The Ramsays: horror runs in their blood
Shyam and his daughter Saasha Ramsay speak to Lounge about taking the family's legacy forward with a new Web series, fewer prosthetics, and a feminine gaze
I am curious what it would’ve been like had Fatehchand Ramsinghani not modified the family name on the signboard of his radio repair shop in pre-Partition Karachi for the convenience of foreigners. Fatehchand would probably still have gone on to become a film producer in Bombay. And his seven sons would still have become the first dedicated makers of horror films in India. But there is something in the name—it has a sinister ring to it—that lends potency to the cult of the Ramsay brothers, and falls in line with the kind of schlocky, low-rent horror their audience acquired a taste for.
Also Read: Ramsays and the birth of ‘desi’ horror
While the other family members have either moved out of the horror film trade, retired or died, Shyam Ramsay, the second-youngest brother, is still in the business of scaring people. And he has his daughter Saasha by his side, ready to take the baton from him. The duo are in the process of making two feature films, and released their first Web series, Phir Se Ramsay, directed by Saasha, last month.
Also Read: The roots of the Ramsays
We spoke to Shyam and Saasha about the changes in their approach, and how budgets have always directed their subjects. Edited excerpts:
Saasha, you have grown up on horror-movie sets. When did you decide you wanted to make this your career?
Saasha: I was very clear since I was 12 or 13 that I wanted to make horror films. I’m blessed to (inherit) the brand and have my father by my side. I will never leave the genre.
Shyam: She assisted me on some of my films and later on Zee Horror Show. But I can still spook her out. One day, she was watching The Conjuring in our home theatre. I switched off all the lights in the house one by one. No one else was at home. She was sitting beside me when I moved her hair slightly on her shoulder. She got scared. I told her, beta, the audience should get this feeling.
Psychiatrists obsessed with afterlife, young people partying in a graveyard: ‘Phir Se Ramsay’ seems to be a throwback to the old Ramsay films.
Shyam: The production house 101India came up with the idea; they wanted us to rehash the 1980s Ramsay brand of pulpy horror. We wanted the younger generation, whose parents have grown up watching our films, to get a taste of it.
Saasha: Each episode is 8 minutes. People shouldn’t take it too seriously, and shouldn’t judge my sensibilities. It is deliberately and consciously done. I understand cinema.
Will the Ramsay style as we know it be different from now on?
Shyam: In the 1970s and 1980s we used to make films for the single-screen audience, B- and C-centres, and villages. I would get inspired by stories of witches walking with their feet turned backwards in rural parts of India.
Today, I get ideas from newspapers. Sometime ago, there was a report about a man who was frustrated with his wife’s long-time ailment. He couldn’t cure her or get rid of her. So he buried her alive in Aram Nagar, Andheri. The woman’s family members lodged a report and eventually the man was caught.
But my story took its own course from there. The man is drinking with his friends one day; they are seated on a mat laid over where the wife is buried. When his friends ask him about her, he says she has gone to her maternal home. Suddenly, there is a thud from beneath the ground.
You see, horror is not necessarily graveyard, fog and lightning. It can be created in office spaces. Today’s multiplex-going, youth-centric audience should feel that this could happen to them too.
Also Read: Hearing the fear
Both of you are also working on independent projects. What are those about?
Shyam: I’m making one about a family trapped in a house, called The House. Currently, I am scouting for an old mansion that looks haunted. The catchphrase of the movie is “Har ghar mehfuz nahi hota hai (Not every home is a safe place)".
Saasha: I am making the sequel to Veerana (1988), which was directed by Sir (referring to her father). In it, Jasmine from Veerana, who would transform into a witch and kill people, will be back; she’s a girl who appears in a trench coat, boots and hoodie. She meets this guy who can’t believe his fantasy is coming true.
This sounds quite like the old Ramsay formula.
Shyam: The treatment is going to be different. I really liked The Conjuring (2013); I saw it thrice, and enjoyed it more with each viewing. There is an undercurrent of fear in the film that makes it seem like the makers felt it while making it. I want to make The House like that.
Saasha: My approach is different too. Yes, I have hill stations and good-looking actors. I have songs, but not more than required. It will have beneath-the-sheets eroticism, but with a feminine gaze.
You’ve always made low budgets work for you. Is it the same with the new films?
Shyam: We have always chosen our subjects according to the budget. If you can’t take your family for a holiday in London, you have to make do with Mahabaleshwar. You can scare people with anything as long as it is convincing. If you don’t have a dinosaur, you can pull it off with a lizard. But today, the moment it looks artificial, your game is over. So, the fewer prosthetics you use for the ghost, the better it is.
The trick is to choose the right actor. He should have slightly “abnormal" features. Like Aniruddh Agarwal from Purana Mandir (1984). If you see him, you’ll look at him again.
Do you think the Indian audience has unique demands from a horror film?
Shyam: The Indian audience wants full satisfaction. Since our films are longer, you can’t show just horror for two-and-a-half hours. You have to add glamour, light moments and some music. Whatever the genre, films in India have to be paisa vasool. If you look at the Indian horror films that have worked, like Raaz (2002), they were following the Ramsay formula.
Ramsay films are often seen as something of a guilty pleasure. Does this bother you?
Saasha: I believe in ticket sales. If people are talking about you—doesn’t matter for what—it means you are alive.