The Ramsays singlehandedly built Bollywood horror pop culture. The movies that they made are part of lexicon today, fodder for many stand up comedians. They gave Bollywood audiences the chudails, the white nightgown, the prosthetic demons, the diamond encrusted trishul et al. The Ramsays gave Bollywood horror films an unforgettable, incredible face. That face has become the icon of Bollywood horror – the face of Aniruddha Agarwal.
Anirudh Agarwal has played the demon in a handful of the Ramsay Bollywood horror films. He played a cross between a vampire and a demon in Bandh Darwaza (1990), He battled Hemant Birje in Tahkhana (1986) and he haunted an entire haveli in Purani Haveli (1984). He probably was the only male actor who was the titular character in a Bollywood horror film, Saamri 3D (1985). Aniruddha Agarwal was the life of these films. The moment his silhouette hit the screen, the audiences knew something – something – was definitely happening.
Anirudh Agarwal fit the bill perfectly for the typical Bollywood horror film. A demon should be lithe, yet powerful. Maybe a kindred spirit who is suffering in the afterlife. Indian filmmakers didn’t have access to expensive CGI. Many a film needed just Annirudha’s long, chiseled jaw to set the storyline. The Ramsays stopped making horror films, Annirudha shied away from the limelight. He did a brutally effective role in the bandit film Bandit Queen (1994).
Bollywood hasn’t forgotten Anirudh Agarwal. Agarwal last attended the launch of Shamya Dasgupta’s book, Don’t Disturb The Dead. There, he had a pride of place with the Ramsay brothers who decided to attend the function. There, I was able to experience the other aspect that made his characters believable. The thick, gravely, familiar voice to fans of Bollywood horror films.
Surprisingly, Surendra Thakur, uncanny likeness to a younger Aniruddha was part of not one but two Indian horror series. In the Amazon Prime Original horror comedy Shaitan Haveli, he played the demon, tongue strictly in cheek. SaamriCom got in touch with Ajay Singh, the director of Shaitaan Haveli. He had this to share about his time with Surendra Thakur:
Our series Shaitaan Haveli was conceived as a homage to the indian horror cinema of the 80s, especially the Ramsay Brothers. And you can’t pay tribute to the Ramsays without having paid tribute to Aniruddha Agarwal, who in my opinion is our own Bela Legusi or Boris Karloff and deserves as much respect from Horror fans.We actually wanted to cast Aniruddha but then came to know he was in USA and let’s not forget he might well be into his late 60s now. So those two factors forced us to look for someone else to play Chandaal. A tough task, but then our casting director sent us pictures of Surendra Thakur and we were gobsmacked! He not only looks like Aniruddha but is also quite a tall guy like him.There was a problem though. Unlike the Ramsay movies where Aniruddha had few lines to speak, we had written pages and pages of Chandal dialogues which were meant to be humorous! So that was quite a challenge, but Surendra Thakur is a very hard working actor and I feel enjoyed the challenge of being given so many lines for a change. He may play all these scary actors on film, but he is such a gentleman in real life and very warm. So much that he didn’t mind is calling him Punjabi Dracula on the set.
In the recent Netflix series, Ghoul, he plays Faulad Singh, an interrogator who breaks the most difficult of prisoners. The uncanny resemblance to Anniruddha is amazing. At least one director has admitted that they were looking for Anniruddh for their project earlier.
One can never find what the case was. Did Indian directors look for Annirudha and decide to go with Surendra? Or do today’s directors, generations separated from a Gangu Ramsay or a Arjun Ramsay have the same sensibilities when it comes to Bollywood Horror films? Or is their uncanny way of paying tribute to cinema that they have grown up with. Whatever the case, one thing stands true: Anirudh Agarwal is a face that Bollywood will never forget. Watch this video where he talks about his time as the demon in the Ramsay films.