In 1984, the Ramsays brothers (generally credited with introducing the horror movie to India) began work on Purana Mandir (The Old Temple), which proved a watershed in the short history of Hindi horror. Its main setting, an ancient palace at Jehangir, about live hours drive from Bombay, was perfect for the story. “Even you shot a film there at two in the afternoon, you’d get the right atmosphere for horror,” Tulsi Ramsay remarked.
The complicated tale takes many twists and turns, with innumerable sub-plots. The pre-credit sequence, set in the distant past and filmed with a delicate blue filter, shows a royal entourage passing through wild countryside. They stop to repair a broken carriage wheel. In a sequence reminiscent of Mario Bava’s classic Black Sunday, the raja’s wife wanders off to a nearby deserted mansion, wreathed in mists. There she is attacked by an evil tantric magician, who kills people by sucking out their eyes. The raja’s men capture and behead him, but not before he has had time to lay a curse on them. The magician’s head is then put in a box and walled up in the mansion.
Years pass. One of the raja’s descendants is a rich businessman with an attractive young daughter. He seems insanely protective of her, refusing to allow her to see boys. Finally, he tells her about the ancient curse. In a flashback we see its results. After giving birth to the girl, her mother turned into a hideous monster. This is the fate for all female members of the raja’s line.
Naturally upset, the girl runs away with her current beau, determined to find the source of the curse and put an end to it. Their search leads to the old house. Behind a portrait of the raja, who is the double of her father, they find the chamber with the monster’s head. It’s not long before the head is reunited with the body and the evil tantric goes on the rampage. The boyfriend eventually saves the day, destroying the monster with a holy trident, symbol of Shiva, the destroyer in the Hindu trinity.
Purana Mandir was released on 19 October 1984, and set an all-time record for first week grosses at several Bombay cinemas. To date it has been the biggest earner of all the Ramsays’ films. There are several reasons for its success. For a start, it consolidated all the elements of their previous movies: the theme of the ancient curse carried on into the present day; the journey back to the countryside to confront the evil; the use of
atmospheric locations; and the youthful hero and heroine. The fact that here they are a boy and girl forbidden to have sex was a powerful point of identification for the film’s young, largely rural, audience. The comedy sequences were also better integrated than in some of the Ramsays’ previous films. For the first time an indigenous style of horror film had been forged — influenced by the West, but with an internal logic that made sense only in India.
Distributors clamored for more of the same and the team swung into overdrive. The demand for product led to more of the Ramsay brothers venturing into directing. Keshu, whose behind-the-scenes work had added so much to Purana Mondir’s success, debuted the following year with Haveli (The Mansion). Kiran, formerly in charge of the sound department, followed with Shaitani Ilaaka (Devil’s Domain).
Purana Mandir made horror much more of a commercial proposition than ever before. Other directors and producers began to look with envy at the film’s grosses as reported in the weekly Trade Guide Information. The industry was going through one of its worst crises and, suddenly horror films, cheaply made and with a sure-fire audience, looked like a safe bet.
Cast and Production Credits
Year – 1984, Genre – Horror, Country –India, Language – Hindi, Producer(s) – Kanta Ramsay, Director –Tulsi Ramsay, Music Director – Ajit Singh, Cast – Aarti Gupta, Puneet Isaar, Mohnish Behl, Binny Rai, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, Pradeep Kumar, Dheeraj Kumar, Leena Das, Jagdeep