If you are familiar with the home video market in India (beginning from the mid eighties), then you must be aware of the fact that one of the most demanded and saleable genres in the VHS (now obsolete), VCD & DVD circles till date remains the horror one, which has a big section of viewers (fans) particularly loving the B-C-grade horror movies (of the 70s & 80s) due to their own distinctive reasons. Wherein a few love to watch the horrifying scenes in them with scary faces, cheap gimmicks & screechy music, the rest watch these movies mainly due to the essential element of ‘erotica’, incorporated in a parallel track running along their basic storylines. Several websites or blogs can be found talking about them collectively, but interestingly the ‘Horror’ genre was not always that cheap and low grade one, if we look into the projects made around the mid of the last century (before the 70s).
Beginning with the late 40s, it was actually without any scary figures or bloodshed and had its main focus on a suspense based horror, dealing with wandering spirits of beautiful ladies & melodious music such as in Mahal (1949), Madhumati (1958), Bees Saal Baad (1962), Kohra (1964) and more. Plus there were several other movies which were a mixture of suspense and horror subjects together like Woh Kaun Thi (1964), Bhoot Bangla (1965), Gumnaam (1965), Anita (1967), Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970), Ek Paheli (1971) & others which mostly didn’t have any spirits or supernatural angle at all but were still able to haunt the viewers well.
Now till these decades, the genre was exploited in a pretty decent manner which was not really frightening or gruesome in the literal sense and many reputed names used to feature in them with pride including Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar and even Prithviraj Kapoor. But once Ramsay brothers got their first success with Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche in 1972, the game was not the same anymore and the genre further got consolidated as a potential B-C-grade parallel industry where in films were able to get some marginal returns (in the long run) even when they were declared as flops or below average performers at the box office. And these returns mostly came from the smaller centers (with a huge fan following) and morning show screenings in the cities too.
Incidentally there is a very engrossing story about how The Ramsay Brothers actually found their Horror formula in reality and the fact is related to the film Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970) which didn’t do well but still gave them a clue about what exactly was being cheered or liked by the audience sitting in the theater. In the film (which was not about any ghost) there was a sequence where in Prithviraj Kapoor visits a museum to steal his ancestral dagger in the disguise of a huge ghost having a scary mask, a creepy costume and a bullet proof jacket. And this was the only sequence getting the most louder and energetic cheers from the viewers, which exactly gave them the idea of what to make next in their movie careers, in the shape of Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche.
So once the path was set, the 70s witnessed a series of horror films made on this newly found formula like Darwaza (1978), Aur Kaun (1979), Bhayaanak (1979), Guest House (1980), Andhera (1980) and more, along with two interesting experiments tried within the horror genre only by Raj Kumar Kohli which became big hits & they were Nagin (1976) & Jaani Dushman (1979). Plus there were few well attempted, interesting ventures too such as Jadu Tona (1977) by Ravikant Nagaich and Gehrayee (1980) by Vikas Desai-Aruna Raje, tackling the scary subject in a thoughtful manner quite different than the other routine films by the Ramsays.
In the next ten years (of 80s),
though the experimentation continued with films like Mangalsutra (1981) & Chehre Pe Chehra (1981) (which was not exactly a horror one featuring Sanjeev Kumar in an awfully ugly get up), the decade completely belonged to this new ‘Low Budget-High Returns’ movement started by Ramsay brothers and they were openly considered as the pioneers or specialized makers of such horror movies, much awaited by a particular section of viewers quite eagerly. Loads of movies conceived with a similar mindset released in this particular decade (made by some other makers too like Mohan Bhakri) and a few of them even became big hits at the box office continuing their success story. Recalling the most famous names, they included Purana Mandir, Tehkhana, Hotel, Cheekh, Kabrastaan, Khooni Panja, Band Darwaza, Veerana, Dahshat, Sannata, Purani Haveli, Pyasa Shaitan, Haveli, Daak Bangla, Woh Phir Aayegi, Khooni Murda, Bees Saal Baad & many more.
Amazingly, Ramsay’s Purana Mandir turned out to be one of the top grosser of the year 1984, even when it had to face direct competition from many big films featuring stars like Amitabh Bachchan. In fact such was the demand and a hidden success ratio of these sub-standard films that one of the first few 3D movies made in India during the mid eighties was also a horror film called Saamri (1985) which was again presented by the Ramsay Brothers proving their solid status in the industry. Hence before the mid 90s, there was a whole segment (producers) of Hindi Film Industry specifically making these types of low budget, horror movies only, having a must track of ‘sex’ as well as ‘comedy’ thrown in as the two specifically required ingredients of a hit recipe. And unfortunately many talented actors like Jagdeep, Prem Nath, Lalita Pawar, Satish Shah, Rakesh Bedi,and more were also seen acting in them doing very silly roles of watchmen, housekeepers or servants.
After this avoidable yet most extensive era of horror movies, the viewer’s thought structure was influenced a lot by the Cable TV revolution in the country. And looking at this great positive change, the maverick Ram Gopal Varma (RGV), tried to begin a new trend by making a well crafted, well acted and technically advanced scary film with some great sound effects & novel camera movements titled Raat (1992). But the film proved to be a dud at the box office, since it didn’t have the routine expected masala of a horror film and probably the viewers were not ready yet. Later, many renowned film-makers also tried to bring in that much needed change with their individual efforts like in Junoon (1992) by Mahesh Bhatt, Paapi Gudia (1996) by Lawrence D’Souza and Kaun (1999), which was again brilliantly directed by RGV only.
But since none of these films could impress the audience & register themselves as hits, the earlier pattern of horror films calmly continued as an undercurrent in the revolutionary decade of 90s too with films such as Kafan, Roohani Taqat, Aakhri Cheekh, Khooni Raat, Khooni Panja, Dracula, Sar Kati Laash, Murdaghar and many more. Also due to the visible fading impact, The Ramsay Brothers shifted to the smaller screen with their long TV series called, “Zee Horror Show” which ran for more than five-six years entering into the new millennium.
(Post 2000……….To Be Continued in the 2nd part of the article.)
(Written Expressions - All Rights Reserved - 2013)