Article Hindi

Tulsi Ramsay: The man who kickstarted horror in Indian cinema

It was under the leadership of Tulsi Ramsay that seven brothers set out on a venture that ended up with the surname Ramsays being equated with horror.

Shriram Iyengar

The recent success of the Rajkummar Rao-starrer Stree (2018) was described, in the beginning, as an anomaly. Horror films are not supposed to make money in Indian markets. But few filmmakers have proven this adage wrong like Tulsi Ramsay.

The death of the eldest Ramsay brother marks the end of an era when the surname became synonymous with cult, popular films that delved into the fears of Indian audiences.

Tulsi, eldest of the seven Ramsay brothers, was the guiding force behind the brand that thrived in making popular films on a shoestring budget.

Veteran filmmaker Tulsi Ramsay passes away at 75

It all began with Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche (1972). The film, made on a budget of Rs3.5 lakh, earned close to Rs40 lakh at the box office. And thus began an industry that delivered some of the most iconic moments in Indian horror.

Films like Aur Kaun? (1979), Purana Mandir (1984), Veerana (1988), and Purani Haveli (1989) were some of the highlights of the 1980s. Their success in single screen cinemas, as the only alternative to the commercial romances and dramas on the big screen, forever equated the Ramsay name with horror in the film-goer's mind.

The process of a Ramsay film was simple. The budget, often less than Rs10 lakh, was used up for simple prosthetics, haunted bungalows, and a deformed villain. What separated the Ramsays from their peers in horror was their very regional form of horror tropes. The myth of Saamri, for instance, is a rural legend that was transferred on to the big screen.

Despite their success, the Ramsays were often reviled as makers of B- and C-grade films. In many ways, it was unjust. The Ramsays, led by Tulsi Ramsay, often worked with top artistes. Anil Dhawan, Mohnish Bahl, Bappi Lahiri, Navin Nischol, Parveen Babi, Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar are just some of the performers who were credited in Ramsay films over the years.

Since the venture was completely family driven, Tulsi Ramsay helmed several of the major Ramsay productions. As author Shamya Dasgupta of Don't Disturb the Dead: The Story of the Ramsay Brothers told us, "Almost all of them, forget the popular ones like Purana Mandir (1984) and Veerana (1988), even otherwise, all their films made some money. I don't think they meant for it [rural and semi-urban centres] to be the target audience, but it [the target audience] became the rural and semi-urban centres."

A constant innovator, Tulsi Ramsay was also the first to take the genre of horror to Indian television. With theatrical revenues fading in the 1990s, the filmmaker turned to television and produced the Zee Horror Show (1993). It was the first such venture in the newly expanding Indian television domain and proved to be quite popular. Much before Netflix and Amazon Prime brought horror to Indian homes, it was Tulsi Ramsay and his brothers who led the way.

Before the age of social media, Tulsi Ramsay managed to create entertainers which delivered better return on interest than many blockbuster films have managed. The success of Stree and Tumbbad (2018) and Netflix's Ghoul might feel like the result of radical stories. But one look at the Ramsay films and the career of Tulsi Ramsay is a reminder that the genre of Indian horror was flourishing long before independent producers rediscovered it.