The first Indian horror movie was made by Kamal Amrohi, and starred Ashok Kumar and Madhubala. Named ‘Mahal’, which can be translated into ‘Palace’ in English, the movie was based on reincarnation – a concept that is well entrenched into the Indian mindset. This movie is supposed to be ground breaking one for Bollywood and is known to have launched many a career. Ashok Kumar, Madhubala and the singer Lata Mangeshkar owe much of their superstardom to Mahal.
The sixties and the seventies saw some pretty good Bollywood horror movies, and most of them spoke about reincarnation, haunted houses etc. This genre was studded with superhit movies like Gumnaam (without a name), Bees Saal Baad (Twenty Years Hence) and of course, Madhumati.
All this changed with Rajkumar Kohli’s Nagin (The Female Snake) in 1976, which once again changed the very concept of Bollywood horror movies. This star studded movie was a box office hit, which made way for Jaani Dushman (Nemesis) by Rajkumar Kohli.
The horror genre became slapstick and a lucrative one, and the intelligent stories like Madhumati and Bees Saal Baad were replaced with template movies, wherein a couple or a group of youngsters would have to camp in a old mansion, only to find that it is haunted. This was the staple of Ramsay Brothers, who made quite a few movies on the premise. The Ramsay Brothers were the staple of the horror genre for at least a decade, and many of their movies, like Veerana (The Desolate Area), Purana Mandir (Old Temple) and Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (Beneath the Ground) have a cult following even today in the DVD market.
However, the Indian audience became mature enough to reject slapstick and risqu by the nineties, and the Ramsay brand of horror had a dwindling following – and it was then that a little known director named Ram Gopal Varma changed the way Bollywood horror movies were made. His Raat (The Night) was one of the few Indian horror movies that did not have the by now cliched paper mache makeup, or the squirting of blood, etc. His ‘Raat’ was one of the few atmosphere horror movies and is still considered to be one of the best horror movies ever made.
Ram Gopal Varma later on made several movies in the horror and crime genre and has achieved mixed success in his movies. However, even today, people consider him to be a horror film maker first and a crime saga maker second.
The horror film genre has been around in Bollywood since the past three decades now. The entire concept has been commented upon in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer, Om Shanti Om.