Suspense, the flavour of the season in Indian film industry

by AFP/Anamika Singh, Feb 11, 2003 | Destinations: India / Mumbai

BOMBAY, Feb 11, 2003 - Hit by mounting losses from popular candy floss romances and social drama formulas, India's film industry has turned to suspense and thrillers to recoup its coins at the box office.

The industry is witnessing a crop of a hitherto neglected genre of films in the tradition of Hollywood's "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer". The trend is backed up by the success of director Vikram Bhatt's spooky whodunnit, "Raaz" (Secret), one of only a handful of hits last year. "Raaz" was made on the moderate budget of about 40 million rupees (833,000 US dollars) but went on to earn 200 million rupees. It was a standout in the 132 Hindi films made in India last year, as 124 were flops which incurred total losses of 2.90 billion rupees (58 million US dollars).

"Suspense films are the flavour of the season," said trade analyst Vinod Mirani of Box-Office, a film trade magazine. "They have scope for good music and have an element of suspense and anxiety thrown in. And to keep the audience happy, love and romance are knitted into the plot as well."

"Raaz" was quickly followed by "Humraaz" (Confidante), a take on Andrew Davis's "A Perfect Murder" and another suspense production, "Dewaangee" (Obsession) featuring sex-siren Urmila Matondkar.

The trend got a further boost with the release last month of "Kucch To Hai" -- an Indian version of "I Know What You Did Last Summer". Trade reports indicate that the movie is faring well at the box office even into its third week, despite being released at the same time as "Dum" starring current favourite Vivek Oberoi.

While India is yet to boast a master suspense craftsman like Alfred Hitchock, there is no dearth of talented directors milking the thriller formula while the going is good. Producer-director Ram Gopal Verma -- who has made hits such as the scary whodunnit "Kaun" (Who) and "Company" -- has five thrillers up his sleeve, while debutant producer Kushan Nandy is ready with "88 Antop Hill", a film about a group of murder suspects. Also ready is "Paanch" (Five), a story about a young gang of musicians gravitating towards crimes of passion.

Popular actor Jackie Shroff, who is co-producing a thriller, "Sandhya" (Evening), and acting in another suspense movie says the fact that these films are not predictable makes them interesting. "I hate the mushy love stories. Thrillers are my favourite to produce, act and watch. A love story is boringly predictable while thrillers are exciting and have an edge to them," Shroff told AFP.

This is not the first time suspense movies have captivated Indian films -- the industry tried the thriller formula in the 80s but did not have much success. "Thrillers have no repeat value and this did not work earlier when producers expected films to hit a silver jubilee run," said Mirani. "Today a film is distributed widely and cannot be expected to run for more than three weeks. But then even a small town theatre offers better technical equipment which is important for dark thrillers." He said the strain of inventing new ways to present the formulaic boy-meets-girl love story has taken its toll in India's tinsel town, with its creative factory now seeking refuge in crime -- and with a heavy Hollywood influence.

Actor-producer Pooja Bhatt's steamy "Jism" (Body) has model John Abraham falling for the wiles of married seductress Bipasha Basu in a remake of Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity". Another movie in the making "Darna Manaa Hai" (Fear Prohibited), directed by Prabal Pandey, is a take off of Steven Spielberg's "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

Upcoming actress Esha Doel explains Indian films' current obsession saying it reflects reality. "It is kind of weird that people are rejecting love stories for the blood-and-gore stuff. I believe it is the current situation that has made us so morbid," said Deol. "Take for instance the September 11 tragedy. People see that kind of destructive mentality at work around them and perceive it as the only truth."

The question, however, is whether the latest formula will bring the much required coins back to the tottering industry. "One just has to wait and watch," said Mirani.

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