Christopher Tucker: The man with the masks
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Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, while injected with elements of horror, was more about villainy and revenge than the sort of creature horror that the Ramsays became synonymous with in the years to come. By Darwaza (1978), however, we start getting a feel of the Ramsay monster, face often in the shadows, rags on the body, claws instead of hands, slow of gait—shuffling, not walking—and the faces, when they are visible, horrible.
Lamington Road, once upon a time, had a full-fledged exhibition of these faces, the masks hanging on the walls. Some of them have since been destroyed, some mislaid, some stashed away here and there. But the films exist, and in them we see the faces that so scared filmgoers in the 1980s. While Ajay Agarwal claims he needed only a bit of make-up to look as scary as he did, there were worse horrors in the Ramsay arsenal, and one man behind it all: Christopher Tucker.
Tucker is a British make-up artist for theatre and film, specializing in prosthetics, with a history of doing high-quality work in the arts. He has worked on the make-up for Star Wars Episode IV-A New Hope (1978), The Elephant Man (1980—his best known work, arguably), Quest for Fire (1981), and, notably, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera (1986). To date, Tucker has worked in 31 films. His last, according to the IMDb listings, was Black, the 2005 Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.
It’s just a little upsetting that none of the Ramsay films are listed there, but the reason is that he never really worked in any of them; he didn’t do the make-up. What happened, instead, is that the Ramsays told him what they wanted (masks and limbs, usually), placed orders so to say, and he delivered.
Tucker doesn’t recall the names of any of the Ramsay films he helped out with, but remembers the family fondly. “I was already doing work in prosthetics and I don’t quite remember how they found me. They never came to me. They wanted me to make horror masks for some films. They wanted specific masks or arms or whatever. So I made a lot of bits and bobs. I can’t quite remember all the details, and we did speak a few times, but they had an agent in London, and he came and collected things from me and, I suppose, he shipped things back to India.”
He’s remembering as we speak. “I never actually saw any of their films. In those days, Indian films didn’t really come to our part of the world much. I’ve been told that the movies were small-budget films. I suppose I never had the time or knowledge to actually see anything like that.
They would give me a lot of details in terms of what they wanted. They would tell me that they wanted a mask like someone wore in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame or in a particular Dracula movie. It would always be along the lines of something in a Hollywood film.”
Arjun was the one who interacted with Tucker the most, discussing the exact plan with his brothers and then explaining it all to Tucker.
“It’s very interesting that all those years ago, instead of finding someone closer home, they found me sitting thousands of miles away,” Tucker says. “Can you imagine! I must have had some reputation then. For low-budget films at that—it’s extraordinary really. They (the masks) were not expensive by English standards, but by Indian standards they were not cheap at all.”
But, as Tulsi explains, the masks made the monster. Like in the case of the music, where having one or two good songs in the film, by a reputed composer ideally, raised the profile of the film, so did good masks. “The monsters were our stars,” Tulsi says, not for the first time. And they spared no expense for them.
According to Arjun, Tucker had various masks ready, and would tweak them a bit to make them fit the Ramsays’ requirements. That’s not what Tucker says. “When ‘Mr Ramsay’ asked me for something, I started from scratch. Each time. I certainly didn’t have finished masks lying around in my studio. You put in the same amount of work in finishing them and then, years later, when you see them, you say, ‘Oh I wish I had done this; it would have been better if I’d done that.’ In a way, nothing of what I have done was ever quite finished. But they are finished, of course.”
Edited excerpt from Don’t Disturb The Dead: The Story Of The Ramsay Brothers.