Oi Polloi

My Bollywood Horror Hell — Confessions of a Bombay-B-Movie Addict

Published: Tue Oct 31 2017

We’ve joined forces with Andy Votel of Finders Keepers fame to bring you a box-bound, t-shirt/cassette wonder-set paying tribute to the blood splattered world of Bollywood horror soundtracks.

Hit play on this mix here, then scroll below for the full, unadulterated story... 


Q - "Have you ever seen the Indian version of Nightmare on Elm Street 2?"
A - "Which One?"

Is it just me or does the number of obscure horror soundtracks available on freshly pressed vinyl currently outweigh the amount of new records by actual contemporary pop groups?  Do these dedicated horror re-issue labels who release droves of previously unreleased slash-happy classics have any sort of quality control or filter system? The answer of course is NO, and as any bone fide pre-certification video-nasty fan will testify, in the spirit of Beedi's Indian cigarettes, filters are for losers!
My name is Andy Votel and I'm addicted to Indian horror soundtracks (amongst other things).

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. When I first discovered Bollywood soundtracks as a teenage record nerd, I knew they were dangerous. I remember buying a pack of 20 shrink-wrapped Bollywood soundtrack cassettes from Bombay Stores in Bradford when I was in my 20's, and after opening the first one to find a huge Timbaland-style breakbeat I knew I should have turned back at that very moment. 

In coming years titles like Shaan, Shalimar, Dharmatma all followed in 12" doses. There's no short supply of Bollywood music out there, it's just very moreish, but contrary to record-mule mythology, there are no rarities.  DJ's and dealers ship it over for self-use, cut it with other types of vinyl and then you're hooked... the industry is huge, so you need a strategy. I have an "enabler" which I call Finders Keepers Records (aka The Day Job) and when it comes to "Music of Indian Origin", like a Frankenstein experiment gone wrong, we got it a bit arse-about-tit. 

It isn't until you explore the smaller siblings of the gigantic Bollywood industry via the creative lo-fi funk and DIY music from both Pakistan (Lollywood from Lahore) and Tamil speaking territories (Kollywood from Kodambakkam) that you can truly understand the multifarious mechanics of the mothership enterprise. 

Kollywood, as an "experimental" industry, is the home to a lesser known 1985 film called Donga which in recent years has gone viral due to a track called Golimar (by K. Chakravarthy) that shamelessly rips-off Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller’ to the apparent delight of over 4.5 million like-minded YouTubers (if you've seen that clip then you'll possibly understand where i'm going with this article). But Kollywood is "experimental" only by necessity, and mainly via imitation.

To put it in context, Bollywood is the much wider plain. It takes a hierarchy of A-movies to influence B-movies and if you dig hard enough there's perfectly good dirt under all that gold. I like horror soundtracks? I like Bollywood soundtracks? Bollywood horror anyone? Let’s kill two birds with one stone... and then kill everyone else!

For patrons of the niche market, the Bollywood Bloodbath genre is a speedball cocktail with horrific and highly addictive consequences. QUICK turnaround, SLOW story-lines, HIGH turnover, LOW production costs, DEEP red special effects, SHALLOW plot-lines... what's not to like? The meteoric rise of Bollywood initially provided a vibrant source of inspiration for good-looking and privileged creatives, but by the late 70's, with developments in film technology, special effects and video production, A-list blockbusters began to inspire instant lo-budget cash-ins, followed by a gamut of copycat films and, at the bottom of the pile, the 'genre films'. 

It was the up-and-coming horror phenomenon that attempted to combine all of the above, fuelled by childlike enthusiasm, overambitious zeal and butchered budgets — and there was one tight-knit film-maker family that wouldn't take no for an answer. Cutting corners and chopping film like a crazed axe man it was time to meet the blood brothers!  

When learning about the Indian horror implosion, the often repeated name, the Ramsay Brothers doesn't quite conjure up the exotic titling you'd expect (rather a flashback to the cast of Neighbours perhaps?). The other common misconception is that the Ramsay Brothers were perhaps a duo of film makers akin to the Cohen Brothers or the Brothers Quay. In reality, the Ramsays were originally raised as the Ramsinghani family (choosing an international sounding moniker for their outer-national expectations), comprising of a full SEVEN man crew of siblings (drawing a clear comparison to that of the Angulo family documented in the 2015 film Wolfpack). 

Originally from Pakistan, the Ramsinghani family moved to Bombay and looked after the family electronics business as their father, Fatehchand U. Ramsay, repeatedly attempted to self-fund and release his own commercially unsuccessful feature films under the weight of increasing debt problems. It was within the sporadic plot of his third film (and intended last-chance-saloon), entitled Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi (1970) that he included a small scene of a thief wearing a devil mask. The segment written by his eldest son Kumar Ramsay unintentionally terrified movie-goers thus leading to repeat viewings and a distinct change in the filmmakers’ direction, in a transition which would require a helping hand from the entire family. 

