I watched Haunted with Shyam Ramsay

Shouldn’t we feel the ghost lick us if it’s 3D? Is the rape scene authentic? Aastha Atray Banan recounts the horror

Ghost buster Ramsay believes Haunted 3D needed more gore  Photo: MS Gopal
Ghost buster Ramsay believes Haunted 3D needed more gore
Photo: MS Gopal

HORROR FILMMAKER Shyam Ramsay seems to be an unusually generous man. He is happy to let Vikram Bhatt take credit for making India’s first three-dimensional horror film, Haunted 3D, even though Ramsay made one way back in 1985. “I made Samri in 3D many years ago. It was the story of a child who turns into a demon called Samri. So, when I heard they were calling Haunted India’s first horror 3D, I was amused. Well, let him be happy,” he smiles as we head to watch the film on a sweaty Sunday afternoon in Mumbai. The name Ramsay is film royalty when it comes to B-grade horror in India — it is the name credited with feeding our appetite for the macabre for nearly four decades now, with films like Purana MandirHaveli and Do Gaz Zameen ke Neeche. Yet Shyam Ramsay is like a child excited at the prospect of watching Haunted 3D. “Vikram is a good director, and I am sure he has done something different. There have been mixed reports about the movie, but I’m sure we will have fun!” he says sportingly.
As fate would have it, his seat number is 13. “Well, look at that!” he laughs, before leaning in to ask with some shock, “So you really haven’t seen a horror movie in a hall before?” As one nods sheepishly, he winks in response — “Don’t worry, and don’t be scared. I am here, and ghosts are scared of me.” Contrary to popular opinion that ghosts must flock to him, hankering for a role in his next film, then. And so it begins — as we put on our 3D glasses, one hopes to make it through the film without screaming. Ramsay, however, is clearly hoping someone will make him jump out of his seat. Fifteen minutes into the film, as the curiously depressed hero (played by Mimoh Chakraborty), installs cameras in his home, Glen Manor, to capture the resident ghost’s movements, Ramsay is quick to point out, “This part is borrowed from Paranormal Activity!” Shortly after, as the innocent heroine is raped by a lustful ghost in the bygone world of 1936, and Mimoh reads her letter in his present day Manor, the filmmaker sighs — “…and this whole sequence is lifted from Entity.” As the ghost finally lunges through the air with its black hair streaming across the screen, Ramsay still refuses to be impressed. “Doesn’t this part remind you of The Ring?” Here is an audience member whose vast knowledge of horror films might give young Vikram Bhatt nightmares. When Mimoh screams out the evil spirit’s all-too-real and banal name, the audience goes into splits. The man at our side is smug as he says wryly, “Arrey, what sort of a name is Professor Aiyar? They are trying to be too realistic but a ghost needs a wazandar name. Professor Khurana, no one would laugh at a name like that,” says the Punjabi in him.
During the interval, Ramsay is pensive and seems unhappy. Are the 3D effects hard to stomach? “They are well shot, but they could have used the effects better.” Is it the make-up that’s making him cringe? “It’s minimal, very chalky. But I like the coloured contacts they have used.” It must be the music then, that is making him want to pull his hair out. “That’s very disappointing. There should have been more silences because then the dhamaka is better.” What is causing Ramsay to mirror Mimoh’s tortured expression? He seems hesitant at first, but then blurts out, “That rape scene just wasn’t authentic,” a dramatic pause follows. “The girl is being raped by a ghost who knows no concern, no boundaries. Then why will he not remove all her clothes?” As we ponder over this slightly disconcerting question, he adds, “All her clothes should have been torn off. She should have been naked. They could have fogged it over. But you needed to give that effect that she is not wearing any clothes. Now, that would have made it truly authentic.”
We are trying to hide our misplaced discomfort at the suggestion when he adds some more trivia, “That bit where the spirit beheads his victims — I did that in Purana Mandir back in 1980.” Are we on the verge of staging a walk-out? Surprisingly, Ramsay is still optimistic, “The second half may just be better.” But just a few minutes in, he shakes his head sadly. “How has the hero gone back in time? He can’t change what happened in the past. How will the audience accept that?” In a world where a ghost can rape a girl, and does it wrong at that, nothing seems impossible anymore. But Ramsay seems to be a strange mix of reality and the supernatural, so we stay shut. “No one will identify with this twist. How can a hero go back 85 years to save a girl? No, no, not going to work,” he mumbles, almost giving up on the movie. There is a moment of redemption. As the spirit enters a woman’s body and licks the girl with it’s slimy tongue asking,” Do you like that?” and then proceeds to molest her, Vikram is back in Ramsay’s good books. “Now this is a sequence I like. The make-up is good. The tongue effect is also well shot, though as it was 3D, maybe we should have felt it licking us?” he smiles wickedly, and we silently mouth, “No way!”
AFTER ANOTHER hour of the couple trying hard to run away from the ghost, who just seems intent on tearing off the heroine’s clothes (though obviously that’s not enough), the film is surprisingly tepid. Ramsay looks pretty deflated as well. “Don’t get me wrong. Vikram is a great director, but this just doesn’t cut it. He tried to do something different. The fact that two ghosts — the innocent girl and the evil spirit — live in the same house for 85 years is a unique one. But I would have done three things differently. First, I would have made it scarier with more make-up, or more gore. Secondly, the music should be more haunting. Finally, and most importantly, they didn’t really use 3D. It didn’t matter if we were wearing 3D glasses because most of the effects don’t work. If I had this medium now, I could do wonders,” he adds wistfully, “I do look forward to Vikram’s films.” While posing next to a Haunted 3D poster later, Ramsay reveals his future plans, “My next movie is a horror musical. It’s going to be very different.” Was that the sound of Vikram Bhatt screaming?
Aastha Atray Banan is a Senior Correspondent, Mumbai with Tehelka.