The ’70s-’80s Hindi cinema is a study of contradictions. On the one hand, you have commercial hits like Sholay and on the other, Nishant, Aakrosh from parallel cinema also did well. The then Bombay film industry also faced challenges from regional cinema-makers like Satyajit Ray and Balu Mahendra. In this potboiler mix, one genre has been overlooked — and that is horror.
Internationally, horror cinema consists of gems like Onibaba, Dracula and others produced by major houses and starring big stars. In India, it was almost restricted to a family: Ramsay. Until 1972’s Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, there were smattering of films made with elements of horror, but none that were true to the genre. Ramsays established the genre, and their name became synonymous with it.
The book, Don’t Disturb the Dead by Shamya Dasgupta offers us a peek into the first family of horror in India. The journey begins with Fathechand, aka F U Ramsay, and his initial struggles in Bollywood, how his sons, inspired by British horror films churned out by Hammer films, ventured into filmmaking, and how and why did they finally stop making horror fare, and what is the current generation’s plans when it comes to filmmaking.
In other words, the book’s alternate title may well be ‘The Ramsays: Who They Are and What They Came to Be.’ The Ramsays’ unlikely success in an era dominated by (Amitabh) Bachchan and (Rajesh) Khanna is remarkable. More so, because their films were almost always made on a shoestring budget. The films may appear tacky and even induce laughter now, but they managed to thrill and inspire a whole lot of people, including Sriram Raghavan, who went on to pen movies for one of the Ramsays.
The book also takes a deep look at the brothers’ non-horror ventures. One brother, Keshu, eventually set up his own production house, dropped the surname, and made a string of hit films with Akshay Kumar. The most notable being Khakee, which also starred Amitabh, Aishwarya and Ajay Devgn. There is an entire chapter devoted to Keshu.
The book’s presentation is also unique. Instead of taking a film-by-film approach, it offers a lot of insights into each film and why it worked. Coming in at a tidy 272 pages, the book is a treasure trove not only for Bollywood enthusiasts, but also for the casual reader.