Why is the Pakistani cinema industry not exploring the horror genre enough?

Pakistanis (actually desis in general) have a deep connection with horror. Regardless of which corner of the country a person belongs to, almost everyone in the country has a horror story to tell. The stories are based on fact and fiction both, and almost always passed down by word of mouth. Phrases like a jinn haunting the deserted terrace of an old house or school buildings standing on top of old graveyards are the ones that an average Pakistani has heard of, at least once in their life.

So, for a country that has an audience which can instantly relate to the stories of supernatural horror, it is a matter of slight concern that its cinema does not explore this genre, already rich of stories waiting to be told. A concern that gets amplified when we see that Pakistani tv serials have made successful horror genre dramas in recent years like Belapur Ki Dayan and Woh.

Horror movies – a worldwide phenomenon

When we look at the global cinema and how movies in the horror genre fare at the box office, we see that it is a genre that is readily accepted by the audience. Hollywood has multiple successful franchises like the Conjuring Series, Insidious, Paranormal Activity to name a few. The highest grossing horror movie of Hollywood, It, was released just two years ago with its sequel slated to release later this year and the expectations for it are already high.

People might not be aware of how the Japanese movie industry works, or know of most of the films made in those industries, but titles like The Ring and The Grudge are known globally. Both films belong to the horror genre and both of them are known by movie lovers worldwide. One of the box office successes from Bollywood last year was Stree, a comedy-horror film. Basically, horror movies have the ability to not only rake high on the critics’ list of “Good Cinema” but also make money when made well.

The scary case of the unexplored horror genre in Pakistan

In the past six years, as Pakistani cinema has steadily gained traction with more and more quality films being produced each year, the horror genre has yet to deliver. There have been attempts made in the genre but they are lackluster if not entirely forgettable. The few noticeable releases in the horror genre post-revival have been: Siyaah, Pari, Maya, and Aksbandh with the upcoming Kataksha taking the number up to five. While Kataksha’s fate is yet to be known on the box office, it has only been Siyaah that did any decent business on the box office as well as gained positive reviews. And that was way back in 2013.

When we look at Pari (its Indian counterpart put us to shame) and Maya, we mostly just see the filmmakers’ complete lack of imagination and willingness to try different things in the genre. With an incredibly uneven pace, bad acting, weak plot and unnecessary incorporation of religion vs. science debate, Pari was far from being a horror film. In all honesty, it looked like an experiment gone wrong that the directors or actors cared too little to rectify. 

Cherry on top of the many unexplained things in Pari was the recurring appearance of a nun (the nun shots were probably stolen from Hollywood because there was no explanation to them whatsoever). There was no story behind it, at least not in the movie, and they were not even culturally appropriate, to begin with. If the lack of Islamic values is what you’re attributing this whole drama to, at least have the sagacity to use culturally or religiously appropriate evil spirits.

As for Aksbandh, the film was a found-footage horror film but it failed to leave any positive impression owing to a complete lack of originality in the treatment of the genre. It is like the filmmakers don’t take this genre seriously at all which shouldn’t be the case.

A final word

Horror is a genre that, by its nature, gives the makers a huge playing field. It is not restricted by the boundary of facts and allows the makers to amp up the imagination to however degree they want all for the sake of immersing the audience in a world of horror. Fear is an emotion that resonates with all human beings on an inherent level. And horror is the genre that directly tackles that inherent emotion.

All we need are some competent filmmakers that take this genre, and its expectations, seriously to churn out an unforgettable piece of cinema. It is about time that the Pakistani cinema delivers a solid horror genre film that we can proudly own up as completely being our own.