The Ramsinghani's combined come-back picture, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, in 1972, went straight for the jugular with a storyline about a murdered handicapped man coming back from the dead (complete with monk’s habit and pink plasticine facial burns) to strike revenge on his unfaithful wife.  Falsely marketed as the birth of Indian horror, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (roughly translated as Two Feet Deep — begging the question that perhaps they should have buried him deeper…) made big claims given that ghost films like Kamal Amrohi's Mahal (The Mansion) literally wrote the rule-book as far back as 1949 and murder mysteries like Raj Khosla's Anita and RK Nayyar's Intaquam both terrified audiences into physical sickness in the late 1960's.

But let’s face it — these predecessors were ‘classy’ films with established casts and classic story-lines while the Ramsay's impending new wave of Indian horror made no concessions for good taste. With the release of two new follow-up Ramsay films called Andhera (The Darkness) and Dawarza (The Door) made between 1975 and 1977, the rule book was then thrown into another shallow grave and the rest is historically horrible.

Despite the hokey special effects and comedic story lines, when the crimson curtains draw closed and the ketchup-effects department do a final wipe-down, the micro-genre of Hindi-Horror still remains one of the most fertile grounds for mutant pop you're ever likely to come across.

Rivalled perhaps by the Turkish psychedelia scene or the Hungarian funk phenomena, the start of the Bollywood horror revolution came at a transitional time where domestic technology was on the rise and DIY sensibilities were colliding with the digital era and the disco boom. These gore-to-the-floor Desi-disco soundtracks saw major music stars and studio workaholics let their pride slide in favour of creative free-reign during studio technologies’ most exciting era. 

Directly comparable to the Italian film-music industry that saw internationally renowned composers like Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai balance Oscar nominated films with no-budget Italian slasher films in order to experiment with studio time (only to recycle the copyright free themes as library music for other films), the Indian horror scene welcomed a new breed of composer who was willing to adhere to the new art-for-arts-sake budgets. 

When Tulsi Ramsay took on the role as chief director in the Ramsay dynasty, Fatehchand Ramsay used his contacts  from his previous commercial flops to hire professional soundtrack composers Sapan Jagmohan, Sonik Omi and famed singer Asha Bhosle to complete the soundtrack for his follow-up feature. In accordance with his new thrifty inclinations Fatehchand decided to recycle all the incidental music and instrumental theme-tunes across three complete films which required just two genuine specific song-based compositions per film to keep the distributors happy (and rendering two track 7" singles as opposed to full soundtrack albums, a lacking standard component in the Bollywood industry). 

By the time the Ramsay's fourth dedicated feature Aur Kaun? (Who Else?) went into production, the family agreed that it was time to embrace a new breed of progressive maestro who would match their forward-thinking nature and would be happy to work in a solo capacity to create new inexpensive theme music embracing synthesisers and studio trickery. It was in the form of 27 year old Bappi Lahiri that the Ramsay's found there dream date. Having started his professional career at just 17 years old, Lahiri was considered a child prodigy — and by the time Fatehchand Ramsay met up with him he had just completed his first slasher soundtrack for a rival Indian director called Ram Rano whose film Haiwan (1977) told the story of a maniac serial killer targeting young women in the proximity of an army base. 

When Ramsay asked Lahiri to score a blood splattered horror film allegedly inspired by The Graduate (that's right!), he gave the composer absolute creative freedom as long as the sounds would appeal to the younger generation. Allegedly Bappi Lahiri replied with a request that the Ramsay's pay for a Mini Moog and a Drum Machine so Bappi could start his own home studio and from this point on the relationship was written in blood (or biro). Ram Rano's body however would never be seen at the film studio again (because he only made one film).

In the following formative years the Ramsay Brother's and Bappi Lahiri were inseparable, and as both Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay shared co-directorial duties (with Arjun Ramsay as 2nd unit), elder brother Kumar Ramsay took care of the stories while Gangu Ramsay and Keshu Ramsay undertook the cinematography and Kiran Ramsay took care of the sound editing (that’s seven right?), the maestro who was beginning to earn the title "The Disco King" took care of all the music duties. 

The Ramsay power house, now equipped with full LP's to promote their films and an offer to start their own TV show in the vein of Creepshow or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, had gone from ‘also-ran’ to ‘run-as-fast-as-you-bloody-can’. The following films Saboot and Guest House (despite sneakily sharing some of the same musical themes again) featured Hindi exorcisms (in homage to William Friedkin) and overactive severed hands (err... The Adams Family?), pushing the Ramsay family into the new decade to coincide with the globalisation of VHS tapes and compact cassette players. 

