Warning, long-ass post ahead. If you want to skip my rambling childhood horror movie reminiscences and go straight to my impressions of the event, scroll to below the event poster image.
Although I consider myself a fan of vintage Indian horror cinema, particularly from the Hindi film industry, I have actually seen few of these films at the cinema. This was inevitable since I was merely a schoolkid in the 1980's and early 90's when the Ramsay family studio - led by the director duo of Tulsi and Shyam Ramsay - had their crowning moment as the Czars of the Indian horror scene and were spawning imitators like Mohan Bhakri, Vinod Talwar etc.; going to the cinema to see a scare flick was out of the question.
Also, this was the age of VHS rentals. Middle class Indian homes were discovering that, for a fraction of the cost of a cinema outing, you had the option of watching films in the comfort of home, albeit on a much smaller screen. You also had access to a far wider range of Hollywood films than were screened in the halls. At the time, I was lucky enough to have parents that were quite liberal about what their kids could watch and didn't believe in minute supervision. So long as it wasn't outrageously raunchy (even there I actually got away with Roger Corman's gleefully sleazy Humanoids from the Deep), anything from Bollywood masala to martial arts to bullet-fests to splatter fare was fair game. Alongside Hollywood horror staples like The Omen, The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, and Nightmare on Elm Street it was on VHS that I first saw several Ramsay horror / suspense flicks, including Saboot, Purana Mandir and Veerana.
I believe the first Indian horror film I saw in a theater was Ram Gopal Varma's Raat (1992), and it made a big impression at the time. But Raat's was more aligned with Western horror film tropes and represented a shift from the traditional Indian horror flick pioneered by the Ramsays. So when Deepak Ramsay in 2006 directed Aatma, I felt compelled to visit the cinema at least to get the experience of a Ramsay movie on the big screen. Coming off the experience of directing the majority of the 300+ episodes of the anthology format Zee Horror Show, Deepak served up a nicely done latter day Ramsay horror feature, alongside Shyam Ramsay's Ghutan (2007). But there remained a yearning to experience one of the classic Ramsay features in a cinema hall with an audience.
Unfortunately, while India has had a highly prolific film output spanning multiple states and languages, it rarely bothers to preserve and celebrate its legacy. And genres like horror are like the 'differently-abled' stepchild the industry would rather not acknowledge. Horror stars and makers in the West enjoy the adulation of fans decades after the original release of their films, but the concept of genre film related merchandise, fan conventions and retrospective events barely exists here.
So when Bollywood Crypt founding owner and (confession) my good friend Sandesh Shenoy announced a screening of the Ramsay's monster classic Veerana (1988), it was for me a not-to-be-missed opportunity. This event came about as a spinoff from several Ramsay films being restored in high-definition by renowned cult horror / exploitation video label Mondo Macabro. These are intended for release as a lavish blu-ray boxset that will provide horror fans across the world a full-blooded entry into the wacky sub-genre of 'Bollywood Horror'. It seemed only appropriate that the premiere screening of one of these restored versions should happen in India.
|Setting up for the show.|
Not content with just showing the film to an audience, Sandesh made it an event evening, inviting Deepak Ramsay as a special guest to represent the Ramsay family, and Bollywood horror / suspense genre historian and trivia expert Dhruv Somani to give some context about the film and its lasting legacy (My own brief impressions about Veerana can be obtained in this Un-kvlt Vlog post).
The obvious advantage of watching a film in a convention / festival milieu is of course that the audience is here for the love of the film. This was immediately reflected in the experience. Within the plushly appointed cozy 80-seater screening room of Suchitra Cinema & Cultural Academy, the atmosphere was electric. Veerana's bombastic opening was met with hearty whoops. All through the film, people responded to it, applauding the horror segments, laughing at the slapstick bits, enthusiastically endorsing lead girl Jasmin's charms, cheering the explosive finale where good manages to win over seductive evil. One can act all snooty, but there's something to watching a crowdpleaser in this kind of setting, you find yourself enjoying elements which in a more isolated setting appear gauche or cloying. In short, the showing was a blast.
Visually, the new master for Veerana looks miles ahead of any previous video release. There's still a fair amount of film damage, mind - some discoloration, some vinegar syndrome - that would either be beyond repair or take too much effort and money to correct. But you can see a lot more texture on objects & faces. In-house cinematographer Gangu Ramsay's Bava/Argento inspired use of garish primary colors is beautifully represented. I hope this degree of rejuvenation will hold true for all the other releases on the upcoming blu-ray set.
|(L-R) Dhruv Somani, Deepak Ramsay, Sandesh Shenoy|
The delicious cherry atop the cake was the post-screening interactive session, when Dhruv Somani came up on stage to discuss the work and legacy of the Ramsays with special focus on Veerana. For those relatively new to the Ramsay horror phenomenon, there was much to chew on here, including the mystery of the voluptuous Jasmin, who despite making huge waves as Veerana's lethal succubus dropped out of sight and was never heard of after. When the session was thrown open to the audience, both hardcore Bolly-horror nerds and relative newbies eagerly bombarded Dhruv with questions. For several of these queries, additional clarification and personal perspective came from Deepak Ramsay; the best was an amusing anecdote of when Aniruddha Agarwal - Purana Mandir's towering monster Saamri - was accidentally locked inside an actual coffin during the film's making. By the time he could be rescued, he had been reduced to tears while still caked in his fearsome makeup. The soft-spoken Deepak seemed genuinely pleased with the audience response to Veerana and hinted at some major announcements from the production house that would build on their legacy.
Equally exciting, Bollywood Crypt is working on the possibility of having a touring theatrical retrospective of all the restored Ramsay films. I don't know if this would be everyone's cup of tea, but so far as I am concerned they can...