This e-store has merchandise from Indian horror films

This e-store has merchandise from cult Indian horror films

Sandesh Shenoy's business is proof that the Ramsay Brothers are far from forgotten

For Sandesh Shenoy from Bangalore, every day is Halloween Day. He runs an online store of horror merchandise but of a niche kind.

Bollywood Crypt sells merchandise of the Indian horror films of the 1980-1990s, a period that saw a string of tacky yet wildly hit ghost movies by the Ramsay Brothers. So think of T-shirts from ‘Veerana’, ‘Bandh Darwaza’, ‘Purana Mandir’, and ‘Mahakaal’, complete with bleeding eyes, tilted necks, monsters glowing red with rage, and victims running for cover with candles and lanterns.

It also stocks T-shirts of ‘Mystics in Bali’, a popular Indonesian film on black magic, of European supernatural hits like ‘Nosferatu’, and ‘Haxan’, and of the fantasy-horror writer HP Lovecraft and his octopus-meets-dragon fictional character, Cthulhu. He’s got keychains, mugs, fridge magnets, and crocheted vampires too.

“I have acquired the rights to Pakistan’s first and only vampire movie ‘Zinda Laash’, and Zibahkhaana, its first zombie film. I will also put out stuff from the Ramsays’ ‘Saamri’, ‘Purani Haveli’ and the unreleased ‘Maut Ka Saya’,” he teases about his upcoming collections. He’s also keen to explore the Malayalee ghost films by A Vincent and A G Baby.

Scare tactics

Hollywood has produced global hits like ‘The Conjuring’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Ouija’, and Japan has given ‘Ringu’. Bollywood is barely known for horror, so how is that a selling point?  

“You are mistaken. There is a cult following for the films by the Ramsay Brothers, who made horror popular in India. People discuss them on Facebook groups. Thanks to YouTube, youngsters, who weren’t even born in that period, are discovering these films. My customers are between 18 and 50 years of age,” he explains.

Even NRIs and foreigners are hooked. “Mondo Macabro, a UK-based movie company, released six Ramsay movies on three DVD volumes, titled The Bollywood Horror Collection I,II and III. These DVDs flew off their online store and shelves in no time and a single copy of these DVDs sells for not less than 150 US$ second-hand today,” Sandesh shares.

These Indian movies looked B-grade and there’s little to argue. There were low-budget, graphics were crude, acting was hammy, jump scares too many and songs just came along. If we were to watch them now, we would laugh more than squint in fear. So what makes them tick, we ask?

Sandesh says, “Horror films from India, or south Asia, are quite relatable. Our stories play out in places where we live. It can be a village, a city, a building. In the West, however, a haunted place is often an abandoned castle, away from the city. Plus, we have our occult practices like black magic, and mythologies, which gets the international audience curious.”

The Ramsay phenomenon died at the turn of the 21st century, but not before they gave us ‘The Zee Horror Show’ to watch on TV. The only other Indian filmmaker who left a mark in this genre is Ram Gopal Varma, dishing out ‘Raat’, ‘Phoonk’, ‘Bhoot’, ‘Darna Mana Hai’.

A lull had set in since but things are slowly changing. Sandesh says, “Directors like Vishal Furia, who made the Marathi film ‘Lapachhapi’, or Rahi Anil Barve, who made the Hindi period horror ‘Tumbbad’, are injecting fresh blood into the bloated corpse. Then ‘Pari’ and ‘Stree’ have been enjoyable.”

‘Fear is real’

Bollywood Crypt is not his main business — Sandesh runs a metal and electronics music label, Cyclopean Eye Productions. But the horror film bug bit him early on, thanks to his father. “Every week, he would bring home at least 10 films to watch. Plus, he was a palmist, so there was an occult vibe in the family,” he chuckles.

Explaining why he’s drawn to the horror genre, in particular, he says, “You can fake love but you can’t fake an emotion like fear. Horror films tap into this primal instinct, of fight or flight.” And lest we have not realised, “we are in the middle of a horror movie,” he points out. “The political and health crisis we have witnessed in the past two years is a real horror,” he explains. And so looks like he is in no mood to party this Halloween. “I will just watch ‘Hellraiser’ over drinks,” he signs off.

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