Thing of past? The death of erotic thrillers in Bollywood – News

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Thing of past? The death of erotic thrillers in Bollywood – News

Cinema that banked on sensuality for the heck of it is a thing of past in Bollywood. And guess what? No one’s complaining

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By Yasser Usman

Published: Fri 28 Jul 2023, 2:58 PM

The buzz surrounding the Netflix series Fatal Seduction, touted as the ‘steamiest’ ever, has been hard to ignore. This erotic thriller has garnered tremendous popularity, ranking consistently among the top three Netflix shows globally for over 10 weeks. Intrigued, I decided to watch it. The first episode felt strikingly similar to something I had already watched on Netflix — the Spanish show Dark Desire. Confirming my suspicions, I found that Fatal Seduction is, in fact, a South African remake of Dark Desire. It struck me as interesting — an instance of Netflix remaking its own series that’s not even an old series (second season of Dark Desire released just last year). While content can be adapted and localised to cater to different markets and cultural preferences, I realised remake or not, most erotic thrillers really have similar plot devices and story elements like seduction, passion, betrayal and murder. While this genre has abundant content across various OTT platforms, the successful erotic thrillers that captivated audiences with its blend of sensuality and suspense have gradually phased out from Bollywood.

The new millennium witnessed the rise of this genre in Bollywood when the Bhatt camp of Bollywood — Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt, and Vikram Bhatt — spearheaded the era of erotic blockbusters with films like Raaz (2002), Jism (2003) and Murder (2004). The Bhatts explored and exploited this genre on a grand scale. They crafted a formula that emerged a winner at the box office repeatedly for the following decade: sensuality, melodious music, glamorous and unapologetic women. Commercial Hindi cinema had rarely witnessed such acceptance of unconventional protagonists. With Jism 2 (2012), the Bhatt camp provided a mainstream platform to adult film star Sunny Leone, and the result was a resounding success. In the past, such films were labeled as B-grade, but Mahesh Bhatt smartly promoted such projects with conviction to defy preconceived notions and establish a winning formula. During one of our conversations years ago, Mahesh Bhatt mentioned, “The right concoction of sensuality, crime and thrill will always survive. The success of these films also tells us a lot about our society. In Jism and Murder, we showed the unabashed side of a woman that was buried inside and the youth applauded and accepted.”

The erotic thrillers also created stars like John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Mallika Sherawat and the most popular star of these films, Emraan Hashmi. They tasted success with Murder, a rip-off of Hollywood’s Unfaithful. Mallika-Emraan’s sizzling chemistry and that earworm of a song, Bheege Honth Tere, became a trendsetter. Singers like KK, Shreya Ghoshal, Himesh Reshammiya and Atif Aslam charted a career out of the soundtracks of these erotic hits. The multiple sequels of Raaz, Jism, Jannat and Murder also played on this trope. There were other filmmakers like Vivek Agnihotri (of Kashmir Files fame) and Vishal Pandya, who created trashy but successful erotic thrillers, the Hate Story series (four films). Simultaneously, the sub-genre also drew audiences to theatres and films like 1920 (2008), Love Sex Aur Dhokha (2010) and Ragini MMS (2011) emerged as unexpected hits, surprising both audiences and the industry.

In their quest to get bolder, the filmmakers even ventured into shooting their erotic thrillers in 3D. The genre proved successful for nearly a decade, but eventually, its charm waned. Films like Murder 3, Love Games, and Hate Story 4 failed to strike a chord with the audience and turned out to be significant box office disappointments. Eventually, the Bhatt camp came to the realisation that the formula of erotic thrillers had run its course, leading them to bid farewell to the genre.

I believe the main reason for the decline of these mid-budget films was the diminishing quality, which went from bad to worse over a period of time. The good music was replaced by cheesy remakes of old hits and big stars like Emraan, John, Bipasha and Mallika moved on to greener pastures and better films. Ultimately, mainstream erotic thrillers were completely overshadowed by the digital revolution. The rise of OTT platforms brought forth a plethora of steamy thrillers with bolder themes. With such content available at the touch of a button, the appeal of purchasing theatre tickets for B-grade thrillers diminished significantly.

In today’s OTT landscape, filmmakers and storytellers enjoy the freedom to craft content that caters to niche audiences seeking a more provocative experience. There are many shows that explore desire and relationships with depth and sensitivity. Intimate scenes are approached with a more nuanced perspective, incorporating meaningful messaging, elements of feminism, and more importantly, the inclusion of renowned actors and filmmakers. For instance, Lust Stories has stars like Kajol, Manisha Koirala, Kiara Advani, Tamannaah and Vicky Kaushal and is directed by renowned filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Konkona Sen Sharma.

I don’t think the ‘erotic movement’ of the mainstream Bollywood is being missed. Most of these films were uncredited, cheesy imitations of Western thrillers. While the platforms have changed, the genre continues to thrive. I don’t miss those films by the Bhatt-camp but some of the songs they created still find a place in my playlists. And, I miss Emraan Hashmi in better films. His charm was genuine.

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