Wednesday 5 July 2017

Don't Disturb the Dead, by Shamya Dasgupta

A few thoughts on Don’t Disturb the Dead, by Shamya Dasgupta

Every 80s and 90s kid in India knows about the Ramsey brothers and their stream of horror movies - Tahkhana, Veerana, Purani Haveli, and so on. Like most others, my cousins and I used to reference these very movie names when talking of scary stuff, even if we never saw the movies. Indeed, my first Ramsey movie was Purana Mandir, as late as 2010. But there was always the Zee Horror Show, and bits and pieces of their movies seen at video parlours, playing on cable TV in the late nights, referenced in all sorts of other media.

So Shamya Dasgupta’s book was an instant buy for me. It’s the kind of pop history that is documented all too little in India and is even acknowledged grudgingly by the self-declared cultural custodians. Dasgupta painstakingly documents the history of the brothers (original surname: Ramsinghani, before their father moved from Karachi to Mumbai). He talks of their struggles to get their movies made, on low budgets and with opposition from the established film industry. From multiple interviews with members of their family and their regular stars, a picture emerges of sound businessmen who nevertheless mastered their own art form and produced something memorable.

One surprise for me was the attention to detail that the Ramseys paid in their projects - the masks were ordered from a custom craftsman in England, the statues on the sets cost lakhs, and the scripts were written around specific locations that they were comfortable with. In fact, in the industry, they were considered the “premium” horror film makers, with others making even cheaper movies with only good posters. The reason for their decline, Dasgupta ventures, is just that unwillingness to let go of their formula and to start learning again. He points out newer projects by the extended family, stating that they aren’t as good. But then - many of the Ramsey’s first projects weren’t good either. What they did was to keep going at the problem, honing their skills as they went. That’s how they got good.

You know what? Forget the self-help books section. Read this one instead for inspiration.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy as much was the extended profiles of the younger Ramsey generations - none of them are as iconic as the original brothers, and we’re simply not as interested in them. But I suppose those are needed for completeness’ sake.

And one thing that would have been nice is a synopsis of their movies - there is a detailed list with cast and crew listed, but no synopsis.

But still - if you’re one of those people who stared at the posters of Tahkhana and Purani Haveli with fascination and who laid bets with themselves on watching the movies, this is the book for you. It does complete justice to desi horror cinema’s First Family.

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