Bollywood is full of action thrillers and crime thrillers; however, the modern psychological thriller is a genre explored less often.
The other day, I was watching the 2005 film Being Cyrus. This fascinating film defies simple categorization - it is part comedy, part film noir, part crime drama, part psychological thriller. But it raised a question in my mind as to what exactly constitutes a psychological thriller.
According to Wikipedia, a psychological thriller is:
... a fictional thriller story which emphasizes the psychology of its characters and their unstable emotional states. In terms of classification, the category is a sub-genre of the broader ranging thriller category, with similarities to Gothic and detective fiction in the sense of sometimes having a "dissolving sense of reality", moral ambiguity, and complex and tortured relationships between obsessive and pathological characters. Psychological thrillers often incorporate elements of mystery, drama, and horror ...
British director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is attributed with the following definition:
... psychological thrillers focus on story, character development, choice, and moral conflict; fear and anxiety drive the psychological tension in unpredictable ways ...
With this in mind, here are 5 psychological thrillers to watch if you are new to Bollywood.
English Title: "Fear"
Release Date: 24 December 1993
Director: Yash Chopra
Description: Having graduated from university, Kiran (Juhi Chawla) is looking forward to her marriage to Sunil (Sunny Deol). However, she soon discovers that she has secret admirer (Shah Rukh Khan) who is willing to do anything to claim her for his own.
Why I Love This Film: This film combines old-school Bollywood with a fresh - and frightening - story. Shah Rukh Khan's Rahul is evil wrapped up in an unassuming boy-next-door package. Yash Chopra drops this psychotic lover into a romance film - adds some memorable dance sequences - and introduced us to a psychological thriller that continues to stand the test of time.
Recognition: Won, National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment; Won, Filmfare Award for Best Comedian (Anupam Kher); Won, Filmfare Award for Best Cinematographer Award (Manmohan Singh).
English Title: "Maze"
Release Date: 12 October 2007
Description: When U.S.-based Siddharth Chaturvedi (Shiney Ahuja) visits his Indian home town with his new wife Avni (Vidya Balan), he insists they stay at the ancestral home, laughing off family members' warnings of ghostly goings-on in the mansion. Events soon make him reconsider his beliefs. As unexplained and terrifying occurrences arise, Siddharth calls on his psychologist friend Dr. Aditya Shrivastav (Akshay Kumar) to help solve the mystery.
Why I Love This Film: An ancient house, a forbidden room, and legends of ghosts make this an entertaining story from the start. The moments of comedy are offset by the tension that builds as different characters come under suspicion for taking part in the strange goings-on. What makes this film particularly stand out is that it seems to pay equal respect to both science and faith in dealing with a bizarre series of events that escalate into something more sinister.
Release Date: 25 December 2008
Director: A. R. Murugadoss
Description: Medical student, Sunita (Jiah Khan), is driven by curiosity to study the case of Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan), who is afflicted with short-term memory loss. She runs into him, befriends him, and finds out that he is out to kill a seemingly benevolent citizen, Ghajini Dharmatma (Pradeep Rawat). Through a series of diaries written by Sanjay, we learn how a wealthy businessman became a crazed recluse, who re-lives his past through tattoos on his body, notes and Polaroid photographs.
Why I Love This Film: Inspired by the film Memento, this is Hindi remake of the 2005 Tamil film of the same name (which is also a film worth seeing). This version goes a step further in giving you the back story of Sanjay Singhania - making his plight even more distressing. Living in a dark and memory-less world, Singhania comes out to strike at those he has determined are his foes. His rage makes his cat-and-mouse game dangerous for anyone who crosses his path. Some of the action sequences include special camera techniques which add a layer of psychosis to his battles. But what ultimately carries this tale is the romance of Sanjay Singhania and Kalpana (Asin) - told through a series of flashbacks.
Recognition: Won, Star Screen Award for Most Promising Newcomer-Female (Asin); Won, Stardust Superstar of Tomorrow-Female (Asin); Won, Stardust Hottest New Filmmaker (A.R. Murugadoss); Won, Stardust Hottest New Film Award; Won, Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut (Asin); Won, Filmfare Award for Best Action (Peter Hein); Won, IIFA Award for Best Female Debut (Asin); Won, IIFA Award for Best Villain (Pradeep Rawat).
Release Date: 6 June 2008
Director: Raj Kumar Gupta
Description: Dr. Aamir Ali (Rajeev Khandelwal) returns to Mumbai on vacation. When he arrives at the airport, his family is nowhere to be found. When he tries to call them, a mysterious stranger arrives on a motorbike and hands him a cell phone. Aamir soon learns that if he want to see his family again, he must carry out the instructions given by the man on the other end of the phone. He soon senses a plot which has terrorist underpinnings.
Why I Love This Film: While most psychological thillers leverage darkness to help set the tone for the story, this film chooses daylight to focus on the desperation and loneliness of Aamir in a city of 13 million. This is not a film with song-and-dance sequences. It is real, raw and rough. And while the film touches on the power of a man to choose his own destiny, it ultimately raises the question, "what would you do?"
Release Date: 26 February 2010
Director: Vijay Lalwani
Description: Karthik (Farhan Akhtar) is a quiet, solitary employee who secretly dreams of dating the office hottie, Shonali Mukherjee (Deepika Padukone). When he loses his job, he loses hope. On the brink of suicide, he is rescued by a series of calls which change his life. However, this source of his new found success must be kept a secret.
Why I Love This Film: This is a sweet love story that rides atop an undercurrent of mystery and uncertainty. While the evolution of Karthik from shy to gregarious is fascinating, you can't help but wonder when the other shoe will drop. You may think you know how the story will turn out, but you will find yourself in for a few surprises.
Don't know which film to watch first? The following video playlist features trailers for each of these five films.
If you liked this, please visit our other Friday Five posts.