But like Ram Rano, many other one-off directors attempted to try their luck at the Ramsay-Roulette wheel — gambling small fortunes on what might turn into big box office bucks. Unknown director Irshad (known for his only previous film Taxi Taxi in 1977) released the film Sansani (The Sensation) about a beautiful female grim reaper complete with a budget-price soundtrack by trainee airline pilot Herman Bhosle (who would pull in a favour from his celebrity mum Asha Bhosle — providing the film with one of the best lesser-known soundtracks of the whole Hindi Horror cannon). 

Another one-off director was Nazar Khan, whose only film Shaitan Mujrim (Satan's Culprit) employed the music of unknown composer Rattandeep Hemraaj alongside the film's supporting cast on vocals (as opposed to expensive well-known playback singers), which makes tracks like ‘Birha Ki Mari Koi’ one of the most sublime spooked-out ballads that fans of the genre are ever likely to hear. 

The directorial debut by famous actor Danny Denzongpa (who would later move to Hollywood to star alongside actors like Happy Feet star Brad Pitt in the Golden Globe nominated film Seven Years in Tibet) entitled Phir Wohi Raat (In The Same Night) might have been his first and last film, but it would be one of the few Bollywood horror films to bring musical royalty to the genre — deploying the inimitable skills of Maestro R.D Burman. Phir Wohi Raat harbours a screenplay that would make for a golden-era Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci plot, featuring a girl who has premonitions of her own murder by a female strangler.

Her nightmares are subdued by her besotted psychiatrist and after a swift relocation she learns to enjoy a new life in the Indian countryside... until she meets the murderer of her dreams face-to-face! But, despite a solid plot and the use of an incredible composer, the results were a far cry from the abilities of the Ramsay Brothers and undoubtedly cost a considerable amount more to make. 

Even with seven lucky features in the bag and soundtrack records in permanent circulation, the Ramsay's model for making a film for a tenth of your average film budget, while turning round a feature in month (as opposed to a year) soon scared off actors and film makers who enjoyed the flamboyant home comforts of the film industry. And one by one their enthusiasm died a cold and bloody death.

In 1981 The Ramsay Brothers embarked on what would possible be there most fruitful year. Their most sought after film, Dahshat (The Shock) featured all-new-music from Bappi Lahiri and benefitted from its own soundtrack release as one of India’s first ever night-club friendly 12" EP soundtrack releases. Lahiri's grasp of his own heavy electronic perverted disco sound found its perfect match in the Ramsay's equally mutated monster movies. Distorted roars and squarks sampled directly from the film inter-twined with prominent raw electronics over elongated clubby arrangements provide the winning formula for this Jeckyll & Hyde meets Frankenstein slice of mutant movie history. 

Released in Bombay picture houses on the 19th of June 1981, complete with grave robbery, latex criminology and perverted zoology this entire package stands up as one of the finest Ramsay Bros moments and is one of their first movies to feature a monster at the root of the hysteria. The extensive on-line discography of the stunning singer/actress Sulakshana Pandit still relents to mention her vocals on Dahshat, which should perhaps be regarded as a compliment. 

Simultaneously Bappi would work on music for the Ramsays’ disco-fuelled variation on The Creature From The Blue Lagoon in the film Maut Ka Saya (AKA Death’s Shadow) which still stand up as one of the genre’s crowning moments. It was after this point however that Bappi's rate of production of 18 film scores per year, coupled with a full diary of public performances and production work for both solo artists and Desi-disco cash-in albums started to pull him away from the pulpit. In 1981 Bappi Lahiri took a detour past Ramsay Street (yes!) to make way for a one-off engagement for another hugely important, but seldom sung luminary of the Bollywood B-Movie scene. 

Out of all the popular musical media outlets of the Middle East and Southern Asia, the Bombay film industry is probably the most triumphant in its global recognition and financial success. But despite its forward thinking approach and independence from religious and political restrictions that limit other Eastern countries, it is still by-and-large a male oriented industry in terms of music production. Back in the late 1970s, the golden era of Bollywood could count only one Female arranger and composer amongst a wide and varied list of male soundtrack writers such as Burman and Bappi. 

This solitary female composer was Usha Khanna. It was during his Ramsay Bros hiatus, that Bappi Lahiri made way for the well-established Ms Khanna for her first foray into synthesiser and drum machine territory, with the sound track to the bloodthirsty epic Hotel, in which a holiday complex is built on ancient Christian cemetery by a deceptive and greedy business mogul — making way for heavy doses of spectres / zombie's / disco-breaks and knock-a-door consensual infidelity. 

