Fear is an unpleasant emotion in which you always think about what’s going to happen next. Horror movies have evolved over the years and today we see more sophisticated horror films that incorporate top-notch prosthetics and state-of-the-art CGI effects combined with an excellent sound that can send chills down your spine. I am a huge horror movie fan and last week as I was watching a horror movie a simple thought popped up in my mind. This post is the result of that thought and I hope I do justice to it because so far I haven’t read anything like this on the internet.
The horror genre is not really a successful one in India in terms of box-office success. Most Indian horror movies fail to scare the audience. Scenes meant to terrify the audience often turn into unintentional comedies. Only a few movies with a unique plot and the spookiness managed to keep the audience hooked. I won’t be shy to admit that many of the Indian horror movies are Indian adaptations of popular Hollywood classics like The Exorcist, The Omen, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Evil Dead.
A Brief History of Horror Films in India
If we go back in time, Mahal (Palace) released in 1949 was India’s first reincarnation thriller that spooked the audiences completely, but it was not a ghost-based horror movie. Bees Saal Baad (After Twenty Years) in 1962 (based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles) was a commercial success and paved way for many spooky thrillers that also fit the horror genre.
Gumnaam (Anonymous) in 1965 was a successful adaptation of the Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In the same year, Bhoot Bungla (Haunted Bungalow) stormed the box-office and was well-received. However, it was the Ramsay Brothers who were the pioneers of horror in the Indian film industry.
Ramsay Brothers: The Magnificent Seven
Ramsay Brothers are seven brothers and sons of filmmaker Fatehchand U. Ramsinghani (a.k.a. F.U. Ramsay). The Ramsay family moved to India from Karachi (now in Pakistan) to Bombay during the Partition of India.
Kumar Ramsay – Screenplay Writer
Keshu Ramsay – Director (non-horror movies)
Tulsi Ramsay – Director
Kiran Ramsay – Post-Production Process
Shyam Ramsay – Director
Gangu Ramsay – Cinematographer
Arjun Ramsay – Editor
They were into the business of radios and electronics but later got into the business of financing movies. While producing these films F.U. Ramsay observed that scenes that evoked fear intrigued the audience. That’s when F.U. Ramsay decided to produce a full-fledged film.
India’s First Full-Fledge Horror Film
Directed by Tulsi Ramsay & Shyam Ramsay, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (Two Yards Under the Ground) in 1972 became India’s first horror film.
Way back in 1972, Indian movies had a budget of Rs. 50 lakhs (Rs. 5 million) and it would take a year for principal photography and post-production. They made Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neechey on a minuscule budget of Rs. 3.5 lakhs (Rs. 350,000) (USD 8000) in 40 days in a government guest house with rental cameras and equipment. The movie was a box-office success and Ramsay Brothers became the pioneers of horror offering classic cult horror films.
The Rise of Ramsay Brothers
Many of the following Ramsay movies received criticism for its poor content. In 1978, they released Darwaza (The Door), a pure Ramsay-style horror that scared the audiences. Purana Mandir (The Old Temple) released in 1984 was one of the biggest hits by Ramsay Brothers and it voted among the top cult horror classics.
In 1988, Ramsay Brothers outperformed themselves with Veerana (The Ruins). The movie had an ensemble cast, good songs and loads of horror to scare the audience. In 1989, they released Purani Haveli (The Old Mansion) followed by Bandh Darwaza (The Closed Door) in 1990. By this time, Ramsay Brothers had established themselves as the Kings of Horror in the Indian film industry.
Bringing Horror Genre to Television
During the early 90s, the television space expanded with the rise of satellite private channels offering fresh content for its viewers. Ramsay Brothers moved to television shows and they were also pioneers of horror on the small screen. Conventional Indian TV series were family-based dramas and kid shows until the 1990s. The insanely popular The Zee Horror Show on Zee TV was the first of its kind television series. It was for the first time ghost-based horror stories were reaching into Indian homes. The rising TRP rating was encouraging enough for them to expand and create new horror TV series like Anhonee (Impossible) which would focus on supernatural stories. The Zee Horror Show ran for 364 episodes from 1993 to 1998 eventually inspiring other producers and production companies to step into the horror genre.
While Ramsay Brothers were the pioneers in reinventing the horror genre in the Indian film industry, they had their share of criticism. Many film critics rejected their films because of the low production values. The audiences often saw their movies as a “joke” and tagged it as B-Grade movies. A standard Ramsay movie would incorporate local ruins, mansions, graveyards, dungeons, scary stuffed animals, giant evil statues in the caves, delayed picnic scenarios that would lead to songs and romantic scenes. It would have weird character actors to infuse comedy or suspicion and hairy chunky monsters and ghosts and a religious angle towards the end of the story (because only God can beat the evil, right?).
The Fall & Disappearance
Towards the turn of the century, Ramsay brand vanished out of the market and even from the television space. So, what really led to the fall of such a brand? Well, many of the Ramsay movies didn’t fare well at the box office. In one of his interviews, Shyam Ramsay stated that they decided to stop making horror films because many other producers and directors copied their ideas and scripts and overdid it. This killed the Ramsay-style horror and people were bored to watch ghost-based stories that had an identical storyline.
Today the Next-Gen audience might not know much about the Ramsay Brothers, but they were certainly a force to reckon during the 70s, 80s, and the 90s. While critics and the current audience might reject and laugh at the movies they made, but the fact is that they reinvented the horror genre like no one else. They were a passionate band of brothers who took criticism in their stride and cranked out film after film. They financed all their 32 movies, earning profits when it did well and bearing losses when it flopped at the box office. They introduced the concept of horror films made on a shoe-string budget without any A-list actors in a time when slasher and horror genre was a Western concept and vastly unexplored in the Indian film industry. It might sound ridiculous, but they also made India’s first horror film for kids (based on the Yeti creature). Without them, the horror genre wouldn’t have received the kind of attention it does in the industry today.