Ghoul, Netflix’s first horror series from India, released on August 24. Starring Radhika Apte and Manav Kaul, the three-episode series is set in a dystopian fascist state, where military interrogator Nida Rahim discovers that one of her prisoners is not quite who he appears to be. While Ghoul’s writing drew praise, its depiction of minorities led to criticism of it being ‘anti-Hindu’. We got director Patrick Graham to address this allegation, as well as fan theories and questions posted on Facebook and Instagram:
If Nida’s father calls Ghoul with his blood at the detention centre, why does it appear at a random location and kill Ali Saeed? (Prasad Kadam, via Facebook)
Patrick Graham: So basically this was something which may have been lost as we cut a few lines from the father’s summoning of the Ghoul. Basically, the idea was that he called the Ghoul because he wanted to punish the terrorists as well as the guards of the detention centre, the soldiers. He called the Ghoul first because it would get Ali Saeed and his gang and then infiltrate the base. Another thing was that Ali Saeed infiltrating the base was the most effective, and also dramatic, way of the Ghoul getting into the base.
Does Dacunha turn into a Ghul? (Tushita Makhija, via Instagram)
PG: That’s completely up to conjecture. It’s a point that I’d like people to discuss or think about.
Do you think the marketing of the film was misleading? A lot of people watched the show with different expectations (out-and-out horror). What they got was a dystopian future-led storyline with elements of horror thrown in. If you had to fit Ghoul in a genre, what would it be? (Nihal Gopinathan, via Facebook)
PG: I think that in India, there is a very specific idea of what horror should be and that means the supernatural, constant shocks or scares, loud sounds, loud music etc etc. But from what I’ve grown up with, horror is a broad category under which many many things fall under. For example, you can call Aliens a horror, but in actual fact, there are very few jump scares. It’s more about suspense, about monsters chasing people. You can call The Thing a horror, but again, it’s more about suspense and thrills, but it has a monster chasing people. I would say that Ghoul falls broadly under the category of horror, but it’s certainly, as people have pointed out, not a spookfest where there are jumpscares every five minutes. So I feel the marketing was misleading, but I see that some people may have expected more jumps than there actually were. But I thought the marketing campaign was exactly how it should’ve been.
How do Nida and her father manage to get the blade to summon the Ghoul? (Anvay Patil, via Facebook)
PG: Because in prisons they have razors. It’s something that prisoners are actually issued. So it’s something that can easily be smuggled. If you see prison dramas or you read about prisoners killing each other, a lot of the times they’re actually using smuggled-in straight razors or disposable razors. They take it out of a pre-existing razor or they get it smuggled in. So I went with that idea that a razor blade is something prisoners often use as a weapon. I haven’t really thought about how they got it in particular. It probably would’ve been bloody difficult, but they managed it.
Tell us about camera work. I mean how does one shoot a horror film? What was your brief to the cinematographer? (Somen Såm Chanda, via Facebook)
PG: I know different directors work in different ways, but I’m very very specific about how I want things shot and I have a very specific shot list. It’s not so much about giving a brief, it’s more about following the shot list. But of course, since our cinematographer is such a wonderfully talented person, he adapted shots. He has his own visual style, his own take on things. He gave great advice. He’s wonderfully gifted at doing handheld camera work. So a lot of the scenes that were handheld, he was able to go along with. My brief was that I wanted a more formal photography, I didn’t want that much handheld, I wanted a formal setup. The upper level was meant to look cold and clinical and grey, and the lower level was meant to be hellish – a warm, humid, hot environment. Of course, the outside is grey and rainy. We were just trying to capture that kind of claustrophobia and setting up dramatic shots.
There exists a fine line between imitation and flattery and Ghoul carefully treads that line. Were you conscious during the development process to keep it as away from the typical Hollywood productions and retain an originality to itself? (Naman Vasal, via Facebook)
PG: Originality is a much-touted word. Of course I wanted to do something novel and different and fresh. I do feel that even if there are accusations of copying or whatever, that Ghoul presents something fresh and this is coming from someone who knows the genre very well. This is the first time I’ve got such a wonderful opportunity to make stuff, given a camera, given great actors, given great crew members and it was nice for me to be able to reference and pay homage to my favourite directors and I think there are certain shots of Ghoul which clearly show that. I think that all directors throughout film history has referenced and taken from other directors before them. I just think it’s a natural part of the art form. I think that in every art form, the same thing occurs. If you look at Martin Scorsese, for example, he freely admits that he takes a lot of inspiration and shots from other directors.
Were you expecting the right-wing vitriol and downvoting of Ghoul‘s rating on IMDB? What is your reaction to people calling the series ‘anti-India’ or ‘anti-Hindu’? (Team FC)
PG: Obviously there was a chance that there would be hostile backlash to some of the aspects of the show. I don’t think it’s anti-Indian. India’s a wonderful country and I love India. I don’t think criticising forms of government is anti-country, it’s anti-forms of government. If you’re criticising a fascist, authoritarian regime – a fictional one of course – then you’re just criticising that idea, you’re not criticising a country in particular. As far as being anti-Hindu, honestly, religion doesn’t really interest me. I’m not a religious person. So whether it’s Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, I don’t really care that much. It just so happened that within the context that we were setting, the minority that is there in this culture is Muslim. One of them is Muslim and the majority is Hindu. So if it was being made in a different country, maybe the dynamics would change. Another thing was that because the Ghoul is an Arabic legend then you kind of have to have the main character as a Muslim. If you see, for example The Keep by Michael Mann, it’s about Nazi occupation in an east-European village and the Jewish golem that killed the Nazis. It’s the same kind of thing. I wouldn’t be interested in targeting Hindus and I’m certainly not interested in making an anti-Hindu story.