Rounding out Halloween (tab bit late), this listicle traces the icons of horror in Bollywood and popular culture in India, some of which have become to be queer favorites over the years. A couple movies that didn’t make the listicle due to absence of presence of recognisable icons include movies like Mahal (1949), Purani Haveli (1989), Veerana (1988), 1920 (2008), Darna Mana Hai (2003), 13B: Fear has a New Address (2009), or the series Ssshhh…Koi Hai (2001-2010), Aahat, and Discovery Channel’s A Haunting. Others are Vastu Shastra and Atma, both unfortunately made by Ram Gopal Verma. Krishna Cottage, released in 2004, is yet another certified cult classic with one of the best songs of all time ‘Suna Suna’ sung by Shreya Ghosal.
Ganji Chudail (2023)
It’s useless to make a list of queer horror icons without mentioning the Ganji Chudail (Bald Witch) whose stories of (mis)adventures are trending everywhere. As part of the channel Majedar Kahani, the stories feature the witch terrorizing the people of the village, mostly meeting her end at the hand of some priest. However, recently, some stories have been quite interesting with the witch being accepted by the people of the village for making delicious burgers, her on-off animosity with Naagin, or her simply carrying on with her life. Her green color, bald head, red blouse with white petticoat has become a Halloween staple already.
An adaption of What Lies Beneath (), this horro film is counted as amongst one of the most well known and dramatic horror movies. The iconic screams, dog, black magic involving lemon turning red, it has all the ingredients required for making a hit. Malini Sharma plays the role of the villain here with the story being supplemented by iconic songs. More than that, the lines “Mai Barbaad Hona Chahta Hoon” in response to “Mai Tumhe Barbaad Kaar Dungi” in the context of giving it all for a toxic love is just peak Bollywood. No matter, the cult status it enjoyed stays fresh despite the lackluster sequels.
Ek Thi Daayan (2013)
Adaptation of Mobius Trips by Mukul Sharma, this horror thriller features not one but two iconic Daayans (witches) in Huma Qureshi and Konkona Sen Sharma. Their styles are campy, glamorous, and absolutely fun. And they deliver the scares very well (atleast in the first half). Incase you needed more, Rekha Bhardwaj sang a song titled Lautungi Mai (I will return), which is nothing short of being Bollywood daayan anthem.
The latest entry in the listicle, this Tripti Dimri found instant success with it’s wonderfully done period setting, engaging story, and finally, Tripti looking absolutely gorgeous in every second she was on the screen. The story here follows more of drama than horror but it’s well done and is a rewarding experience at the end. The background music, dreamy visuals, and soundtrack also received praise from critics and audience alike. Since then, Tripti has become a staple in Reels about style and elegance, being celebrated by queers for being effortlessly gorgeous while also hunting down evil men.
Jhamunda from Jajantram Mamantram (2003)
This 2003 Bollywood remake of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels launched Jaaved Jaffrey to Bollywood. More than that, there was an evil villain Jhamunda played by Joy Fernandes. Jhamunda remains a classy demonic villain (if not scary in its entirety) and has become a favorite, especially with the resurgence in his appearance over Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and Tik Tok. As is common with the last, he has also become a Halloween staple among fans of Bollywood.
Menacingly played by Shabana Azmi, the titular witch in this comedy horror was a scarefest for people growing up in the 2000s. There was always a fear of being struck by the long, razor-sharp and almost claw-like nails of the witch. It didn’t help either that she was infamous for turning residents of the village into animals. While the movie ultimately proved her to be a hoax, the scary image of the witch still lives on and thrives in popular culture.
Tatiya Vinchu is what we call the equivalent of Anabelle in India, though to a lesser extent. The creepy doll, who gets possessed by the spirit of a criminal and start committing murder of course reminds us of Chucky (who has been revered as a queer icon thanks to his support towards his gender fluid child and in general, helping the homos be together). First seen in the Marathi movie Zapatlela in 1993, it quickly appeared in Khilona Bana Khalnayak in 1995, followed by a sequel to the Marathi movie in 2013. The creepy voice and the expression of Tatya Vinchu still raise terror within people who saw him while growing up.
While the Monkey Man isn’t a movie, it did cause what has been called an instance of mass hysteria in India. Though spotted in Delhi during mid-2001, other cities also reported its sighting and even I remember a lot of chaos around his alleged appearance in my hometown in Madhya Pradesh decades ago. Monkey Man has been a part of horror culture in India, be it in movies like Delhi 6 or Halloween Costume or in television shows.
The Shraddha Kapoor-Rajkummar Rao starrer is a rare horror comedy from Bollywood. Based on the urban legend of Nale Ba (Come Tomorrow), the film doesn’t feature any particular scares but it’s tagline of O Stree Kal Aana (Oh Woman come tomorrow) has been hilariously adapted, be it for Monday or Supreme Court referring to India’s queer community for marriage equality. Although not perfect, the critically acclaimed film does feature a plot involving a courtesan’srevenge for butchering her true love and queers will tell you that nothing gets more dramatic than that.
Did we miss any other icon from streaming/OTT shows, literature, or regional cinema? Or any infamous urban legend, be it about the ghosts in Bhangadh Fort or the Pyaaz Wali Chudail (Onion Witch)! Tell us about your favorite queer fear icon and why do you love them in the comments!