When Fatehchand U Ramsingh moved to India after the Partition,he was relying on his electronics business to earn his livelihood. When it didnt flourish,Ramsingh who had come to be known as Ramsay,a pronunciation more suited to the British tongue decided to dabble in film production.
While his first production,Shaheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh (1954),was a box office success,his second,a period film Rustom Sohrab (1963),flopped despite the presence of yesteryear stars Prithviraj Kapoor,Suraiyya and Prem Nath. The failure of the third and,what was to be FU Ramsays last large-scale commercial film,Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi,left him in debt. The film taught us a lesson that made us,Ramsays,the most successful producers of horror films in India, says Fatehchands son Tulsi Ramsay. In that film,Prithviraj Kapoor,dons a black garb and a devils mask to carry out a robbery. A bulletproof vest worn underneath saves him from the cops bullets. The film flopped but the sequence with the monster was applauded by the audience. We then knew that our fortune lay in making low-budget horror films, he adds.
Horror as a genre in Bollywood remained synonymous with Ramsay Brothers for close to three decades. While their films were almost infamous for their kitschy production value,the filmmaker brothers Tulsi,Shyam,Kumar,Kiran,Arjun,Gangu and Keshu came to be dubbed as the Indian counterparts of the British Hammer Horror for their similar central themes (demons,vampires and zombies) and style of filmmaking. Times have changed and their films seem outdated in comparison to the horror thrillers made today. But,the success of horror filmmakers,most notably Vikram Bhatt (Raaz,1920,Haunted) and Ram Gopal Varma (Phoonk,Agyaat) can be attributed to the Ramsays formula of using fresh talent and low budgets.
Having assisted on their fathers films,each of the Ramsay brothers took up a department that suited his sensibilities. Tulsi and Shyam became directors,Gangu and Keshu took up cinematography,Kiran decided to handle sound,Arjun was in charge of both the make-up and costumes,and it came upon Kumar,the eldest and most educated,to handle the scripts.
The unit put their skills to test by adapting Nakuli Shaan,a Sindhi play,on screen. Its good run gave them confidence and the Ramsays then made their first horror film,Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neche (1971). We advertised it by putting out a 30-minute programme on the radio in the night slot with dialogues and sound effects from the film. The result was that people queued up for advance booking and the film ran full house for the first five days, says Tulsi who co-directed 39 films with Shyam.
The family refers to their films as Tiffin Box Productions made in 30 days using a crew of 15 people with fresh actors willing to bring their own clothes for costumes. It was like a picnic,my mother and two sisters would cook for the crew while we mostly shot in the night, adds Tulsi. A favourite location was Mahabaleshwar. The hill station had everything bungalows,a lake,jungle,churches and graveyards. We often got a good deal while shooting during off-season, he adds. He does not deny being inspired by horror films of the West or using scenes and sequences from them,but asserts that the family never copied an entire film.
They no more make films,but their business plan has held them in good stead. The family continues to earn revenue from films such as Veerana,Darwaaza and Purana Mandir,which run in small towns even today.
The young Ramsay blood,says Tulsi,is keen to carry forward this legacy. His son Deepak,who directed Zee Horror Show in the 1990s,is set to revive the banner. Writers are at work,casting is in process and the father-son duo will be travelling soon to finalise locations. We have decided to move with the times. We are looking at a known face for an actor and the films budget will be over Rs 5 crore, says Tulsi,who will bring back Shyam and Gangu on the crew. The others have retired while Keshu died two years ago.