Horror and supernatural shows aren't new for Indian television. Aahat on Sony Entertainment Television has been one of the most popular and longest running horror shows on Indian television. Then there was Shhh… Koi Hai on STAR Plus, which was also very popular. The show has now resurfaced with a new title, Shhh... Phir Koi Hai. Besides, various GECs (general entertainment channels) have aired popular horror/ thriller shows such as The Zee Horror Show, Anhonee, Woh, Thriller at 10, Saturday Suspense, Mano Ya Na Mano and Kya Hadsa Kya Haqeeqat.
Somehow, a few years ago, these horror shows had taken a back seat, making way for newer kinds of shows, especially during the weekends.
However, lately, the viewers' interest in the horror genre has resurfaced, with 9X and Colors launching Black and Koi Aane Ko Hai respectively in the last two months. Sahara One has Shubh Kadam, which was earlier known as Kaisi Laagi Lagan. Zee TV has Shree and SAB TV has a horror-comedy, Bhootwala Serial, inspired by Bollywood's Bhool Bhoolaiya.
Sony, however, doesn't have any horror shows currently; however, it often telecasts reruns of its past shows, Aahat and Khaufnaak, as fillers. Meanwhile, Chehra, the mystery thriller on STAR Plus, has the prospect of a supernatural presence lurking just under the surface.
In addition, the recent Bollywood supernatural thriller, 13B - Fear, has also been adapted into a TV series. The producers, Reliance Big Entertainment's BIG Productions and Synergy Adlabs, are already in talks with a couple of broadcasters for this adaptation.
Sudershan Rajan, senior business director, MediaCom, refers this trend as the return of a fashion cycle. He says, "It's a herd mentality. If one show on television does well, other channels follow suit. After the success of Balika Vadhu on Colors, there are at least six such serials today on television. Similarly, the reality genre took off about five years ago and horror got lost amidst that."
"There is no consumer reason to it," he adds
According to Satyajit Sen, managing director, North, ZenithOptimedia, horror and supernatural shows are added to provide variety to the programming mix. "Horror is a differentiated form of content for the channels."
However, what's interesting is that horror shows have always been popular among children and young viewers below 25 years of age.
The current shows also reveal a similar trend of viewership. In fact, the skew towards children viewers is higher in the new shows. For instance, Shhh… Phir Koi Hai on STAR One has 29 per cent viewers below 14 years, while the viewers between 15-24 years comprise another 24 per cent of the total viewership for the show.
Similarly, Shree on Zee TV has 23 per cent viewers who are below 14 years and another 21 per cent in the age group of 15-24 years.
What attracts children to these programmes? According to Ajay Bhalwankar, programming head, Zee TV, children were always hooked on to supernatural shows. He says, "Children have strong imaginations and inquisitive minds. Supernatural shows are about an unknown world. These shows take the children into a fantasy world."
Sunil Agnihotri, producer of Black on 9X, compares his shows with Jai Ganesha (on Zee TV) and Chandrakanta, which was earlier aired on Doordarshan. Even Black has its maximum viewers, 24 per cent, aged below 14 years.
He says these shows are popular among kids for similar reasons - it's because of their interest in the supernatural. He adds that both Black and Jai Ganesha have a kid as the protagonist. However, he defines Black as a paranormal show, rather than a supernatural one.
According to Agnihotri, "Children are kept in mind while producing these shows because if they watch, other family members will follow," he says.
There has also been a change in the quality and genre of horror shows. As Ravi Menon, executive vice-president and general manager, STAR One, says, "Today's horror shows have moved beyond the 'Ramsay Brothers' style of picturisation, which had gory scenes and repulsive ghosts that would make one feel nauseous. Today, the shows are about in-the-face horror."
The production qualities of these shows have also been improved as exquisite locales are chosen for the shoots. Menon says, "We took a conscious decision to move Shhh...Phir Koi Hai out of the settings of Mumbai. The stories now are set in rural areas and have kings, palaces and a mix of Indian legends. These fantasies work very well with children. We are moving into locations such as Manali and Rajasthan, which have local legends. Children relate to these tales very well," he says.
Menon feels that supernatural shows are a fantasy trip for children, who see them as a video game. "It's a mere fantasy trip for them that pumps up their adrenaline. They are detached from the shows, unlike in the yesteryears, and do not associate themselves with the show enough to give them scary dreams," he adds.
However, advertisers are still not targeting kids through these shows. "Supernatural thrillers are usually bundled in as part of the deal," says Rajesh Aggarwal, president, Dentsu India. "With the exception of specific innovations, there are no specific deals per se for individual shows. Mostly, brands focusing on male target groups prefer to take thrillers as part of the deal. Other than that, all types of brands/product categories advertise across such shows," he adds. The biggest spenders are automobiles and telecom.
However, horror shows as a genre has still a long way to go, especially when 70 per cent of the GRPs are commanded by family dramas. "Horror and supernatural shows only get about 1-2 per cent," says Rajan of Mediacom.