual effects and having action in this are not there in your daily soaps. All these things require more time, money, investment, and as long as broadcasters are willing to back that with better investment, you will have better quality.” 

Vipul Bhaghat, Make-up Consultant:
“We in India are very stingy when it comes to experimentation with make-up, the film industry has now woken up and looking at better prosthetics, etc, but with talent from abroad. Indian talent is not paid that much, though we have excellent people here. When the Ramsay’s started with this genre, it was us who did all kinds of horror make-up. Television producers do not want to invest and due to lack of time, everything looks tacky.” 

Ramesh Dada, a make-up artist who works regularly with television producers, mentioned that the first cut in budget is always the make-up department. “We are told to use whatever is available to create a look,” he lamented. 

Blood & Gore Vs horror in everyday life 

Ricky Sandhu, Shooting Stars Productions:
“In my opinion, horror stories about everyday life are more terrifying as they are more relatable. Blood and gore stories need to be really well produced, but having said that, if the content is superb, and the story and screenplay are tight, anything will work.” 

Mautik Tolia, Partner, Bodhi Tree Multimedia Productions:
“Due to FMT restrictions, a lot of horror shows on Indian television do not show much blood and gore; in fact, we have observed that when you show a lot of blood and gore, the ratings go down. The kind of horror that one would have to show has to be realistic in that sense. Obviously that does not matter when you apply international standards, but at the same time one does not resort to a lot of blood coming out and violence. Anyway, it is something that horror makers avoid doing since for a lot of the audience, even though it’s a 10.30 pm viewing, it’s still family watching time in one television households.” 

Abhimanyu Singh, Contiloe Productions:
“Horror has various sub-genres; sometimes it’s the unseen that creates horror, sometimes it’s the seen that creates horror, sometimes it is even a creature horror like the shark in ‘Jaws’. You have to be very imaginative as a writer and maker of horror shows. You can create terrifying horror stories while sitting in your office.” 

Investment in creating the right atmosphere 

Ricky Sandhu, Shooting Stars Productions:
“That’s a difficult question to answer as it all depends on what budget and quality of talent is available and affordable for the producers and directors. There needs to be more thought and study of the elements that support horror stories that need to be made by all talent involved in all such projects.” 

Abhimanyu Singh, Contiloe Productions:
“When it comes to music, more than money it is time that you need to invest in. What you really need to invest is in sound effects – for instance, creating fear just by the screeching sound of a door opening, or the slamming sound of a door amid the silence in a tense scene. All these things add to the ambience of horror, hence you need to invest in the sound effects. Besides the background music needs to be played at the right time. Silence, the sound of footsteps, a loud bang – all of these add to the fear factor if played at the right time. It’s a lot about timing and about investing time in the post-production of the episode that creates the horror.” 

Mautik Tolia, Partner, Bodhi Tree Multimedia Productions:
“In a weekly episodic show, you are always running against time, which restricts in terms of achieving a certain look. Ideally, to create a particular look the production designer works in close tandem with the creative guys. That look is then executed by the make-up artist. However, these are liberties that you can’t afford to take in India. It can happen in a film set-up, where I know there are people who do that – there are couple of NID designers who actually work on designing looks for spirits, prosthetics and other high-end designing – but obviously for television that cannot be achieved because of the budget constraints.”

Advertiser Response 

Monica Ranadive, Producer and Broadcast Consultant:
“For advertisers, it’s all a TRP game. It is obvious, as per the audience trend advertisers have come forward with certain kinds of sponsorship. As far as my knowledge goes, now more advertisers have come forward as compared to in the earlier stages. Today, the horror genre is more reciprocating than repressed as it was back then where the audiences were concerned. Advertisers are definitely getting more umbrella to sponsor the horror shows.”

Also Read: Indepth: What ails the horror genre on television today? – Part 1

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