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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Chishty

Classic Bollywood Horror Revival and Merchandising

Merchandising is another fresh chapter in the revival of classic Bollywood horror films.

It's funny how time works.

For those growing up in the '70s or '80s, the words Ramsay Brothers evoked a world starkly different from the one depicted in the mainstream cinema of the time. It was a world where the main characters were not bound by a common moral code of conduct. Pre-marital sex, drinking, etc. were all a casual part of their lives. In fact, the weakest moments of this cinema was when these characters tried to align themselves with more popular "angry young men" and "moral romantic hero" that ruled the box-office.

In hindsight, it was a failure of the critics of the time that they failed to recognize the horror cinema of the era as "parallel cinema". That moniker was reserved for more 'prestigious' pictures that charted human misery in depressing tones of pessimism. The same people who lauded a director's raising of a taboo topic as courageous also derided, and worse, looked down upon the darker human instincts that inhibited the dark corridors of spooky, grand Havelis in Ramsay Brother's world. There were exceptions like Gehrayee or, to an extent, Trikaal, where the supernatural merged with the "art film" tropes successfully. Not to mention this whole undiscovered wealth of horror cinema from the rest of the country that is rarely talked about.

Call it Karma, then that this cinema that had long been locked away as embarrassing suddenly found respect and resurgence in the West. The "old and creaky" is suddenly valuable and even exotic. This latter aspect arises from the Ramsay Brothers' insistence to set their stories in the same world repeatedly, modernity be damned! This has lent an auteur quality to their films. But these tropes could not bloom into a proper genre in itself, like Giallo, perhaps, because there were too few practitioners of it. For years, it was only the Ramsay Brothers who continued to produce these films among few others like Mohan Bhakri.

Many well-regarded websites dedicated to bringing the best of obscure horror cinema to this world have seen the potential in these films and have constantly given them coverage.

In India, sadly, few have woken up to the pleasures and possibilities of a Veerana or Band Darwaza, or even horror cinema in general.

But there are few who have dedicated themselves to the task of showing merit in the simplicity of a rubber mask to the CGI addicted audience of today.

Bollywood Crypt is one such company. Operating from Bangalore, it has committed itself to dig out the gems of the '80s Indian horror through merchandising, another art form that seems to have passed us by.

Here is a conversation with Sandesh Shenoy, the CEO of Bollywood Crypt, whose business sense is informed by his passion for horror/neglected films.

Saif: Hello, Sandesh. Please tell us something about Bollywood Crypt.

Sandesh: Bollywood Crypt is the first of its kind company that primarily focuses on promoting the criminally ignored Indian and South Asian horror movie genre. Bollywood Crypt not only focuses just on horror but also focuses on Indian and South Asian pop culture (comics, books, art, movies, etc) and brings them out from the "crypts" of time so to speak!

Saif: What inspired you to focus on these films?

Sandesh: The idea of Bollywood Crypt had been brewing in mind for the last 3 years and I thought why not do something with it since I was going full time with my extreme music label 'Cyclopean Eye Productions'. With the recent passing away of veteran horror filmmaker Tulsi Ramsay and Shyam Ramsay, it becomes even more important to memorialize these films from the past before they are lost forever and it's precisely this cinematic history that Bollywood Crypt intends to preserve!

Saif: Much of the younger generation does not know about horror films of the '70s and '80s. You talked about how their perception abroad is different. Could you elaborate?

Sandesh: While Bollywood horror cinema is little known compared to its more distinguished Hollywood cousin, Indian horror movies have caught the attention of a sizable following among underground cinema fans worldwide.

Take for example veteran Bollywood horror filmmakers -The Ramsay Brothers. After their golden run in the '70s and '80s, they languished in obscurity during the 2000s. But they were just getting noticed by their US and European counterparts.

Mondo Macabro, a U.K-based movie company released 6 Ramsay movies on three DVD volumes titled The Bollywood Horror Collection I, II, and III which were distributed worldwide. Within no time, these DVDs flew off their online store and shelves and today a single copy of these DVDs sells for not less than 150 US$ second hand! It's almost impossible to track down an unopened copy without paying an incredible amount of money.

