A big film with A-listers flopping at the box office and the audiences’ reaction to a particular scene in one of their movies inspired Ramsay Brothers to come up with their brand of horror films in India, says a new book. The horror empire of Indian cinema that gave films like Puraani Haveli and Tahkhaana traces its origins to a modest radio shop in Karachi in undivided India, according to “In A Cult of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office”, by Amborish Roychoudhury.
The shop’s proprietor, Fatehchand U Ramsinghani, had relocated to Mumbai after the Partition and decided to sink his teeth into the film production business, like several other small businessmen of the day. Ramsinghani, who had adopted the last name Ramsay, made Shaheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh (1954) and Rustom Sohrab (1963), the latter starring Prithviraj Kapoor and Suraiya.
The films clicked and Ramsinghani roped in all seven of his sons one-by-one — Kumar, Tulsi, Shyam, Keshu, Kiran, Ganguly and Arjun: the ‘Ramsay Brothers’, according to the book. They suffered losses when Ek Nanhi Munni Si Ladki (1970), starring Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha flopped at the box office.
The book says that Tulsi and Shyam Ramsay watched the film in the theatre with the audience and realised that they reacted most strongly to a particular scene. In the scene, Kapoor’s character, wearing a mask and a grotesque costume, enters a museum to steal something. n”The Ramsays realised that many people actually came in to watch that particular scene and left. It was then that the truth finally dawned on them. The audience loved to be terrified. It was horror that gave them a high more than anything else,” Roychoudhury writes in the book, a tongue-in-cheek ode to cult Hindi films.
“Back from the theatres, the brothers had to now convince their father to start making horror films. Fatehchand U Ramsay was disillusioned with the movie business and wanted to bid adieu to filmmaking for good. But the boys were successful in persuading him to try their hand at this genre.” Instead of just producing or writing, they now wanted to make a film all by themselves by distributing the major functions of filmmaking amongst the brothers.
“They obtained the book on filmmaking that was to become their Bible — Joseph V Mascelli’s ‘The Five Cs of Cinematography’. “Reportedly, the brothers locked themselves in a houseboat in Srinagar and conducted a three-month-long workshop among themselves, to learn the basics of moviemaking,” says the book, by Rupa Publications.
The result was horror film: Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (1972). The filmmaking departments were also split among the brothers — Kumar wrote the script, Kiran was in charge of sound, Ganguly manned the camera, Keshu assisted on cinematography while doubling up as the production guy, while Arjun handled post-production and editing. Tulsi and Shyam were to direct the film, says the book.
“Their mother and wives cooked food for the cast and crew, while also handling make-up. It was the perfect family model of filmmaking, and they made it work successfully for many years to come,” it says. Over the years the brothers — who had become synonymous with the horror genre — made a number of B-grade films in the 1970s and 1980s, featuring zombies, vampires, werewolves, reanimated corpses and snowmen. The added raunchiness made sure their low-budget films struck gold at the box office.