Shyam Ramsay: People say the ghosts in my films were not scary
'People criticise me saying that the ghosts in my films sometimes wore canvas shoes and were not scary. That is true. In those days, we were not technically sound.'
'Films were made on a very low budget, so if there was a small defect, we would let it pass, and audiences often didn’t catch those defects.'
Shyam Ramsay tells us his 'horror' story.
The pioneers of horror cinema -- the Ramsays -- are making a comeback with yet another horror film, Neighbours.
And it’s themed on the topic of the day -- vampires.
Producer-director Shyam Ramsay talks to Patcy N about his new film, and also looks back at his classic scary movies that have made us associate his name with horror.
He also tells us just who the Ramsays are, how they got into the movie-making business and why sex is so important in horror movies.
My father F U Ramsay and his family came to Mumbai from Pakistan after Partition.
He financed a film called Shaheed-E-Azad Bhagat Singh in 1954. The film did well, and he wanted to make more films.
He made a historical drama called Rustom Sohrab (1963), with Prithviraj Kapoor, Premnath, Mumtaz and Suraiya.
In Prithviraj Kapoor-starrer Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970), all the Ramsay brothers, including me, assisted. I was 22 then.
In a robbery scene in the film, Prithviraj Kapoor steals an antique from a museum. He uses a face mask to disguise himself.
The mask was imported. It was so horrifying that the film’s publicity was based entirely on this one mask. Posters of the mask were made and published everywhere.
Before that, nobody had seen a horrifying face on the big screen. People went to the theatre just to see Prithviraj Kapoor in that scary mask.
That’s when we thought that if audiences love to watch such scary faces, why not make a full-fledged horror film?
I directed India’s first horror film, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (1972).
After that, we made approximately 32 films, and all of them were horror films.
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Image: A scene from Neighbours
'As a kid, I saw a neighbour who was possessed'
Getting into direction
Ever since I was a kid, I liked to be by myself. I would go deep into the jungles, see ruins, roam the valleys, and gaze at stars from the terrace.
I would sit and think what is life? What happens when we die?
This mystery fascinates me even today.
As a kid, I saw a neighbour who was possessed. I did not understand why that person’s behaviour was abnormal. I would be intrigued by all these things.
I thought that if all these things are moulded into a film, it would be fun.
I started watching Hollywood films like Evil Dead, The Exorcist, and Omen.
These films inspired me to make Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche.
When I told my father that I want to direct, he was very happy. He had always told us to do what we loved to do.
We never trained in any field. All my brothers worked with me and that film was successful. We had understood the pulse of the audience.
When a film worked, we made a similar film; when it did not work, we would analyse why it did not work.
I started making hit films like Darwaza, Purana Mandir, Hotel, Saboot, Veerana. These films did big business for us.
Image: Shyam Ramsay at his office
'People in small centres still want to watch horror films that have witches and feet turned backwards'
Why his films flopped
I faced no problems making my first film. But with success, you get criticism too. You can also get overconfident. So I made mistakes as well.
I made a film called Andhera (1975). It was a very well made film, and ahead of its time.
It was based on the Hollywood film Boston Strangler. In my film, a killer loses both his limbs and he starts killing with his artificial limbs. The police don’t suspect him because he has no hands.
The audience was not prepared for that. If the film was made today, it would do good business because now people understand robots.
Another film, Guest House, also flopped. In the film, four men cut a person’s hand and the amputated hand murders people.
There was no ghost, just a creepy hand that keeps killing people. This movie was not accepted at all.
People in small centres still want to watch horror films that have witches and feet turned backwards; in fact people in B and C centres still believe in such things.
Image: Poster of Andhera
'My brothers cooperate and give me what I want'
About the Ramsay brothers
We are seven brothers.
Gangu Ramsay is the cameraman.
Tulsi Ramsay also likes to direct so we initially directed together. Tulsiji’s son Deepak Ramsay has been my assistant for years.
Kumar Ramsay writes the screenplays.
Keshu Ramsay passed away recently. He didn’t make horror films, he loved making action films. He made movies with Akshay Kumar mostly, like the Khiladi series.
Arjun Ramsay has always been involved in editing.
Kiran Ramsay is involved in all the production matters and song designing.
My daughter Sasha is my right hand. She has been assisting me for the past eight years. She’s the associate director on Neighbours. She has helped me with the script and editing. We will soon launch her as a director.
