Veerana (1988) was my first horror film. I was five. Clutching at my mother’s pallu on a hot afternoon, I somewhat accidentally sat through the Ramsay Brothers’ clumsy tale of a beautiful possessed woman with some chills and much cringing. Certainly not age-appropriate, but I wasn’t the only child watching these homegrown, more hysterical than scary B-grade productions.
In the summer vacations that followed in the early 90s, cousins helpfully broadened my horizons of horror with cassettes of The Exorcist, The Omen and The Evil Dead, stuff of true nightmares. But once home, I went back to the comfort of cheesy Ramsay flicks with their laughably grotesque shaitans, implausible plots and the familiar havelis, guesthouses and dak banglas.
When the Ramsays recast themselves as producers of primetime terror on the telly, the Zee Horror Show gleefully replaced cricket and news at dinnertime TV watching.
The Ramsay Brothers started their ‘cottage industry of terror’ in 1972 with Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche. Between 1980 and 1989, the first family of horror rolled out a film every year, often shot on the same location, with eerily similar plots and on shoestring budgets. Most of them bombed, but some like Purana Mandir (1984) became top grosser and runaway hits.
Each time the Ramsay house of horrors is poised for a comeback – this time starring in Shamya Dasgupta’s book Don’t Disturb The Dead: The Story of the Ramsay Brothers – it is an excuse to binge watch their films and play ‘saathi mere saathi’ on loop. Here are a few our favourite things about the Ramsays.
The Lonely Haveli
The lay of the land in the Ramsay universe remained pretty much the same throughout their gore-and-sleaze fests: a lonesome haveli, mansion, guesthouse or hotel surrounded by dense forests, creepy graveyards and ample water bodies; a fearsome kali pahadi or a cavernous khandar harbouring monsters, aatmas and vampires on the outskirts of a nondescript village; and plenty of deserted stretches of roads helpfully covered in kohra at all times on which distressed damsels bounced along in ambassadors or marutis.
The opening montage of most Ramsay films like Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli or Bandh Darwaza consisted of menacing shots of these lonely places accompanied by atmospheric sound effects ranging from thunder and severely creaking doors to weird growls, moans and wails.
In keeping with their modest budgets, the Ramsays zeroed in on Mahabaleshwar, a four-hour drive from Mumbai, where they shot many of their films. Films like Hotel, Guesthouse, Dak Bangla were shot at Hotel Anarkali and the government guest house, where the crew camped and the Ramsays, sometimes, even holidayed.
Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli and Bandh Darwaza featuring rundown havelis were shot at Murud-Janjira Palace in Raigad district of Maharashtra, another short four-hour drive from Mumbai.
The Ramsay Horror Anthem
Who can forget the strangely lilting score of The Exorcist (Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells) that sent collective shivers down our spines and set our hearts racing or the mournful dirge in The Omen? The Ramsay horror films might’ve had the same haunted location for many of their movies that soon lost its creepiness quotient or over-the-top monsters who invoked laughter not fear, but they had a sufficiently frightening anthem.
Composed by Ajit Singh, the Ramsay soundtrack had women, presumably clad in white, wailing ‘aa-aa-aa-aa’ as an ominous wind thundered in the background followed by a low techno thump. The somewhat sinister track can be heard in Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli, Bandh Darwaza and Tahkhana, especially when the possessed female/distressed damsel ventures into the shaitan’s lair.
The track became even more familiar as the soundtrack to The Zee Horror Show which ran for more than 300 episodes. Just like any good horror score, the Ramsay horror anthem made the heart pound, conjuring up images of the dreaded giant Samri or the crazed demon Nakita.
Hum Saath Saath Hain
The Ramsay brothers, seven in all, found their calling in making horror cinema. It was bewildering at first and oddly comforting later, to see the credits roll out a succession of Ramsay names. Theirs was a wholly family-run enterprise – Tulsi and Shyam directed the films, Kumar wrote the screenplays, Gangu was the cinematographer, Kiran handled sound, Ajit edited and Keshu produced the films.
Their parents drove them to the location, their wives cooked and did the make-up for actors, and the children played. The Ramsays made a picnic of their outdoor shoots, while audiences in dark, dingy theatres flirted with fear watching their films.
They made campy horror films, peppered with sleaze, but the Ramsays were all about family values. All their plots revolved around families – rich, maybe royal, always Thakurs – with a dark past. They repeated their actors, who became extensions of their family, and even found their own scream queen in Aarti Gupta. The Ramsay family often hung out in graveyards and strolled along lonely roads hoping to meet some shaitaani atmas like Scooby-Doo and the mystery gang. Now that’s a movie I’d watch.
Unlike other filmy families of Bollywood (think Barjatyas or Johars or the Chopras), the Ramsays were refreshingly liberal in the way they made their movies. Men and women smoked like chimneys and drank like fish as much as they do in Mad Men. Smooching is in plenty not the jhaadi ke peeche variety but in full view, while taking a dip in a river or between the satiny sheets of the bedchamber or rolling in the hay…
…Which Brings Me To Puneet Issar!
In Purana Mandir, we are treated to Duryodhan aka Puneet Issar aka the gym rat puffing and pouting through an exercise sequence. His topless torso glistens as he effortlessly moves in the wild, doing impossibly looking planks. His love interest, on the other hand, lazes in the hay, looks at him longingly as the female gaze rests on his perfectly sculpted body.
Even in Tahkhana, on holiday, Puneet Issar packs a big suitcase and even bigger weights. It’s not all eye candy; this is the Ramsay brothers showing female desire in a still prudish Bollywood. Even in Bandh Darwaza, Kunika’s character Kamya is unabashed in her desire for the hero (wet and topless) as she calls him on the phone and talks dirty.
The Best And Worst Of The Ramsays
Best Monster Ever
Nevla from Bandh Darwaza who gives the most dreadful hickies.
Best Nightie Collection
All the damsels in distress in the Ramsay universe possess an enviable collection of nighties that come in satin, stripes and lace and are great to go running in, especially when running away from monsters and demons.
Worst Sister Ever
Aarti Gupta’s character in Tahkhana where she is happier to find the other half of her locket that will open a treasure chest than finding her missing sister.
Coolest Advice Ever
Arti Gupta’s mother in Bandh Darwaza. As Aarti’s character comes home, breathless and pale, after spending a night being chased by monsters, her concerned mother takes care of her immediate needs. Sample this: “arre yeh to paseena paseena hogayi, jaldi thodi brandy lao!”