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Mirth and Misery: The Best of India’s Horror Comedies

Between clumsy and cursed, we’ve seen spine-chilling laugh riots

Rolling Stone India May 25, 2021

Akshay Kumar in 'Bhool Bhulaiya'

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For those who may not have the stomach to sit through two hours of harrowing dramatics, jump-scares and the like, there exists horror-comedy as a genre of cinema. Pioneering in the art of thrills and gags, D. W. Griffith created the first film in the genre – One Exciting Night in 1922. Bollywood has had its own share of horror-comedies. Bhoot Bangla (1965), originally released as a musical-comedy, was one of the first horror-comedies in India, albeit unintentionally. Hollywood’s Scary Movie franchise modernized the concept and brought it into the 21st century with a new twist. Although it’s progressing at a snail’s pace, Indian cinema has seen some spine-chilling laughing riots of its own. Here are some classic and some new Indian horror-comedies to watch if you are new to the genre:

Kanchana (Tamil) 

10 years after its release, Kanchana still remains one of the most popular horror-comedies made in India. A sequel to Muni (2007), this Raghava Lawrence film documents the journey of a phasmophobic man (played by Lawrence), who gets possessed by three different spirits, one of which transforms him into Kanchana, a trans woman who was the victim of a murder. Dotted with catchy music, halfwit jokes, a slow but intriguing plotline and a social message at the end, Kanchana made its way into the hearts of audiences. Kanchana’s popularity inspired a slew of remakes beyond borders, including Maya in Sri Lanka, Mayabiny in Bangladesh and Kalpana (Kannada) and Laxmii (Hindi) in India.

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Watch on Disney+ Hotstar.

Roohi (Hindi)

Roohi brought along with it a breath of fresh air and some much-needed laughter in the middle of the pandemic in early 2021. The movie is set in a small-town rife with illegally forced weddings where two simple boys, Bhawra (Rajkumar Rao) and Kattanni (Varun Sharma), are trying to find love. Eventually, they do, only to find out that Roohi (Jahanvi Kapoor), Bhawra’s love interest, is possessed by a spirit, Afza, who sweeps Kattanni off his feet. Although lacking a cohesive plotline and a strong narrative, Roohi is a light-hearted one-time watch for a change in atmosphere and some laughable butchering of the English language.

Watch on Netflix.

Raju Gari Gadhi (Telugu)

Raju Gari Gadhi, released in 2015, is the first of the three-part series and is an entertaining watch. A group of people participate in a reality show which baits contestants with ₹3 crores if they survive a week-long stint at a haunted house. Although the plot lacks gravity, the enthusiasm of the narrative, impressive acting and the comedic timing takes the cake. The dialogues, written by Sai Madhav, need a special mention as the humor is more lingual than implied – and it is portrayed perfectly. Directed by Ohmkar, Raju Gari Gadhi definitely stands out as one of the better horror-comedies made in India. 

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Watch on Disney+ Hotstar.

Chaipatti (Hindi)

Chaipatti is a short independent film released on Youtube in March 2021 which encapsulates the magic of horror-comedy in under 12 minutes. It shows a trio of friends trying their luck with a pentagram and a cursed book to try and prove that ghosts exist – which, unsurprisingly, goes wrong. Director Sudhanshu Rai manages to combine the correct amount of simplistic humor with an eerie feeling that sends chills down your spine in the end. What’s surprising is that it does it without ever showing the ghost’s appearance. Get spooked but with a side serving of giggles!

Bhool Bhulaiyaa (Hindi)

This 2007 blockbuster starring Akshay Kumar is unmissable. Laying the path for modern Bollywood horror-comedies, Bhool Bhulaiyaa is a fun watch that will keep you engaged when everything else is just not cutting it. A story about an NRI man Siddharth and his wife Avni who move to his ancestral village, they soon start facing life-threatening accidents. These supernatural incidents ultimately capture the attention of the vibrant psychiatrist Aditya (Akshay Kumar), who takes it upon himself to unearth the truth behind this mystery.

Watch on YouTube.

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