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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Return of the B-grade Ghouls

This October,after a ten-year break,the Ramsay brothers are back with their unique brand of sexy-horror film.

Written by Shubhra Gupta
New Delhi | September 26, 2010 9:00:14 pm

This October,after a ten-year break,the Ramsay brothers are back with their unique brand of sexy-horror film.

A man and a woman trek wearily up the stony path,leading to a dak bangla. The gates open with a clang. There’s no one around,but there’s hot food on the table,steam curling out of the daal. Their suitcases,equally mysteriously,appear by the side of their bed. They sink on it,the woman saying coquettishly: din toh lamba thaa,ab raat lambi mat karna. Which statement,of course,leads to things getting busy. Sudden noise erupts under the bed. The couple pauses,looks below. Screeeeeeeeeeam. No more couple. Only bloody splotches,spreading slowly across the screen.

There’s a quality to the screaming in a Ramsay horror film that remains unmatched. There’s also no one to beat the schlocky glee with which the Ramsays present their supernatural monsters — dead-eyed zombies,red-eyed vampires,creaky carcasses.

Scaring people is their business. And they’ve been at it since the very early ’70s. “We pioneered the horror film in genre in India,” says Shyam Ramsay firmly,leaving no room for equivocation. In 1972,their first production,Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (this one was directed by brother Tulsi) came emblazoned with the line ‘India’s first horror film’. Err,what about Mera Saaya,and Bees Saal Baad and other similar films which came before,which also celebrated ghostly spirits?

“See,” says Ramsay kindly,“those films were more like musical thrillers which revealed,in the end,that the ghost was not real. Our USP is just that: our films say that the ghost is actually there.”

The Bombay-born-and-brought-up Ramsay was fed on a steady stream of movies,and Hollywood was a huge part of it. Classic B-films like House of Horrors,and Frankenstein,and films featuring ferocious werewolves and bandaged mummies aroused in him a shiver and a smile: he looked around,saw no one doing that brand of cinema,and claimed the territory. He and his brothers,seven in all,started a mini cottage industry of small-budget quickies with scripts which wasted no time on non-essentials: the humans were just an excuse for the parade of colourful,crass otherworldly


Tulsi directed the first few,Keshu drifted off towards action,and Shyam stayed the course: his latest film Bachao will come out in October. He rates Veerana,about a wicked witch and black-robed tantriks and a Thakur family (Kulbhushan Kharbanda,Vijayendra Ghatge) which uses the holy Om figure to best the forces of evil,as his favourite. Another is Purana Mandir,about devil worshippers,and a trunk containing a severed head,wreaking havoc on a haveli and its inhabitants,played by Mohnish Behl and Aarti Gupta.

The films are all pretty much the same,despite the shifting super-structure,in their display of the bhoots and prets and bhatki hui aatmaas,and the good and the bad. “Zindagi mein dono pahlu hotey hain,light and dark,life and death,” he says,“This is what we show in our films.”

This startlingly philosophical strain causes me to ask if he’s had a close encounter with ghosts,and he swiftly admits to a sighting when they were shooting Purana Mandir in Mahabaleshwar back in 1984. “It was in the garden outside the hotel,and it was late at night,and we (he and some crew members) saw some ghostly figures,very tall,very thin. It was a very creepy experience.”

So why did he stop making films in the ’90s? Was it because there were no takers for his kind of horror anymore? No,no,that’s because he got busy with TV instead,shaping and executing The Zee Horror Show,which began in 1993 on the just-launched first satellite Hindi entertainment channel in India.

“We were the first here too. Everything else,including Aahat on Sony etc. came after us.” So did Ram Gopal Varma and Vikram Bhatt,whom he considers inheritors of the Ramsay legacy. “Ramu nein Bhoot banayi,acchhi lagi. Vikram nein Raaz filmein banayi,woh bhi achchi lagi.”

There’s really no comparison between the determinedly low-brow horror of the Ramsays and the others. You get into classy horror,you’ve got to hire A-list actors,and spend on production quality.

Where would RGV have been without Revathy in Raat,and Ajay Devgan and Urmila Matondkar in Bhoot,and Sushmita Sen in Vaastushastra? And would Bhatt have gone the distance without the glamorous Bipasha in Raaz?

Ramsay is under no such compulsions. “We don’t need stars for our films,only new faces can be convincing ghosts,” he says,even though there have always been a sprinkling of the higher class of actor in their films— Rakesh Roshan,Navin Nischol have made appearances.

There have also been some unexpected faces: Satish Shah shows up as a surly caretaker,and Nilu Phule as a smiling blood-sucker. The comedy track is also to be noted: in one of their films,Sholay is howlariously parodied.

Now Ramsay is back with his new film,which he calls a horror comedy,a new genre in India. In the West,it’s hugely popular (the Scary Movie series sends up a whole series of well-known horror films). “Yeh jet age hai,logon ko darna bhi hai,hasna bhi hai.” True,that. But then there’s always been space to laugh in a

Ramsay film.

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