Made two years before Hollywood gave us Poltergeist, this film spookily pre-empts Steven Spielberg's script and adds a lot, lot more... not forgetting Usha Khanna's state-of-the-art electronic keyboards and loudly plucked bass-lines (which would lead to other disco infused and sought after LPs such as Divorce, 7 Bijliyaan and Shama). 

Like RD Burman, Khanna was by no means an exclusively electronic artist, but for a short time she contributed magnetic-music to the wider film industries desperate penchant for sci-fi top lines and Star Wars Meco'isms before the novelty films and musicals settled back into gold shell-suits and hat-stand sing-a-longs. As one of the best loved and most sought after Ramsay soundtracks, Ms. Khanna's Hotel goes that extra mile, making our hair stand on end with a 240v synth cable plugged into Bolly horror’s main power supply. 

By 1985, as Fright Night and The Stuff were lining European video shop walls, both the global film industry as well as the vinyl manufacturing business had begun to change significantly. The influence of both Bappi Lahiri and the Ramsay Brothers in India had begun to seep into mainstream film production and the changes in technology made film production and distribution increasingly more achievable. The Ramsay Corporation could now offer multipack videos of their earlier films and truly establish their brand as the leaders of the horror genre, wiping out the competition at the flick of a switch (and switch blade). 

Bappi Lahiri would find studio producers such as Babla and his non-cinematic brand of ‘Disco Dandiya’ serving as close competition before the sound of electro literally took over the Indian airwaves as was to be easily expected in a commercial industry that prided itself on copyist culture (if you ever have the desire to dance to Bollywood versions of ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk, Tom Tom Club's ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ or Herbie Hancock's ‘Rockit’, then just have a sift through past episodes of Finders Keepers Records Radio show and skip to the part of the show called ‘Sitars In Their Eyes’). 

Somewhere tucked away in the midst of this chronology is the release of the electro-disco soundtrack to the Ramsay film Telephone which opens up the ‘Hindi Horrorcore Mixtape’ which has been uploaded the accompany this very article. Meanwhile... to serve the Ramsay Brothers’ frivolous business model, a lesser-spotted composer called Ajit Singh was drafted-in to create amazing new soundtracks for films like Purana Mandir AKA The Old Temple (featuring a very hairy demon in the vein of Bungle from Rainbow and Shirley Crabtree of professional wrestling fame) and the black magic epic Tahkhana (which I've still never even seen on vinyl).

But then... just when you thought it was safe — and just when you thought the Ramsay Brothers’ unique talents and unrivalled brand of refined cinematic skill had merged into the public consciousness to swim in the main stream — they pulled out the big guns.

By all accounts the Ramsays’ 1986 foray in 3D cinema with the ambitious 3D Saamri kind of passed without any great shakes, but Saamri did have some of the coolest opening credits, and most significantly it also managed to summon up the disco spirit of Bappi Lahiri — which despite five or six decent Omen style choral disco approximations never rendered its own vinyl endorsement of any description, which is a huge bummer because as far as freak-factor goes it's one of the best —it’s even got its own Golimar style Michael Jackson moment (for those paying attention). Perhaps vinyl was fading sooner than expected, and was going the same way as the cassettes that I would later find in a cut-price bundle in Bradford. 

The following year the Ramsays and Bappi would be back together for the Ramsay Brother domestic classic Vareena, at which point it all starts to look a little bit 1988 for my liking — not helped by the fact that the LP looks suspiciously like the soundtrack to the film Splash! with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as opposed to the 180g splatter vinyl that all you horror scored fans are into these days. I think it's about a vampire-mermaid, which is cool right? 

As explained earlier, contrary to the Ramsays’ initial hyperbolic bakwas that kickstarted their career, Indian horror didn't start with the Ramsay Brothers, nor will it end with them. I think you've probably guessed by now that none of these films are actually scary by today's standards and by the time the Ramsays finally landed their Zee Horror Show on Indian late night television in 1993 they were already deemed pillars of past majesty. 

Oh, that reminds me — the Indian Freddy Kruger with a curly mullet is called Mahakaal AKA The Monster, and was cooked up in the Ramsays’ Nightmare-Kitchen in 1993, and he's not the only one, there's also the occasional Jason and a few Leatherfaces knocking around too, and a pretty psychedelic version of the Exorcist called Jadu Tona from 1977. 

If you throw your net out to the Telugu and Pakistani film industries then that's only going to add to the wider family of furry faced play-dough heads with blunt teeth and fat noses! One thing’s for sure though, if the Ramsay Brothers didn't do it ‘their way’ then can we be sure that anyone else would have had the vision, or the balls (14 in total) or the tight family bond to see it though? In this addict's eyes they were nothing short of a cartel. They say ‘blood’s thicker than water’, and the Ramsay Brothers had it by the bucket load! God bless the Maleficent Seven!!!

The Finders Keepers Bollywood Bloodbath Box-set is available now.