The horror world has seen explosions of interest and curiosity for titles from other parts of the globe. There was the French Extremity. J-Horror ran the late ’90s and early ’00s. Spanish horror dazzled us. Now, I believe it’s time for India to show the world the horror it has up its sleeves.
Enter Arvind Harinath.
The Head of Production and Development at Kavya Films and the producer of the upcoming Jeremy Gardner/Christian Stella film Something Else, Arvind is dedicated to finding and supporting new and exciting voices. But he isn’t hiding from or pushing aside his roots. Rather, the knowledge and insight he’s gained throughout his years is fueling his passion.
Many people might not know where to start when it comes to Indian horror. That’s where Arvind comes in. We asked him to put together a Dread X list and he happily went above and beyond, creating a launching point for anyone who wants to see what terrors India has to offer! Check out this list below.
Monihara (1961) Language: Bengali
Satyajit Ray put Indian cinema on the world map. It’s only fitting that we start off with Monihara, his somber tale of unrequited love and greed. Monihara is the 2nd film in Ray’s 1961 anthology Teen Kanya (1961). A schoolmaster recounts a legend of an abandoned mansion to a cloaked figure, a legend that involves a rich businessman and his jewelry obsessed wife. Hauntingly scored by Ray himself, Monihara is based on a short story written by Bengali legend Rabindranath Tagore. This might be a great Jumping off point to Ray’s oeuvre.
Kazhugu (1981) Language: Tamil
Sure Indian cinema has remade Hollywood films like Momento, Hitch, and Mrs. Doubtfire. But what if I told you to add the 1975 Peter Fonda cult classic Race with the Devil to that list? Kazhugu is just that. Featuring Superstar Rajnikanth in the lead, this is a film ripe for genre aficionados to discover. I would love to see this film on the Joe Bob show or a rep screening hosted by the AGFA. The first hour of the film is essentially a flossy, bloated romantic comedy. Once our leads get married and go on a road trip Honeymoon, the movie finally takes off. Shit hits the fan when they get mixed up with a barbaric cult. Kazhugu features one of my favourite tropes of ’80s and ’90s Tamil cinema: the outlandish, cartoony henchman that the much physically weaker hero has to beat.
Paayum Puli (1983) Language: Tamil
The Bruce Lee phenomenon didn’t limit its influences just to Roger Moore-era James Bond films (1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun). It traveled all the way to the humid shores of Madras with the 80s Martial Arts classic Paayum Puli. Once again starring Rajnikanth this ranks along with Enter the Dragon (1973) as my favourite martial arts film. Once a gangster kills his sister, a meek simpleton joins a secluded martial arts school and returns to dole out good old fashioned justice. Like Kazhugu (1981), this film once again features a hand to hand brawl with a colourful henchman:
Aalavandhan (2001) Language: Tamil
The crown jewel of this list, Aalavandhan is an all-time favourite of mine. Locked up in an asylum for killing his abusive stepmother as a child, Nandu can’t look at a woman without seeing his stepmother in them. His twin brother, Vijay who is an army commando introduces his fiancé to Nandu. Hell breaks loose. Nandu sees his stepmother in her and makes it his mission to ‘save’ his brother. Multi-hyphenate legend Kamal Hassan takes up double duty by playing the twins on top of adapting the script from his own short story. Colourful, gory and with some of the best hallucinatory sequences put on film, Aalavnadhan is Indian genre cinema firing on all cylinders.
Bhoot (2003) Language: Hindi
A married couple move into their new apartment only they encounter the spiteful spirit of the previous tenant. I watched Bhoot at a very impressionable age and it scared the shit out of me. Borrowing visual inspiration from J-Horror, Bhoot is scary, in your face and entertaining. Bhoot follows the familiar beats of the Possession genre but director Ram Gopal Varma’s style and lead Urmila Matondkar’s performance makes it worth checking out.
Anniyan (2005) Language: Tamil
Anniyan is Indian mainstream cinema at it’s colourful best. The outlandish plot features Ambi a bookish lawyer who is so frustrated with the ills and corruption of society that a split personality of serial killing vigilante manifests within himself. This personality dresses up like the grim reaper and goes on a serial killing spree, basing his kills on an ancient Hindu scripture. The variety of these kills will satisfy the appetite of slasher fans, from boiling a man alive in oil to draining another with bloodsucking leeches. The musical numbers are great and also featured is a terrific Matrix Revolutions inspired martial arts sequence.
NH10 (2015) Language: Hindi
NH10 is a road trip gone wrong movie that has been a staple in American horror. Meera and Arjun, your 21st-century white-collar millennial Indian couple decide to leave the comforts of their big city to take a road trip for her birthday. Things take a nasty turn when the couple gets themselves involved in an honour killing case with a gang of violent villagers. Starring Anushka Sharma, one of Bollywood’s brightest stars, NH10 works so well because it mirrors the real-life horrors of India.
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) Language: Telegu
A strong argument can be made that Bahubali 2 is the most popular film in Indian Cinema history. No film has found this much pan-Indian appeal as this epic fantasy from Telugu director SS Rajamouli. A sequel to Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), this closing chapter is superior and delivers a hefty emotional punch along with visual grandeur fit for the highest grossing domestic film of all time (It’s not even close). This multi-generational kingly revenge saga delivers in spades on the entertainment quotient.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018) Language: Hindi
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero was greeted to lukewarm reviews and was dead on arrival at the box office. A tragedy because it kicks ass. Writer-Director Vikramaditya Motwane (Sacred Games) does a great job at establishing the superhero genre in an Indian setting and delivers the goods on a gritty superhero origin story with real stakes. There is a terrific Motorcycle chase here that ranks as one of the best action sequences mounted in an Indian film.
Tumbbad (2018) Language: Hindi
Tumbbad sets the benchmark for what will hopefully be a bright future for Indian horror. An unabashedly a home-cooked horror tale of greed that takes place in colonial-era India, Tumbbad features a truly original monster that I haven’t seen on film. Gorgeously photographed and featuring incredible production design, Tumbbad is an amazing looking film.