Shamya Dasgupta's book brings to life the Ramsay family's spectacular success with horror cinema
Shyam (left) and Tulsi Ramsay with Om Shivpuri. Pics courtesy/Ramsay family/HarperCollins India
What worked for the Ramsays at a time when Hindi commercial cinema was booming?
Their masks and monsters and [hint of] sex was a winner. That's what they sold and that's what became successful. They stumbled on a genre that didn't exist in mainstream Hindi movies until then. The story is that when the brothers were watching the film, Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi, an F U Ramsay production, they were surprised by the audience's reaction to the scene of Prithviraj Kapoor scaring the wits out of everyone because of his horrible mask. The audience was jolted, again and again. So, the brothers went to their father and suggested horror as a possible theme. And it worked, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche onwards. Purana Mandir was a massive hit; many others did well too. They identified low budgets and streamlined production processes. They kept the costs and margins low, and almost always made profits. The other reason was that they reached out to the non-urban centres, where superstitions witches, monsters and zombies were likely to find an audience.
Who did this kind of cinema appeal to in particular?
Their films didn't always get distributed well in urban centres, but reached the smaller centres quickly. According to the brothers, college-going crowds took to their films too. Purana Mandir and Veerana were successful across the board. The film industry and the press didn't consider these films too legitimate, but they made money because enough people were piqued to spend money on them.
The Ramsay family (standing, left to right) Arjun, Kiran, Kumar, Gangu, Keshu; (sitting, left to right) Tulsi, FU and Shyam Ramsay
Titillation was common in their films; would this cinema have seen the light of day today?
Certainly. Maybe not in terms of production standards, but the titillation, yes. The Ramsays always talked about it more than they put into the films. There was the odd kiss, a few swimsuits, a lot of suggestive stuff here and there, scenes of seduction, some songs where the women wore skimpy clothes. They turned up the heat in Purana Mandir, but nothing that was out of bounds. Raj Kapoor was making Satyam Shivam Sundaram at the time, so... They all got 'A' certificates. Pahlaj Nihalani was their friend, so it would have been okay, I guess.
Any interesting anecdotes that you discovered along the way?
Lots. The story of how Ajay Agarwal came to be such a popular monster, of the Ramsay brothers getting spooked; the love story of Keshu and Kavita Ramsay; how Keshu got money to make his films, and how the Ramsays got songs from Bappi Lahiri.
Dasgupta's book Don't Disturb the Dead (HarperCollins India) launches today,
On: Today, 7 pm
At: Whistling Woods, Filmcity, Goregaon (E).
Log on to: comicconindia.com