We brothers still work together. The youngsters have now grown up and have joined the family business of making horror films.
We never have arguments because the captain of the ship is the director and it is his vision.
My brothers cooperate and give me what I want. I have always taken suggestions from them.
There are no differences; in fact, before I say it, they understand what I want to say.
Image: Poster of Purana Mandir
'Audiences today are more sensible, and they look for defects'
People criticise me saying that the ghosts in my films sometimes wore canvas shoes and were not scary. That is true. In those days, we were not technically sound.
Films were made on a very low budget, so if there was a small defect, we would let it pass, and audiences often didn’t catch those defects.
Audiences today are more sensible, and they look for defects.
I want to make films like Hollywood does, and try out different themes like possessed people, zombies, vampires, monsters, creatures... but my stories will always be Indian so audiences will identify with them.
Image: Ghost from Veerana
'I always have some sex scenes'
The role of sex in horror films
Sex is a very important factor in horror films. The main intention of horror films is to scare people.
Most Hindi horror films run for two-and-a-half hours. If we continuously scare people for two-and-a-half hours, it will be an overdose of horror.
So we always see to it that after a little bit of horror we give relief to the audience by adding comedy, songs and bit of glamour too.
In order to have lighter moments in the film, I always have some sex scenes.
It is important to present it in a neat and clean way or else it will look downmarket.
If you watch any of my old films, you will see that they had sex angles but very neatly presented, and people have appreciated it too.
Image: Poster of Veerana
'I am selling Neighbours entirely on our name'
The reason for gap in making horror films
In the early 1990s we started doing television shows. We made the first horror series, the Zee Horror Show, Anhonee and Nagin.
I made films in between like Dhund: The Fog which starred Amar Upadhay, Aditi Gowitrikar, Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover and Irrfan Khan, and Ghutan. I attempted comedy in Bachao.
I don’t take big actors because I have an established banner. I am selling Neighbours entirely on our name
All the publicity material has the tagline ‘Ramsay horror is back’. My surname is more than enough to sell a film.
But in future, we will have corporate involvement and bigger stars.
Image: Poster of Ghutan
'Vikram Bhatt's Raaz has all the masala of a Ramsay film'
Why we made Neighbours
In the last two years, I have been observing the kind of horror films that are doing good. I realised that some filmmakers have just re-hashed the 32 films that I have made.
They have copied the successful Ramsay formula and upgraded it with good music, star cast and promotions.
Vikram Bhatt’s Raaz was a super-duper hit, but if you see it carefully, it has all the masala of a Ramsay film.
Vikram Bhatt’s presentation was very good, his music was also great, and a big advantage for the film was that a horror film was made after a huge gap.
I thought all these kinds of films the Ramsays have done long back. I wanted to attempt something new.
I was inspired by the Twilight series and their theme of vampires.
Image: A scene from Neighbours
'My most expensive movies never crossed Rs 50 lakh'
Nobody has sincerely attempted to make a Hindi film on vampires, so I decided to make it.
In Neighbours, the heroine’s neighbours are vampires. The heroine loves watching horror films and reading horror novels.
One night, she hears noises in the neighbouring house and comes to know that her neighbours are vampires and suck human blood.
We have tried to use today’s technology in the film because the film is for today’s youngsters.
We did not want gory-looking people, just good-looking people, so when they change into vampires, I have used graphics. I haven’t used vampire make-up, everything is digitally done.
My old films required graveyards, jungles and purani haveli (ruins). The vampire is a modern theme in India. The film is set in a city.
My budget in the old days was very little because the returns were small. My most expensive movies never crossed Rs 50 lakh.
The same movie, if I have to do it today with a fresh star cast and good music and graphics, as in Neighbours, would cost me Rs 3 crore.
But I am sure I will recover it because now films are shown in multiplexes too
Image: A scene from Neighbours
'I loved Ram Gopal Varma's Bhoot'
His upcoming horror movies
Ram Gopal Varma is my good friend and well-wisher. He liked my Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche and has told me that I should remake it.
I like his suggestion. We are planning something on those lines.
I loved Ramuji’s Bhoot with Urmila.
I am planning to remake of Veerana as Veerana 2. Sasha will be launched in Veerana 2.
Another film that I am making is Roohani -- that’s a tentative title
Image: Poster of Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche