The Rise and Fall of the Ramsay genre of horror in Indian Cinema

Shamya Dasgupta, Don’t Disturb the Dead: The Story of the Ramsay Brothers, Noida: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2017, pp. 238+xxix, price. 399.

The name ‘Ramsay,’ associated with a clan of seven brothers –Kumar, Gangu, Tulsi, Arjun, Keshu, Shyam and Kiran, who along with their father F. U. Ramsay (originally, F. U. Ramsinghani) made mostly low-budget and adult movies, is synonymous with horror in India. In his book, Dasgupta has narrated the Ramsay clan’s tryst with Indian cinema, starting with F. U. Ramsay’s migration from Karachi to Bombay (present Mumbai) and ending with the third generation youngsters, involved in diverse professions including movies, fashions and media. Based on interviews primarily, the book weaves together various aspects of Ramsay movies, with a focus on the activities of seven Ramsay brothers, who introduced a horror genre in Indian film industry and literally, dominated the scene by churning out one after another low-budget movie: Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (1972), Darwaza (1978), Dahashat (1981), Purana Mandir (1984), Tahkhana (1986) and Veerana (1988) among others, with much elegance and confidence in the 1970s and 1980s. Divided into thirteen chapters, the book of Dasgupta discusses the lives of seven Ramsay brothers and their father, their craft, their movies, and their impact on the Indian movie industry.  

Ramsays produced movies with an aim to earn money by minimizing investment and restricting expenditure. The result was, as Dasgupta says, Tiffin Box Production. To his seven sons, F. U. Ramsay assigned different roles associated with movie making, for instance: sound recording and mixing to Kiran; camera-operating to Keshu; camera and light to Gangu; editing and assistant direction to Arjun; scriptwriting to Kumar; and direction to Tulsi and Shyam. With the team of seven sons, F. U. Ramsay began an in-house production house, in which even women of the house took part either by preparing food or designing clothes for the actresses and actors. To save money, they filmed most of their movies at Mahabaleshwar, either in old guest houses or havelis, and spent almost nothing on expensive sets. Compared to actors and heroines, who had mostly been newcomers and amateurs, the Ramsays invested more ‘on locations, on the mood and the appearance, atmospherics, the props, the music and the monsters.’ However, their movies were branded ‘Adult’ by Censor Board and ‘B grade’ by Bollywood, they indeed made money.

In Dasgupta’s view, Ramsays after Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche developed a horror formula that they repeated in their movies by tweaking it here and there. A Ramsays’ movie was invariably a revenge drama, based on a mix of horror, sex, action, comedy and songs. Often a conflict between modernity (hero, heroine) and pre-modern forces (devil, black magic) was a salient feature of their movies. Regarding Ramsay’s formula, Dasgupta highlights: ‘At the core, always, is the family, or an idea of it. And a curse, which has lasted and had an effect for generations. There is almost always the revenge angle. And the story is usually moved forward by a young hero and a young heroine, who do their bit to end the curse, monster or witch or beast, or whatever has been running amok for years, occasionally even centuries, helped along by bad people.’ (pp. 42-43). Since the Ramsays’ movies had invariably been declared ‘B-grade’ in Bollywood, none of the contemporary big star was interested in making films with them. As a result, several newcomers and less known actors and actresses, for instance, Surendra Kumar, Ajay Agrawal, Navin Nischol, Vinod Mehra, Mohnish Bahl, Puneet Issar, Hemant Birje, Anil Dhawan, Arti Gupta, Sahila Chhada, Binny Rai, and Jasmin among others found roles in their movies. However, several of these actors, for instance, Hemant Birje, Arti Gupta and Mohnish Bahl later regretted working in Ramsay movies.

Ramsays’ association with Bappi Lahiri, who has composed famous songs like: ‘Haan, pehli baar’ (in Aur Kaun? 1979), ‘Kuchh tum kaho, kuchh hum kahein’ (in Guest House, 1980) and ‘Saathi mere saathi’ (in Veerana, 1988), is also discussed. As Dasgupta shows, the Ramsays often tried to break away from their popular image and had made non-horror movies such as Ghungroo Ki Awaaz (1981) with Vijay Anand and Rekha, Telephone (1985) with Parveen Babi, Deepti Naval, Prem Chopra and Marc Zuber, and Inspector Dhanush/Police Mattu Dada (1991) with Kannada superstar Vishnuvardhan. However, except Keshu Ramsay, who independently produced several successful movies with Akshay Kumar (Sabse Bada Khiladi in 1995, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi in 1996, Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi in 1997, International Khiladi in 1999 and Khakee in 2004), none of the other Ramsay brothers could remove the horror tag. By 1990s, when the Ramsays’ horror movies began to fail, they shifted to satellite TV and produced super-hit horror series: Zee Horror Show and Anhonee. Their tryst with TV was successful, but their horror movies: Dhund: The Fog (2003), Ghutan (2007), Bachao: Inside Bhoot Hai (2010) and Neighbours (2014) flopped badly, and with this the era of Ramsays’ horror formula too ended. As Dasgupta has shown, none of the third generation Ramsays, except Saasha Ramsay are interested in Horror genre.

Shamya Dasgupta’s book provides an insight into the Ramsays’ world of movies and its impact on Ramsays’ lives as well as Bollywood. For the lovers of Ramsays’ style of horror cinema, this book would be an exciting reading experience. And as Dasgupta in the concluding remarks in his book says: ‘Will the Ramsay banner fly high again, away from the prying eyes of the mainstream? Or will it be absorbed into the new mainstream, a much more varied one? Who can tell?’ (p. 216).            

 

 


About the Writer

Dr. Ashish Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has specialized in Indian history, particularly in the political culture and socio-religious process of early India. Besides academic writings, he writes on diverse social and political issues in his blog: Reminiscence (https://marrinejnu.blogspot.in/) and he is a fan of Ramsays’ horror movies.