The Hindi general entertainment genre is seeing a gush of horror shows based on paranormal activities, supernatural incidents that are either based on real life or inspired by true stories. afaqs! looks back on how the paradigm of horror has changed on television.
It's amazing how television content genres display comeback stories of their own. Just when one thought that the horror genre had reached its death pace, it has hit the Indian television with a fresh uprising.
In June 2012, Zee TV launched a show based on real life incidents around paranormal and supernatural activities. Titled 'Fear Files: Darr Ki Sacchi Tasvirein', the show brings to the fore true incidences that many people claim to have experienced.
After a long time, a show was launched in the genre and did very well. Fear Files was jointly produced by Dreamz Images and Contiloe Entertainment until recently, when Nitin Keni's Essel Vision Productions took complete control over it. The show opened with 3.8 TVR.
After one year of the launch of Fear Files, Sony Entertainment Television launched 'Bhoot Aya' (produced by Cinetek Telefilms) which is again based on paranormal experiences. However, the story here is narrated by the real victims. People share their experiences and encounters with the paranormal. The case/story is then fictionalised and interspersed with the victims' bytes and narration. In addition, experts from the Indian Paranormal Society of India and other relevant fields also give their opinion/take on the events/happenings.
Life OK's 'Khauff Begins... Ringa Ringa Roses' is of course the latest to join the bandwagon. But, there is surely a twist in the trend. Horror is no more just fictional. Rather, it's more real now - part of the regular. Unlike other horror shows, Ringa Ringa attempts to show a longer story, build on the characters more strongly and portray the relationships involved. Depending on paranormal activities and ghost investigation, the story revolves around how a father saves his daughter from Rose - the antagonist.
The history of horror genre traces back to 1993 when Zee TV launched Ramsay Brother's 'Zee Horror Show' and then Sony brought to the audiences 'Aahat' in 1996. Those were the days of gory scenes and white saree-clad women as ghosts. Later came X-Zone (Zee TV- 1998) and Ssshhhh..koi hai (Star One-2001) which was a thriller horror. All these shows were popular amongst audiences and each of them ran longer than three years. The next success in the genre was in 2009 (prior to Fear Files) when Colors launched Balaji Telefilms' Koi Ane Ko Hai. The show based on paranormal activities got above-average numbers but was winded up within six months.
Two years after Sony's Aahat tasted failure in its latest season (in 2010), Zee dared to launch Fear Files and not only pulled back the viewers but also prompted the other GECs to follow suit. After a series of show launches in the genre in the 1990s and early 2000s, the genre went into a limbo and the ghosts stopped frightening people, till Zee TV opened its real-files last year.
Why this sudden affinity to the genre? Well, as media planners explain the audience behaviour, everything is cyclical. As someone puts it, "Ghosts remained where they were, but the audience moved on." It seems now the viewers are back to the scary creatures.
Shekhar Banerjee of Madison Media explains, "The genres keep dying and getting revived. It's just a matter of time and innovation. When there are too many shows on a single genre, saturation creeps in and the audience stops watching it for some time. When they get to see a better quality thing after a long time, they accept it. It's not that they suddenly started liking horror. It's a phenomenon that I call, 'forgetting equation'."
It seems like the genre was kept in cold storage all these years and is now being warmed up and served, just by adding a few recent spices.
Industry experts also believe that horror is a potential genre and like any other genre, people need to re-invent it. While everyone agrees that the wide range of cultures and religions in the country has helped in its success, some add that Indians' susceptibility to superstitions works in its favour.
Majid Azam, producer, Ringa Ringa Roses (earlier associated with Fear Files), explains, "What is interesting is to capture the moments to which people can relate to and have experienced in their lives. For instance, many a time when one enters his/her house the sound coming from the bathroom may be scary, even if it is of water dripping from the tap. It's better to use such moments that have spooked you, instead of horror that is in your face. Anything that is relatable with the audiences will work better."
Several other horror based shows have also been launched, albeit with varying degrees of success, including Haunted Nights and Raat Hone Ko Hai on Sahara One and Mano Ya Na Mano, Saturday Suspense and Woh on Zee TV. Zee TV has experimented the most with the genre, Fear Files being its fifth attempt.
Life OK had also tied up with Balaji to produce a horror promotional series for the latter's Bollywood movie, Ek Thi Daayan. Titled Ek Thhi Naayka, the show featured eight faces of Balaji Telefilms' banner (actors like Smriti Irani, Shweta Tewari, Sakshi Tanwar who have achieved fame through Balaji shows).
In an interesting attempt, SAB TV had launched 'Bhootwala Serial', the first comedy-horror on television. The show's premise was that a group of people come to stay in a haunted house and the ghosts try to evict the residents from the house.
Talking about supernatural, Sony even launched a daily soap which was a love story with a supernatural touch as the female protagonist was actually a ghost.
Superstitions and supernatural beliefs are woven into the Indian culture. The makers of horror shows believe that it helps since the stories are inspired by real life incidents. Many stories on the internet or local newspapers often lead to a good screenplay, like the stories on Fear Files and Bhoot Aya, which are fictionalised versions of true stories.
Abhimanyu Singh, producer, Contiloe (producer of Fear Files and Ssshhhh... Koi Hai) adds, "There is a great belief in the country on the existence of the supernatural. Horror as a genre is also thrilling. There is an element of fear, people like watching it together, it gives a pump to the audiences. I feel horror should be scary and entertaining. If these two elements are kept alive, it will work."
Making a successful horror story has its own challenges. A good and spooky set-up along with really good background music is essential. Bollywood horror movies, as per few, work better than horror TV shows because movies in theatre give that kind of scary atmosphere. Also, the sound quality works better for them.
Apart from this, basic story-telling is also a challenge. Aloka Guha, VP and head, non-fiction programming, Sony, avers, "The challenge in the real life story is that at times the stories are in one line. So it's about picking those which can be extended to an hour long episode without being tampered. Due to this restriction, many lovely stories get dropped. The challenge hence is to make a screenplay, stick to the facts, stick to real life incidents and still create engaging viewing - otherwise it becomes a documentary. However, having said that, the twists and turns of the story are in our hands, considering creative liberties."
While Sahara One has been trying its hands on the genre on and off, and other Hindi GECs also taking interest, it will be interesting to see which other channels bring the genre back in their portfolios. SAB TV is rumoured to be launching another comedy-horror soon. Also, while Fear Files has tasted success, it is yet to be seen how Bhoot Aya and Ringa Ringa Roses perform in the long run. And, if the channels make a sweet success story out of fear.