Why are horror, heist and personal drama films missing from Indian cinema?
There is no bonafide research that identifies which genres work and which don’t
A few years ago, I pitched some of my concepts to a ‘producer in the know’. They were for a con caper and a horror film. I had done some research on the producer. He was hip and had produced a horror film just then. His sensibilities seemed a perfect match for my concepts. But as I started narrating, he began fidgeting. I assumed it was phone separation anxiety, as he is always on social media.
But it was something else. He interrupted the narration, said the concept would not work and asked me to move on. I bristled because I knew this was one of my ‘calling card’ concepts’. “Bro, there is no sex in this and horror without sex will not work in India,” he explained. I sighed and added one more to my ‘In Clique’ list of people who appear to know all there is to know about films in India. It also set me thinking about the dying diversity in our films.
Over the last three decades, Hindi films have been increasingly conforming to just a few genres and it is almost impossible to get any other in. The emerging new middle class, a growing diaspora, changed ticket prices have each led to an erosion of several genres from our cinema repertoire. I am yet to see any bonafide research that identifies which genres work and which don’t.
Cinema is about economics, but in Hindi films it’s something more. If a particular film fails, all producers and studios shy from making anything in that space ever again. This ‘echo chamber’ has grown in the last decade. Storytelling has become so boxed in that writers have started to write similar narratives. Some months ago, two large studios produced almost the same film about a musical band in jail planning an escape. This is a product of groupthink that emerges from a fear of the ‘unknown genre’.
Horror, treasure hunts, caper and heist films, small personal dramas are almost never seen any more. Add to this state-controlled censorship and writers are virtually straitjacketed.
As a freelance writer, the first question I ask now is: what genre are you looking for? And the answer, from across all studios, is we are okay with any. But what actually gets made is a different story — action, romcoms, coming-of-age, and patriotic biopics.
I am forced to self-censor my genre even before I put finger to keyboard. If you want to write a dark thriller, police procedural or even a caper with a subtext of politics, race, corruption, you can be sure it will never be green-lit.
Excuse of a genre
There is a misconception that these genres have nothing meaningful to say. This belief was summarily rejected in the 70s when Hollywood used horror as a tool to dissect society and talk about the ills of religion, patriarchy and racism. In India, horror has just become a sub-genre or an excuse for skin show.
The irony is that the same audience consumes these genres from Hollywood, with franchises like National Treasure, Mission Impossible, Mummy and Conjuring seeing excellent footfalls and fan groups waiting breathlessly for the next. Many of these franchise makers thank old civilisations like India and Egypt for the stories, quite unaware that India doesn’t use them in its own films.
My fear is that with certain kinds of stories going missing, future generations will have no idea of the diversity of our times. If Hindi films made after 2000 are shown 50 years later, the viewers will assume we were only concerned with faux patriotism, that we were a nation of plenty with no problems and conflicts other than finding true love and acceptance from the patriarch. Bollywood today makes me scared of how my grandchild will see me tomorrow.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Daily Report and is published from a The Hindu.)
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