No kidding, horror ain't just about child's play

Currently, television in India has very little to offer horror lovers. Adults shopping for spine chillers on Indian channels will like as not have to settle for "soft horror" targeted primarily at kids, that too if they can make it to their drawing rooms as early as, say, 8 pm.

Kids today, who are denied the sweet experience called grandma‘s tales, have taken to hugging the next best thing - television. The tube today provides an avenue through which kids can quench their thirst for fantasies involving supernatural, ghosts and ghost-busters, which is why the soft horror shown on television has got them "glued in". Naturally this has encouraged channels to explore this variant of the genre, eyeing higher TRPs, while making sure that the content appeals to the whole family.

How do we view this phenomenon? It could be looked at either way - children‘s shows graduating to horror or horror shows having been hit with a demotion.

Says Sahara‘s programming vice president Tripti Sharma, "We have to address the whole family. While addressing a television audience, we should keep in mind that the whole family is watching. So the content should not be very shocking or violent. To attract kids with horror, you don‘t need a lot of blood, violence or scary scenes. It should have a universal appeal when it comes on TV."

Still from Raat Hone Ko Hai: softening horror!

Sahara TV recently launched Raat Hone Ko Hai (RHKH), scheduled at 8 pm. The show, which was initially announced as a daily that was to air from Monday to Thursday at 11 pm, was moved to the present time slot when the launch neared. The whole marketing strategy of the show implies that it is targeted at the 4 - 18 age group.

Sharma vindicates Sahara‘s decision to go for soft horror and choosing children as its target audience: "Sahara‘s Horror Show was very popular among kids. They really love supernatural stuff because there is a lot of special effects and graphics shown in them. This may be the main reason why they like the horror genre and at the same time, we can‘t fill the stuff with violence and bloodshed because our target group is kids and family audiences."

According to Sharma, channels have to follow certain guidelines while packaging the content of horror shows. "The remote control, nowadays, is mostly in the hands of kids or women," she points out.

And why 8 pm? "Because, that is the time kids are in front of the TV. We wanted to target the whole family with something different while other channels are airing comedy or family soaps. At the same time we wanted to give something that appeals to the whole family. The timing also depends on the availability of the audience," reasons Sharma.

"Ours is a family entertainment channel. So we can‘t air programmes marked by violence and all the evil mayhem. The majority won‘t like it," explains Star India senior vice president, content and communications, Deepak Segal.

Production house BAG Films‘ Mumbai head Rajesh Chaddha however, has another take on it. Chaddha points to the lack of talented filmmakers who understand the genre perfectly as one reason for the "degeneration".

"The director should be able to convey the exact mood by handling camera angles and sound effects effectively to do justice to horror," remarks Chaddha.

Koie Jane Na is all about getting logical things out of supersticial elements, claims maker Rajesh Chaddha

But Chaddha does accept that kids prefer such horror shows to other programmes these days. Which is of course great for channels ever in search of wider audiences.

Producer and actor Jamnadas Majethia of Hats Off Productions agrees with Chaddha on the quality issue. According to him, original horror requires technically superior quality.

"I can‘t say we don‘t have talented people, but I don‘t like whatever stuff they are currently coming out with. I don‘t like whatever I have been seeing lately. I find them highly repulsive," says Majethia.

But he sees a reason for the slackness --- the limited budgets available in the TV industry. "Because of the budget pressures, our producers and filmmakers are unable to come up with something solid," opines Majethia.

As regards why the kids are lapping it up, Majethia explains: "They like thrill rides in theme parks and they enjoy it more than we adults do. So, nowadays kids find these horror shows really entertaining and they enjoy the thrill."

A still from Shhh... Koi Hai

Television scriptwriter Sameer Mody, who has successfully explored television‘s thriller genre with shows like X-zone, Thriller at 10, Saturday Suspense, Captain House and Shhh... Koi Hai, believes that channels‘ requirements to improve TRP ratings are instrumental in the initiation of soft horror shows. According to Mody, the stiff competition prevailing to get the maximum eyeballs sets the stage for such experiments:

"Our channels are targeting the 4-14 and 14-19 age groups with these horror shows. When it comes to the conceptualisation of an original horror show, the writer‘s and the channel‘s points of view clash," says Mody.

Mody says channels can never ignore women who constitute 80 per cent of their audience and this is one reason why they keep women in mind every time they conceive their shows.

Mody feels that the approach of production houses to serious horror shows should change.

Aahat showed justice to the horror genre, feel Aananth Mahadevan and Venita Coelho

"If you approach production houses with an original horror subject, they put restrictions. Though in Hollywood pure horror works, here the common notion is that it won‘t work and they try to apply a lot of changes. In their attempts to come up with something different, they end up creating an inferior product," says Mody.

"In films, writers have some time in hand to work on and improve the quality of their scripts while in television it is just the opposite. In TV, quantity matters more than quality. We come up with mediocre stuff because everything happens on a short notice," says Mody.

Comedy channel SAB TV‘s president sales and marketing Kanta Advani takes Mody‘s line when she says she finds special effects shown in today‘s horror shows clownish and of sub-standard quality.

Sahara‘s Sharma however, makes a case for the kind of horror fare that is going out when she states that the "improved technical quality" of today‘s horror shows has been giving the audience more chill and excitement.

And Star‘s Segal makes a valid point when he says that technical perfection may go unnoticed in Indian television, as the home surroundings can be distracting for the viewer.

"Your pressure cooker will be steaming, you will be getting telephone calls, cries, talks, and all these would hinder you from experiencing features like sound effects or graphics to its full extent," points out Segal.

Segal believes that this is really where films score when it comes to doing justice to the horror genre: "In a theatre the atmosphere is perfect as your mind won‘t get diverted to anything else.

For laughing out loud, is this what defines horror on India prime time?

So is a new genre that stands between original horror and kids‘ horror under evolution? Segal agrees and prefers to call it ‘light-horror‘ or ‘Scooby-Doo horror‘. Sony vice president new product development Venita Coelho echoes Segal when she christens the shows on air currently as ‘cartoon horror‘.

Media professionals talked to are unanimous in the view that original adult horror should get its share of manna on Indian television. Coelho feels it is time to do intelligent horror outside the prime time zone. She reveals her personal ambition to do an original horror show but adds that Sony has no immediate plans to do such a show.

"Late night horror shows targeted at the adults have a huge potential in India. If you can come up with quality stuff for the late night slot, you will be successful," professes actor turned director Ananth Mahadevan.

"I think the horror genre could do well with lot more spine chilling stuff. The genre is worth fiddling with and if handled well, we can come up with quality programmes," says SAB TV‘s Advani.

Mody believes that serious horror shows with a social message and logical reasoning will surely succeed.

"If you make Friday the 13th in India, it won‘t work because there the violence and bloodshed are without any logical reason. But in India, the audience needs a reason for someone going on such a killing spree. Bhoot worked here because it had something to do with family backdrop and attracted the family audience. But the projects that failed in the box office lacked the same. The theme should have a message for society as well," says Mody.

Still from kya hadsaa kya haqeeqat - overdose of supernatural and black magic killed the show

"What works are themes backed by social elements. We did a copy of the Hollywood movie The Ring and it worked," says Balaji Telefilms creative head (shows) Nivedita Basu (who worked on the supernatural thriller Kya Hadsa Kya Haqeeqat which recently went off air from Sony due to declining ratings).

According to Advani, somebody has to take the bold step and come up with original horror programmes. "There is a huge and untapped market," she points out.

So, again, it is all about taking bold steps. There is a message here for the channels to seriously consider a fresh look at the ‘untapped market‘ that original adult horror could well provide.

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