Saif: Wow, that's crazy. You come across as someone with a real passion for these films...

Sandesh: Well, I've been a big fan of horror movies since my childhood and in fact, it was my dad that got me into them. Those were the days when VCRs were new. My dad, who was a big movie buff, used to bring at least 10 movies every weekend. There would be horror, action, kung fu, Hindi movies, and cartoons to watch. I was always fascinated by the occult as a kid and that's why horror captured my imagination almost immediately - although it scared the shit out of me in the beginning!

I also remember hanging out with my friends in 6th grade and watching classic movies from the Ramsay brothers like Veerana, Dak Bangla, Bandh Darwaza, and many other movies like Khooni Panja, Roohani Taqat, Kabarstan by others.

Saif: I remember some of those... Merchandising has not been really popular in India. What difficulties are you facing?

Sandesh: The concept of doing merchandise for horror movies and darker aspects of pop culture is a completely new phenomenon in India. If you want to put out quality work it requires a lot of effort here right from finding the right vendor to the right courier service. After biting down on many bad experiences, things have finally settled down to working with some trusted people to deliver quality merchandise, so that we may always keep our customers happy!

On the other hand, there have always been people quoting unreasonable demands when it comes to getting rights or simply refusing to entertain the idea of collaborating simply because I'm just starting out. 

Saif: So what future do you see of merchandising here?

Sandesh: Well merchandising for Bollywood is not new per se. Remember the Roop ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja dolls?...

Saif: Oh yes. There were also Krrish dolls, I think...

Sandesh: ...yes! It's not new but it still feels like introducing and educating a completely new audience, why merchandise and movie memorabilia holds so much value. Again, it's difficult to say how well today's audience will take to it since it's still a relatively new concept here. Very different from Hollywood. But I'm hoping I'll be having the last laugh in the next few years when these movies go completely out of existence because the new generation of filmgoers has no clue about these movies...

Saif: Horror as a genre has always existed, if on the periphery, and will continue to.. but how hopeful are you about it today, in terms of quality and acceptance?

Sandesh: Today modern Indian horror movies like Tummbad, Pari, and Ghoul are being screened at film festivals and online streaming services across the world and it's definitely a fresh breath of air from the usual Ram Gopal Varma and Vikram Bhatt fare that Indian audiences have been accustomed to. On the whole, I am pretty excited about films coming out of the subcontinent and even our neighbors these days! The OTT platform has introduced the Indian audience to new brand filmmakers who are experimental and are not afraid to steer far away from tired old cliches.

I think there is great potential for these new filmmakers to reach across a worldwide audience with the current scenario. Among the new crop of Indian filmmakers, I think directors Rahi, Anil and Adesh (Tummbad), Vishal Furia (Lapachapi/Criminal Justice), Amar Kaushik (Stree), Prosit Roy (Pari) are my favorites.  From South Asia, there's Omar Khan from Pakistan who made Zibahkhaana (Hell's Ground) and Sandun Seneviratne from Sri Lanka who directed the short film 'Vikaari' recently seems very promising.

I wish our neighbors would release more films as they have a rich heritage of folklore and the supernatural in their countries.

Saif: Those are some good recommendations. Have there been any disappointments too?

Sandesh: About disappointments... I guess the recent movies like Betaal, Ghoul (the Netflix miniseries), and Ghost Stories were quite disappointing.

Saif: That has me very interested. I think we should do a list now... How about your top five horror films?

Sandesh: Just five? That's tough!

Saif: We can do five Western and five Indian...

Sandesh: This is still going to be a really tough one so I'm going to just go ahead and name movies from the top of my head. However, there's still a ton of them that I love and haven't been able to name. So here goes...

Western films: Hellraiser, The Thing, Ichi the Killer, Uzumaki, Altered States, and Indian films: Tummbad, Bandh Darwaza, Dak Bangla, Geharayee, Deyyam/Payee.

Merchandise from Bollywood Crypt can be bought from their website. Please, follow on Instagram and Facebook for their latest designs.

#horrorfilms #interviews

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