’13B’ and the Overlooked World of Indian Horror

August 3rd, 2023 | By Luke David

13B Fear Has a New Address

The world of Indian horror has much to offer fans of the genre. With the rising interest in South Indian cinema, cinephiles are now discovering that they have barely scratched the surface of their exposure to Indian films. Vikram Kumar’s 13B: Fear Has A New Address is an underrated gem in that department, and it checks almost all the boxes of being a great horror film.

With the overwhelming success of S. S. Rajamouli’s RRR, moviegoers everywhere have flocked to scour the world of Indian cinema beyond just Bollywood. Being the seventh largest country in the world with a population of over 1.4 billion, there’s so much more that the country has to offer in terms of films than Bollywood – the film industry primarily based in North India that produces films in the Hindi language. RRR introduced Western cinephiles to the world of South Indian cinema, including Tollywood, a different film industry that’s primarily based in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which produce films in the Telugu language.

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Due to the many different languages spoken throughout the country, India has over 20 film industries catering to specific regions. And within those industries come a litany of films that all fall into their own genres – it’s no wonder that India produces, on average, over 2,000 films per year as opposed to the average 600 films produced yearly in the United States.

This may sound like a treat for movie lovers who actively seek to watch undiscovered films. For horror fans, Indian cinema delivers some pretty solid scares if you know where to look. Enter 13B: Fear Has a New Address

Released in 2009, the film was written and directed by Vikram Kumar and made with a relatively low budget of ₹12 crores (approximately $1.4 million). Despite its modest budget, 13B manages to pull off some downright creepy and disturbing ambiance in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The film was simultaneously filmed in 2 languages – Tamil and Hindi – with the former being titled Yavarum Nalam, contributing to its box office success and earning it ₹23 crores (approximately $2.8 million). 

As the title suggests, 13B is a haunted house horror, taking place mostly in a single location. It tells the story of Manohar and his family, who move into a new apartment on the 13th floor, where he starts experiencing strange occurrences from a soap opera that only gets broadcasted on his TV. The film takes inspiration from the world of J-horror, with its central gimmick being the aforementioned spooky soap opera. However, this Indian horror goes a little further by introducing a shocking twist in its climax with scares to go along with it.

If déjà vu feels like you’ve already experienced something, then 13B is the reverse of that. The soap opera, titled “Sab Khairiyat” (which translates to “Everything’s Fine”), serves as the centerpiece of the story, with its plot seemingly mirroring the events that occur in the Manohar household. However, as the story unfolds, it is revealed that it is they who mirror the plot of the daytime serial as it begins foretelling their future.

There’s a lot to love about 13B, one being the actors’ performance – particularly from R. Madahavan, who plays the leading man, Manohar. Largely considered a rather underrated actor, Madhavan delivers a flawless performance here, portraying a man who has no idea what’s going on but who is determined to save his family. Dhritiman Chatterjee, who plays blind neighbor Mr. Kamdhar, is also a standout here.

In a time when South Indian horror was all about extensive set pieces and over-the-top CGI, 13B managed to ground itself by offering a simple premise and impeccable storytelling. See, many Indian horror filmmakers love setting their movies in large mansions with stories that are all interchangeable; someone gets possessed by the spirit or entity that used to reside in that space and is now seeking revenge on those who have wronged them. There are hundreds of films with that exact premise, but these films also don’t clearly define the powers of the spirit, making these ghosts pretty much invincible. While it may seem like a minor gripe, 13B was largely praised for clearly defining what the spirits can and cannot do. It was refreshing for a film to take itself seriously and commit to the narrative.

13B also delves into the realm of techno-horror, in the same vein as Pulse by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and One Missed Call by Takashi Miike. The spirits in this film have the power to possess technology – be it a mobile phone, a television, or even the building’s elevator, as long as it happens within the grounds of 13B. And director Vikram Kumar plays with this concept remarkably well, hinting at the number 13 at various points throughout the film. That little subtext with the number 13, although it’s never explained in the movie, gives it much more depth. The film and audience both know the significance of the number 13, especially in horror, and 13B feeds into that. It’s one of those horror films that respects its audience, and most of us have come to appreciate that.

Over the years, there has been a plethora of Indian horror films that have come and gone, but only a few manage to stick to the landing. There has been a distinct trend as of late in Indian horror where the actual ‘horror’ takes a backseat in favor of a more light-hearted comedy suitable for the whole family. While these films are fine, some better than others (2007’s Muni is great), it leaves the actual horror fans feeling rather left out. If you’re looking to explore great South Indian horror, then films like 13B,​​ Arundhati, Eeram, and Maya are worth checking out. Most of these films are available for free on YouTube, so fellow horror fiends, eat your heart out!

Luke David

Luke is a screenwriter, horror nerd and occasional rapper with a huge liking towards films made by Tommy Wiseau.

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