The Ramsay brothers did a far more interesting thing than bringing horror to Indian cinema. They showed that a man and a woman could sing and dance while living with the fear of getting kidnapped and sacrificed to an ancient demon.
Characters in the Ramsay films, both living and dead, could forget with ease that a haunting was on course, instead opting to dance to some Bappi Lahiri tunes. The Ramsay brothers broke convention when they proved that horror made on a low budget could reap rich dividends at the Indian box office. Their bigger achievement was to show that horror cinema could have song-and-dances and even comedy tracks.
There is no better example of this than the song Bacha Le in Saamri (1985). Remembered today as the graveyard song, Bacha Le’s video features actor-comedian Jagdeep singing and dancing with a bunch of zombies in a graveyard. It serves no purpose in progressing the plot but exists anyway, and is undoubtedly a most zany and entertaining highlight of the film. Inspired by Michael Jackson’s video of Thriller, Jagdeep is dressed in a red jacket and red pants, similar to Jackson’s costume, as he lip-syncs to Bappi Lahiri’s voice that goes, “Idhar kabar, udhar kabar, hain murde kabar zameen par, idhar bhi darr, udhar bhi darr, bacha le.”
In Shamya Dasgupta’s Don’t Disturb The Dead — The Story of The Ramsay Brothers, the Ramsay directing duo Tulsi and Shyam say that adding music and comedy to horror made their films palatable for Indian audiences. According to them, songs and comedy acted as interludes to ensure that the audience didn’t get exhausted by all the horror and gore. “You can’t scare people constantly for two–three hours,” Tulsi is quoted as saying in the book.
While adding songs was a purely commercial decision by the Ramsays, they never hesitated to spend on them generously. Sure, their films were shot on the cheap, in a handful of locations on tight budgets, with fresh faces playing the leads. But when it came to elements such as the monster, his look, his lair, and, of course, the soundtrack, the Ramsays aimed for a reasonable amount of quality. Throughout their career, the Ramsays worked with top music directors including RD Burman, Rajesh Roshan, Anand-Milind. Bappi Lahiri composed for 10 Ramsay films, and delivered some memorable compositions for the first family of Indian horror.
Lahiri’s first hit with the Ramsays was Haan Pehli Baar (sung by Kishore Kumar) from Aur Kaun? (1979). Featuring the hero and heroine (Sachin and Rajani Sharma), the song appears in the first 10 minutes of the film and establishes the couple as college sweethearts. The previous year, the Ramsays had tried a similar structure, of placing the love song right in the beginning before all the mayhem with Hosh Mein Hum Kahan (sung by Kishore’s son, Amit) in Darwaza.
Kuch Tum Kaho from Guest House (1980) is another Bappi Lahiri marvel. A love track focusing on the film’s secondary leads (Prem Krishen and Madhu Kapoor), Kuch Tum Kaho appears in the middle of the film as the typical Ramsay breather.
The Ramsays’ biggest hit, Purana Mandir (1984), however, did not feature Lahiri’s music. Ajit Singh, a frequent collaborator, did the soundtrack. Its best song Woh Beete Din appears as a melancholic aside (rare in a Ramsay film) as the heroine Suman (Aarti Gupta) reminisces about the good, old days spent with her lover, Sanjay (Mohnish Behl).
The sadness is triggered when Suman sees Sanjay rising from a pond carrying the lascivious tribal woman Bijli (Vikasha) in his arms. Little does she know that Sanjay is still loyal to Suman and he was only getting close to Bijli to befriend her tribe and gather local information about the temple and the demon who resides there, the malevolent Saamri (Anirudh Agarwal). The movie’s success motivated the Ramsays to go all out on 3D Saamri the following year complete with its Jagdeep-and-the-zombies dance number.
If there is one song in a Ramsay film, though, that is used wisely to develop a character in the most traditional sense and is not just a filler, it is Saathi Mere Saathi from Veerana (1988). Sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy, the Bappi Lahiri composition appears thrice in the film as the theme song of the film’s monster Jasmine (played by Jasmin).
A few stand-out songs aside, Lahiri’s work for the Ramsays was ultimately lacklustre. In those days he would work on 20 to 30 films a year. The Ramsays would make easy demands, pay on time, and expect quick results. In one meeting with Lahiri, as remembered by Tulsi Ramsay in Dasgupta’s book, he asks the composer to make two romantic songs, a dance song and “one sexy song”.
Regardless of the shoddy work put in, a reputed composer’s name on the poster bumped up a film’s saleability and stature.
Another memorable mention from the music of Ramsay films is Ankhiyon Ka Kajra from Ghungroo Ki Awaaz (1981), starring Rekha and Vijay Anand. Produced by and starring Vijay Anand in the lead, the RD Burman track (sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle) is most definitely wasted in this film. The tune was more popular in Bengali (Adho Alo Chhayate), as Burman had originally composed it for the film Kalankini Kankabati (1981), directed by and starring Uttam Kumar.
While the Ramsays opened their wallets for their soundtracks, they were rather stingy about their background scores. More often than not, they would reuse scores from their older productions. Filmmaker and Ramsay fan Sajid Khan, as quoted in Dasgupta’s book, says that the Ramsays used the same background music in every film.
One of their background score composers who went on to hit the big league was Uttam Singh. Before composing the soundtracks for Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001) and Pinjar (2003), Singh worked on the background scores for the Ramsay brothers. His theme for Purana Mandir was so good that it was re-arranged for the Ramsays’ Zee Horror Show (later Anhonee) and today, it stands as one of the most memorable opening theme songs of 1990s Indian television.