Audiences said a firm 'no' to the two spooky films that released in theatres this weekend - "Rakht" and "Hum Kaun Hain".
The theatres screening these spook jaunts across the country looked like miniature ghost towns as audiences said no to 'boo' without a second thought.
What went wrong? "It was as though the audience was prepared to reject the two supernatural thrillers even before release," says Roshan Singh, a major exhibitor in Bihar.
"Even in a place like Bihar where horror and ghost stories have a staunch viewership, 'Rakht' was a wash-out from day one. 'Hum Kaun Hain' didn't even get released in Bihar in spite of top stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Dimple Kapadia!"
Says filmmaker Hansal Mehta: "We can't make a formula out of spook. Audiences have an insatiable appetite for romance and action. But not ghost stories, please!"
"Vikram Bhatt's 'Raaz' and Ram Gopal Varma's 'Bhoot' clicked because of their novelty value. But every ghost story that came thereafter from 'Hawa' to 'Rakht' failed miserably. Obviously audiences don't go to the movies to get spooked."
So what do they go for? Right now it's motorcycles, girls and action in "Dhoom".
Gone are the days when ghost stories generated incredible interest in the audience. Audiences loved watching Madhubala as a ghost in Kamal Amrohi's "Mahal" the 1950s, Sadhana playing the apparition in white in "Who Kaun Thi" and Waheeda Rehman in "Bees Saal Baad" in 1960s....
Arjun Sablok who's part of the technical team of the new hit "Dhoom", says: "That's because each one of these films was supported by a divine heroine and an even more divine ghost who sang songs by Lata Mangeshkar. 'Mahal' had the melody 'Ayega aanewala' and 'Who Kaun Thi' had 'Naina barse rimjhim'. These songs are hummed to this day. Where are the ethereal ladies and the songs?"
Interest in sexy spooks waned in the 1970s when Hema Malini stalked Rajesh Khanna with the unforgettable song "Mere naina sawan bhadow" in Shakti Samanta's costly period film "Mehbooba".
The soundtrack was a big hit. The film was not. Ghost stories have been periodically made and rejected ever since.
Isha Koppiker failed as a ghost even though she has Shreya Ghosal to sing the haunting "Bepanaah pyar hai aaja" in "Krishna Cottage".
Hansal Mehta calls "Raaz" and "Bhoot" "false alarms". "They made filmmakers feel lulled into a false sense of comfort within the spooky theme when in fact audiences don't really like to be scared in films."
"They want to be entertained. Even in television horror serials which were once a favourite (do you remember the long-running 'Aahat'?) have waned in popularity."
What happens to the forthcoming supernatural thrillers like Ram Gopal Varma's "Vastu Shastra" which Varma claims to be "the scariest film I've made or even seen"?