A horror movie is hinged on its story, whether it's real or fictional. You can have The Conjuring or you may have a story like Lights Out, which have concrete plots that hold the films in place. With horror it's about everything other cinema formats doesn't really care about, like the background, the finer details, the loopholes. Yet, we can all admit, when we come across the disclaimer, 'based on true events', there is a part of us that feels a little more scared than it actually was before.
Bollywood's latest ode to the genre is Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship. Since horror has not been one of Bollywood's strong points, the movie comes with a little scepticism. What's more, the makers are none other than Dharma Productions who have never ventured near horror, except for Karan Johar's recent foray into the genre with his segment in Ghost Stories, which to be honest doesn't make the thought any better.
Dharma taking on horror
As Dharma goes dark, horror fans have been sceptical, one because the genre requires a certain skill set, just like a carpenter can't become a blacksmith, just to try. What makes the horror more impenetrable than other genres are the horror buffs, who are very particular. Horror can either go well or terribly. Since Dharma isn't calling this film a horror-comedy like Stree, they are placing themselves on a very slippery slope. If a horror movie doesn't intend to make an audience laugh, and it does, we can safely say it will sink, in this case, pun intended.
The movie Bhoot in question is centred on events that take place on a haunted ship off the coast of Mumbai. The premise is interesting for sure, although in Hollywood the cult classic Ghost Ship of 2002 directed by Steve Beck, found few takers. Ergo, this attempt by Dharma is extremely brave.
What will be interesting to watch is how Dharma will interpret the genre. This will be director Bhanu Pratap Singh's debut, so there is a lot riding on this film. The trailer though didn't feel different from other horror films. With grim background music and the dark lighting, there's little that seems original in terms of scares.
Jump scares are the mainstay in the genre, yet, they need to be reinvented and turned into something original. For instance, The Conjuring's use of a clap, Lights Out with their effective use of lighting and IT with the scene where Georgie is taken by IT into the drain. These are classics, although these are high benchmarks to set for Bhoot, why not? That's what we should be aiming for. However, we're yet to see what the film will add to the genre. The trailer may just be a snippet of the film, but good horror movies don't shy from revealing their finest jump scares in their trailer.
The 'real' haunted ship from Bhoot
The haunted ship has been named 'Seabird' in the film, but the ship that inspired the film is MV Wisdom. Vicky Kaushal in a recent interview revealed that the ship was the 'germ' of the film, and the movie's director who had seen the ship from an autorickshaw had clicked pictures of the abandoned ship.
On June 11, 2011, an unmanned 9000-tonne container had drifted, undetected onto Juhu beach. The vessel which had broken its tow rope had sailed all the way from Colombo. There were extensive attempts to move the ship off the coast but they had to wait a fortnight following a cable snap during the operation.
The MV Wisdom piqued the curiosity of all. In fact, rumours began to spread as to the number of times the ship's name changed and its history. As people's interest in the ship increased, the more it put their lives at risk. Youngsters and curious watchers would venture towards the ship, to take a closer look. The incidents of drowning at sea increased and lifeguards were appointed to ensure watchers' safety.
After MV Wisdom was finally towed off the coast in July 2011 another ship with a Panama flag made its way onto the Juhu coast. The ship MT Pavit was an unmanned oil tanker which also arrived undetected. One must ask, how do ships wash up undetected on to the coast? Even though the ship was smaller than MV Wisdom, this one had a story and carried 10 tonnes of gas and oil on it.
MT Pavit or the 'ghost ship' was believed to have sunk after the crew on the ship had sent out a distress call after abandoning the ship when engine room was flooded and power was lost. The ship clearly had managed to sail onto the shore, close to the spot MV Wisdom had been. It too created a public stir upon its arrival.
With this intense back story, one would think Bhoot has got this one in the bag. A lot of work has gone into a film in creating a set that is believable. The atmosphere too has been created, now it has a 'based on true events' stamp to certify it as a horror story. But then again, nothing could save 'Bhangarh' the film which was centred on the haunted town in Rajasthan.
As much as horror can be a treat, if not done well, it is one of the few genres that can be a disaster with a slight slip. While the director is a fan of the genre, and he wishes to fill the gap which Bollywood so clearly has when it comes to horror, he's dealing with a different beast on his hands. Both styles have been tested, the Western and a Desi horror story.
Bhoot seems inspired by the West applied to a Desi setting, is it different? Or, will it be another spooky story sold to us in terrible lighting, disappointing graphics, and by ladies in white dresses? If it's done right, we might just have an Indian James Wan on our hands, which will always be welcome. In horror, it's best to go in expecting the unexpected.