Done to death: Is time to reinvent the whodunit genre?
With one too many whodunits on OTT and a sense of fatigue seems to be setting among the audiences, makers discuss if the genre needs experiment
Murder, mystery, search for the killer, some red herrings and finally revealing the culprit at the end. A whodunit is intriguing to audiences as the numerous twists and turns in the story keep them hooked.
The murder mystery or whodunit genre has existed in popular culture for years as audiences love the thrill of watching a good mystery unravel. In fact, in the last few years on OTT too, there seem to be one too many whodunit in movies and web series.
Web show Class -a murder mystery against the backdrop of teen drama, (web show) Mai, a story of a grieving mother who searches for her daughter’s killers, Raveena Tandon’s (film) Aranyak, where a local cop investigates the murder of a foreign teenager, (web show) Hush Hush, a story about four women their friendship, suspected murder and an investigation, (film) Monica O My Darling (MOMD), a neo-noir comedy which was as engaging as the hunt for the killer,(film) Cuttputlli, about a cop tracking down a serial killer, among others — while some were lapped up, many others were not appreciated by audiences.
Ashim Ahluwalia, director of Class, which was appreciated, says, “Murder and crime have always fascinated viewers, mainly because films and series allow you to engage with this world voyeuristically and without the actual danger involved. But more importantly, this kind of film also allows us to explore the darker, shadow areas of the human psyche - which I think can be somewhat therapeutic because in daily life, this is mostly repressed.”
People are curious and voyeuristic by nature and love whodunits as it explores the mind of the killer and victim, states Ashish R Shukla, director of Candy, who mostly has thrillers to his credit. He adds, “Humans love gossip and drama and Indians are tamasha loving people. Crime drama thrillers can range from police procedurals or detectives hunting for the killer to a body is found genre or person is killed and it leads to a search of the killer.”
Streamers, too, have the pressure to deliver, get completion rates up and make sure viewers stay till the end of a film or web show and “whodunits are an easy way”, says director Rohan Sippy.
Is there fatigue among audiences for whodunits?
While there is love for the genre, of late, there seems to be a fatigue among audiences for murder mysteries. Gaslight was termed cliche and lacking in thrills, Cuttputlli got mixed reviews while Taapsee Pannu’s attempt was appreciated, critics felt Blurr fell short.
Shukla says, “Makers have to make stories interesting every time. Fatigue sets when a project has a cliche story, bad performances and bad direction. That’s why even if the project has the biggest of stars, they don’t work, Akshay Kumar’s Cuttputlli, for instance, which people had seen in Telugu, so they won’t watch the same thing in Hindi. Gaslight, too, wasn’t appreciated for the story and performances yet some people saw it due to the star value.”
Sippy feels the genre is inherently “interesting” but like anything, over using it will “diminish its charm”. “Murder is intriguing and when it is thrown into a story, it brings in drama and intensity,” he says, adding, “When one genre is overdone, it can be a good thing as it means it is time to reinvent it. Then there are opportunities to generate ideas or perhaps bring back stuff that worked but with a new look. Obviously, murder mysteries immediately get consensus with the people making it. Often the so-called safer approach, in any content, is to put in a murder to hook in audiences- even if the genre is not purely a murder mystery because it is an effective device. It is an easy, go-to genre for makers as audiences do tend to watch them more than other content. When something works there is a rush to capitalise on that.”
Twist in the tale
To avoid looking like clones of every other crime story, new element /twist are needed to keep audiences hooked.Digital platforms on experimenting mode too and are green lighting projects that take whodunits to a new level. Makers seemed to gauge the same and have added/introduced elements like supernatural (Candy, Aranyak), humour (Glass Onion, MOMD), people with disabilities (Blurr) and horror (Gaslight) in whodunits.
Shukla says, “Sub genres like supernatural elements in Candy or Asur, horror in Dahan etc is fun for creators to work with. Ek murder aur romanchak kaise banaye, yeh idea hota hai. Just saying that a guy committed a murder is done-to-death but when a murderer says, ‘Kisi shakti ne kaha katal karne ko toh yeh ek badhiya twist hai’. People are interested in knowing about such twisted minds.” In the same vein, Ashim adds, “The fatigue is usually a result of filmmakers making predictable and formulaic stuff where the characters and outcomes have been seen before. If the work remains unpredictable and fresh, I think there is still a lot to be explored here.”