By Shilpa Jamkhandikar
MUMBAI (Reuters) - Bollywood is branching out from its traditional song-and-dance dramas and slapstick comedies with its first zombie films which filmmakers hope will entice younger crowds back to Indian films from Hollywood's living dead.
Few horror films are made in Bollywood and those that do make it to the big screen tend to focus on ghosts and the after-life, which are common themes in Hindu mythology.
But this year, as Indian cinema celebrates 100 years, three zombie films made in Hindi are slated for release, hoping to compete with blockbuster U.S. zombie movies such as "Warm Bodies" and "World War Z".
Directors Luke Kenny and Devaki Singh will release the first of the three Hindi films, "Rise of the Zombie", on April 5, and hope twinning zombies with Indian filmmaking will appeal to younger audiences.
"We've been wanting to make something like this within the Hindi film industry set-up and we realized that within the horror film genre nobody has ever touched the zombie genre," Kenny, who also stars in the film, told Reuters.
"Prepare to witness the ultimate human fear", proclaims the film's trailer, which shows photographer Neil Parker in the jungle fighting off a swarm of insects before transforming, writhing and screaming, into a blood-splattered zombie.
Kenny, who has worked as content head at a music channel and directed one previous film, a movie called "13th Floor", said part of the challenge was to educate Indian audiences about the living dead as the country has no zombie folklore.
But he said they managed not to "dumb down" the film, the first of a planned trilogy, since the main target audience is aged 18 to 25, a group likely to know about Hollywood zombies.
Other challenges were to make the film as realistic as possible, despite severe budget limitations, and to give it international appeal.
Kenny said the film was made for "less than the song and dance sequence of a Bollywood film", with the filmmakers relying mainly on makeup and camera effects rather than more costly computer graphics used in Hollywood horror films.
"It's a Hindi film with international sensibilities ... The effort on my part was to make a film that anybody in the world can watch," he said.
Kenny's film will be followed by two more zombie films in India this year, highlighting a trend for Indian filmmakers to try to cater to audiences who enjoy Hollywood fare.
In May comes "Go Goa Gone", a zombie comedy by filmmakers Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru that features Saif Ali Khan, one of Bollywood's most bankable stars, as an Indian pretending to be a Russian zombie hunter.
The trailer, which bills the film as a "zomcom", has attracted more than 2.3 million hits since late March.
A third film, "Rock the Shaadi" ("Rock the Wedding"), will come out later in the year, accompanied by a graphic novel.
"My producers and I realize that there is a market there for films that are in this genre, and that market will only grow," said Kenny.
"Hopefully, when we make the second and third parts of the film, we'll be able to mount it on a bigger scale."
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, editing by Elaine Lies and Belinda Goldsmith)