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From Ramsay To Ram Gopal: The Evolution Of Hindi Horror Cinema

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By Sakshi Jain

There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it” – Alfred Hitchcock

Hindi horror movies and Ramsay brothers are synonymous in the history of Indian cinema. The early ‘horror’ movies during the 1970s and ‘80s were predominantly the works of Ramsay brothers. These movies were mostly identified as “B” grade, offering sleazy entertainment to the lower class audience. The Ramsay movies mirrored beliefs prevalent in rural India, such as a chudail (witch) whose feet do a 180 degree turn before she reveals herself or a medieval curse that holds true in present day. The movies were shot in the ‘havelis’ of small cities and towns owing to their low budget.

Sex was another aspect of their movies, shot ‘aesthetically’. Romance was used as a garb for injecting vulgar allusion. Iconography was the eminent media tool for the creation of a sense of a ‘fear’ or the ‘dread’. But who was the subject of this dread or so called fear? Was the target audience homogenised or was it fragmented? Was low budget the only reason for shooting in small towns or was this decision directed by the taste of the audience?

Films produced by Ramsay brothers such as ‘Purani Haveli’, ‘Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche’, ‘Guest House’ and many others seemed to lack realism. With minimal variations, the plot remained more or less same and so did the visual and aural invocations of fear.

The thin line of difference between the ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ is essential to be distinguished in the case of horror movies. Fear points to emotions of a more visceral kind like a physical threat without any psychological impact for a prolonged period. Dread on the other side is a purely psychological phenomenon; it is often culture and class specific with an anticipation of unknown attack. In the process of frightening people, horror films use two methods, either a monster, or a device to create some kind of shock. There is a marked shift in the visual style as they move from monsters to shock, from visceral ‘fear’ to psychological ‘dread’.

Towards the late ’90s, the films produced by Ram Gopal Varma and Vikram/Mahesh Bhatt known as the second generation horror films were refashioned according to the changing target audience which exemplified the shift from visceral to psychological. In Ram Gopal Varma’s films, the ghosts look like us, the reasons being that his films are targeted towards an urban, literate and affluent audience. These are multiplex films. With the changing lifestyle and the crowd growing more urban for horror films in India, the notions of ‘fear’ have altered.

Fear and anxiety come from the unpredictability and ever changing surroundings of city life. One is always uncertain about the unforeseen changes and such uncertainty engenders fear and anxiety. For instance, in a city it is quite possible for us to not know whether our neighbour exists or not. Such issues are covered in the second generation of ‘horror’ films which have elements of unpredictability and the fear to face the unforeseen. This is seen in one of Ram Gopal Verma’s movie called ‘Darna Mana Hai‘.

We observe a paradigm shift in Vikram Bhatt’s movie where ghosts have sexual appetites. There is another kind of mix seen in this genre which has led to the birth of Horrex (horror combined with sex). “Scary is the new sexy,said Bipasha Basu before her release of the movie Alone in an interview published by Hindustan Times. Film directors and actors of contemporary times believe that sex is taboo and often scares people. It is true that Ramsays mixed elements of sex as well in their movies but didn’t use it as an element of generating fear which is seen in today’s horror movies. In the movies produced by Ramsays, sex did not involve overt exposure but instead had modicum of modesty, it would often depict women as the centrepiece of a shower scene where her shower sprays blood instead of water. Essentially, we see that ‘sex’ wasn’t the element of fear; it was merely for creating a movie package which gave the audience an experience of mixed genres.

However, in contemporary Hindi horror movies, much often sex is seen to be used as a ‘method’ to conceal evil intentions against the facade of this intimate relationship. For instance, in some movies, a woman who might wish to seek revenge indulges in an intimate relationship in order to trick the person to confide in her, thus masking her evil intentions of seeking revenge from that person. So, we see sex being used as an element of generating fear in such movies.

It is however intriguing that when we talk about Ramsay movies now, they are no more than a joke for us, but decades ago they were cult Hindi horror cinemas for a particular set of audience who have now disappeared against the light of city dwellers and the transition from sleazy ‘B’ circuit horror flicks to the sleek multiplex films, a journey from spectacle to anxiety. The definition of ‘trash horror movies’ has altered within decades thus defining the two generations of horror cinema in India. With further advancements and modernisation, a third generation horror cinema is well anticipated with a new set of target audience categorizing the second generation as ‘trash’.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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