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

Posted on June 25, 2015 in Culture-Vulture

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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