Bollywood actor Vicky Kaushal, who is riding high after being conferred the Indian National Award last year for his war film ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, is keen to inject dignity and faith in the much-derided horror genre in Bollywood.
The scare fests that flood the Hindi film landscape are often underwhelming with its lack of coherent storyline and are crippled by small budgets and unnecessary sleaze added to titillate viewers (Here’s looking at you Ramsay Brothers, the infamous family enterprise that churned out gory films like ‘Purana Mandir’ in the 1990s). But Kaushal, 31, is on a mission to bolster our confidence — one cracking horror film at a time.
Enter ‘Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship’, his new film that opens in UAE cinemas on February 21.
“If this works, it could be path-breaking for Indian cinema’s horror genre,” said Kaushal in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid.
Excerpts from our interview with Kaushal …
What can you tell us about your new horror film?
The movie is inspired by an actual event at the shores of Juhu Beach in Mumbai where an unmanned ship was found in 2011. It got everybody’s attention at that time. So the movie stems from that actual incident where there were some paranormal incidents around it. So I am playing the part of a surveying officer named Prithvi who’s on call to find out about the history of the ship. Once he enters the ship, he finds that things aren’t as normal as it seems and that intensity of his instincts keep increasing. In India, there are not many horror films that release. Even if it does, there’s always an added layer of romance or musical. But this one is a true-blue horror film.
Did your recent Indian National Award win for ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ give you the confidence to do such a creative gamble?
As a member of the film industry, I feel we are at a beautiful bend where all of us are expecting interesting and concrete content. With web series and streaming platforms, we now have world-class content right in our pockets. So everyone expects those in cinema to pull up our socks and deliver films that are unexpected. With ‘Bhoot’, all of us at Dharma Productions has tried to up our game. We are in such a beautiful time in this industry where actors like me can take such a big risk. But the film has to speak for itself. If this is good, it can pave the way for such interesting films.
Without meaning to discredit your work, you won your first Indian National Award at 30. Do you feel it was well-deserved, especially where there are actors who have worked longer than you?
What you said is very true. It is very surreal for me as well. I can’t believe that something like this would happen in my career. But ‘Uri’ is such a beautiful, surreal film. When the National Awards got announced, it felt so special and I dedicated it to my parents. It was nice that I could show my family and friends about the golden time in my life. I felt so happy for the entire team of ‘Uri’ and they are the reason why this acknowledgement has come my way. I want to dedicate my win to the Indian army who has been for us through thick and thin, rain or storm.
Many are cynical about watching Hindi horror films and they look to Japanese films for their scare fix. What would you tell them?
They are not wrong in being cynical. The kind of content that has come out indicates that the makers haven’t gone all out with horror. They aren’t particularly gutsy and hesitate from showing horror in its true form. I remember watching Ram Gopal Verma’s films like ‘Raat’ and ‘Bhoot’ and a few [Vikram] Bhatt films. But very people have generally explored this genre in its true sense. Most of our Hindi horror films were shot in a purana mahal [old, dilapidated mansion]. But the aesthetics that we have shot ‘Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship’ is very contemporary and will rival the aesthetics shown in Hollywood horror films. The geography is contemporary and the way it has been shot is contemporary too. The way it has been shot, we are trying to break the myth that we can’t do horror films well.
Is it tough to act in a horror film?
It’s tricky. The grammar is completely new. You have to always be technically aware while shooting the film. Sometimes, the ghost that you see in the final cut is not there in the actual shoot and it’s added in the post production. It’s not exactly how it’s going to be in the film finally. The music — which is an important tool in scaring people — isn’t always there either.
To give you an example, we were on a set of that haunted ship and I had to assume that I can’t see in the darkness. When we are filming, there’s not much that we can see of our scene. Layers are added. So we have to be careful about the visual grammar and the sounds in the post edits. Say a door shuts automatically, that sequence is put in later and not while we are on the sets enacting that scene. You have to keep cross-checking with your team if everything is falling right. Horror and comedy are two genres where you have either hit bulls eye or missed the mark. There’s no middle ground for horror films.
The director of ‘Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship’ is an unfamiliar name. Did you have to Google his name?
I have worked with first-time directors all through my career. Be it ‘Masaan’, ‘Zubaan’, ‘Love Per Square Foot’ or relying on director Aditya Dhar for ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’. Here too, it was director Bhanu Pratap Singh’s first film. But I believe in having a session with a director trying to understand his vision. In those meeting, I listen to his script and his journey with that story and those meetings give me an understanding and clarity of his vision.
I don’t go about Googling what a director has done in the past. I am also not a veteran actor. I am new at this and this horror genre is new to me. But as long as we are collaborating together with the same energy and the same spirit, it’s all good. I trust that project and I make sure that once I have said ‘yes’ to a film, I embrace the project. Every film has its own destiny and what matters is when you are filming, your intentions should be in the right place. After that, whatever happens you have to accept it. If the audience did not like it, you just have to see what their reactions are and go forward with that. I don’t analyse or indulge at my own success or failure. I don’t take both to my head.
Lastly, are you a fan of the horror genre and what’s your favourite one?
Honestly, I am scared of watching horror films. The last time I saw a film, it was ‘The Conjuring’.
How about all-time popular film ‘The Ring’?
I have no guts to watch The Ring yet. Perhaps, one day I will muster the courage for that. All I wish is that the horror-loving audience in India gives this movie a chance.
Don’t miss it!
‘Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship’ releases in the UAE on February 20.