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Loved Ramsay Brothers’ horror films? This book will take you behind the scenes

Journalist-writer Shamya Dasgupta’s new book, Don’t Disturb The Dead, is a fantastic documentation of the inner world of the Ramsay Brothers, the doyens of ghost films in India.

books Updated: Jun 07, 2017 09:21 IST
Rohit Vats
Rohit Vats
Hindustan Times
Ramsay Brothers,Shamya Dasgupta,Don’t Disturb The Dead
Years before we witnessed sleek movie-making by Ram Gopal Varma and his contemporaries, Ramsay Brothers were the go-to people for supernatural thrills.(YouTube)

Horror films, low brow set-up, Purana Mandir, horrible graphics, poor production quality, but still scary.

This is how an average movie-buff remembers the Ramsay Brothers, the doyens of ghost films in India. Veerana, Bandh Darwaza, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, Purani Haveli, Zee Horror Show, those posters and stories are still fresh somewhere in our subconscious. You always started with a smile or a mild laugh and then realised the urgency of the bathing suit-clad heroines or stubborn, slightly cynical heroes.

Years before we witnessed sleek movie-making by Ram Gopal Varma and his contemporaries, Ramsay Brothers were the go-to people for supernatural thrills. In an era when the Bachchans and the Chakrabortys were trying to escalate their game with stunt and dance-oriented films, the Ramsays were delivering tacky yet spine-chilling ghost films. One after the other.

But what exactly was the recipe of their success? Were they even successful? What made them take on big banners and the superstars? How serious were they about their craft? What happened to those beautiful damsels in distress once the Ramsay era was over?

Journalist-writer Shamya Dasgupta’s new book, Don’t Disturb The Dead, is a fantastic documentation of the inner world of the Ramsay Brothers. It’s almost like a voice-over playing in your head and taking you through different chapters in the lives of the seven brothers who probably didn’t know that they were creating history through hastily planned sequences and cheap masks.

Publisher: HarperCollins, Pages: 236, Price: Rs 399

FU Ramsay, who was originally a Ramsinghani, moved to Bombay from Karachi, in the post-Partition period. He didn’t dream of anything other than selling more radios. As the fate had it, he eventually landed up in the movie-making business. But the greatest achievement of his life took place when all seven of his sons collaborated for one profession without threatening each other’s identity. That doesn’t happen often, especially in recognisable business families.

It was a wonderful camaraderie where Tulsi and Shyam Ramsay took charge of direction, while Arjun assisted them. Gangu and Keshu controlled the camera and Kumar wrote the screenplay. Another brother Kiran worked as the sound guy. In short, a complete home production where everybody followed rules yet worked independently.

Dasgupta, a prolific translator and sports writer, understands the value of a particular tone. He holds long conversations with the Ramsay brothers and the actors and technicians who worked with them in their prime. He tells their story like an engaging commentator who wants you to feel the match even when you anticipate where it is headed.

Dasgupta presents his views on actors, their otherwise average careers, music composers, intra-family relations, with so much affection and fondness that for a second you start considering him as another Ramsay.

But he is also a shrewd scribe and his urge of knowing all sides of the story is quite perceptible. He doesn’t discard anyone or any view just like that. For example, when he speaks to Arti Gupta, the most well-known Ramsay heroine, he tells us how her career never took off beyond the Ramsay films.

At times, Dasgupta appears sympathetic towards the Ramsays. Probably he wants to treat them as a group that stood up to the star system and fought it with meagre resources. His portrayal of the family members or the artists working with them is mostly conflict free. They all look like a big happy family.

However, his comments on Mahabaleshwar as a shooting site or Keshu Ramsay’s independent ventures seem more neutral than when he gets into the details of the Ramsay family dynamics.

Don’t Disturb The Dead chronicles the story of a fascinating dream that fired the popular imagination. Those films might be low on production values, but they were made with large hearts and an even larger will to create something new. From coming up with one of India’s initial 3D films (3D Saamri) to breaking box-office records with Purana Mandir, there were many firsts in the life of the Ramsays.

It begins with anecdotes and commentary and then moves on to long interviews before culminating at a point where you can assess the development of horror films in India.

Don’t Disturb The Dead picks up a novel idea and develops it into an intriguing 236-page read. It’s high time we realise the contribution of these unsung heroes of Bollywood.

Shamya Dasgupta’s book has a wide appeal and cine lovers would like to recite stories from it. Don’t put down this book if you are not into the Ramsay brand of films, because that’s precisely the reason why you should give it a try.

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