By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, March 15 (IANS) Spooky thrillers like "Aahat" and "The Zee Horror Show" were popular with Indian television viewers until a few years ago when the soaring TRPs of the 'saas-bahu' soaps led to their gradual decline. But the horror genre has once again gained prominence on the small screen, thanks to Bollywood too taking a liking to the supernatural.
There is a sudden line-up of horror-themed shows on TV - Sahara One's "Shubh Kadam", Zee TV's "Shree" and "Shhh...Phir Koi Hai", 9X's "Black" and Colors' new offering "Koi Aane Ko Hai" - and they seem to be increasing by the day.
Ghosts, monsters and paranormal activity have made their presence felt on the small screen ironically at a time when horror films like "Raaz - The Mystery Continues" and "13B" have become the flavour of the season in tinsel town.
Nikhat Bhatty, creative director of "Shhh...Phir Koi Hai", admits that Bollywood does affect the content of shows on television.
"A lot of films are being made on horror these days and they are also quite successful. Most of the time, television content is inspired by what happens on the big screen. And with supernatural thrillers like "13B" and "Raaz - The Mystery Continues" doing so well, I think it's a great time to do horror anywhere," Bhatty told IANS.
Horror films saw an upward trend after a long time last year when Ram Gopal Varma's spine-chilling "Phoonk" and Vikram Bhatt's "1920" were released. The genre got a major boost when "Raaz - The Mystery Continues", which features Emraan Hashmi and Kangana Ranaut, became the first hit of 2009 followed by R. Madhavan-starrer "13B", which also garnered positive reviews.
Samir Khurana, associate creative head of production house Cinvesta that produces "Shubh Kadam", said that if a movie becomes a hit, the theme in all possibility would be liked by television audiences as well.
"If a movie is successful, we mostly adapt the concept for the small screen as well. If the audience has liked a concept in Bollywood, they would like it on television too," he said.
Horror and supernatural thrillers are not new to the small screen. Series like "The Zee Horror Show", "Aahat", "Woh", "X-zone", "Thriller at 10", "Saturday Suspense", "Mano Ya Na Mano" and "Kya Hadsa Kya Haqeeqat" were always popular with viewers.
But Khurana said the genre took a backseat, courtesy the soaring ratings of the 'saas-bahu' dramas like "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" and "Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii".
"Horror shows had taken a backseat. They were extremely popular around four-five years back but then 'saas-bahu' soaps took over. Now the genre has returned with full force," he said.
Bhatty added that the comeback of such shows could be attributed to the "cyclical nature" of television content.
"There's no logical reason as to why supernatural and horror shows are coming back, but content on television has always been cyclical. What is popular once will be repeated a few years later. That's how shows work internationally as well," she explained.
A major change in the nature of such shows is the culture of depicting soft horror rather than scary ghosts that had kids hiding in their blankets.
While pure horror shows like "Shhh...Phir Koi Hai" and Balaji Telefilms' "Koi Aane Ko Hai" have their dedicated audience, the focus of TV directors has shifted to shows like "Shubh Kadam", "Shree" and a first-of-its-kind 'horror comedy' show "Bhootwala Serial". The latter lot has a tinge of the supernatural interspersed with household drama or comedy to create what industry experts call 'soft horror'.
"Earlier there were extremely scary shows. But after the success of 'saas-bahu' shows, there was a good possibility to mix a love story and a family drama with an element of the fear of the supernatural. That is just what we experimented with 'Shree'," said Jamnadas Majethia of Hats Off Productions.
But Bhatty, who calls her "Shhh...Phir Koi Hai" an "unabashed horror show", seemed doubtful about how long 'soft horror' would work.
"Soft horror is just in an experimental phase here. We still have to wait and see how successful it turns out to be."
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at [email protected])