Horror movies are a part of a genre that is much loved but not entirely explored to its full potential in Hindi cinema. There are a very few films that are able to live up to what the genre – and its audience – demands. In recent times, Prosit Roy, the director of Anushka Sharma-starrer Pari and Anvita Dutt, the maker of Tripti Dimri-starrer Bulbbul, through their unique vision of the genre and storytelling, have been able to draw a connect with the viewers that otherwise seems elusive. In an exclusive session on FC Front Row, they talk about what fascinates them about the genre, the most challenging aspect of making a horror film and the dearth of memorable horror films in Hindi cinema.
Anupama Chopra (AC): In Hindi cinema, horror is very rarely the first choice for a director who has received the opportunity to direct their first film. Where did this love begin for the two of you?
Prosit Roy (PR): I was never a fan of horror, I was always a fan of good cinema. A lot of good cinema emerges from horror films – some of my favourites being The Orphanage (2007), Let The Right One In (2008) and Midsommar (2019). It all started from the fact that we didn’t have those kinds of cinema over here, we don’t make those kinds of horror films. Growing up, there were rarely any horror films [that stood out]. Bhoot (2003) and Gehra Raaz were a few films that were there. The rest of them were khichdis – filled with action and comedy. They weren’t completely devoted to the genre. That’s why we thought of making a horror film that we wanted to see, while staying in the parameters of Hindi cinema.
Anvita Dutt (AD): For me, it has a lot to do with reading. It started with fairytales. I was fortunate to read stories that weren’t the Disney-fied, running-through-the-daisies kind of fairytales. They were always dark, disturbing, leaving me sympathizing with Baba Yaga or that poor witch who was thrown into the oven. When I was in my eighth standard, I read Dracula; I read Bram Stoker. That’s when I found my genre. That day changed everything for me because that’s when I started seeking this kind of material – fantasy. Horror, as we call it, is a sub-genre of fantasy.
AC: You spoke about not having enough Hindi horror films. Is that because the Hindi film form traditionally demanded that you have navarasa in it?
PR: After the initial Ram Gopal Varma films, there were hardly any horror films in between. I feel, somewhere, it had to do with the fact that they weren’t working. So, they wanted to put every other element, using the usual Bollywood tropes to attract the audience by making them think, ‘Oh, there’s a song too. There’s a fight sequence too.’
AD: We had films like Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) and Bees Saal Baad (1962) back in the 60s. They were very scary. So, it has been done in the past but yes, we did lose the plot, literally and figuratively, for a bit.
PR: Everybody was also running after making films in other genres, and those were working too. The overall interest of the audience for Hindi horror films also died down. I think if there was a demand, directors would’ve tried making good horror films.
AC: Give us a little sense of your process. During the making of Bulbbul and Pari, what was the scene that was really challenging?
PR: In every horror film, the build-up [is crucial]. For example, there’s a scene where a person is walking towards an unknown, dark tunnel. The person is just moving around with a torch; he doesn’t know what’s on the other side of the tunnel. If we directly see that he’s entering the tunnel and coming out from the other end, and we see a monster standing, there’s no fun. So, I think the most challenging part is the build-up. Although you think that you have captured every possible angle, when you come on the edit table, you’ll always realize that it’s not working. To make it work with the sound, the Foley and the background score is the most challenging aspect of a horror film.
AD: In both our cases, these were our first films. So, everyone who was more experienced than us – whether it was the DoP, the production designer – were feeding into the storytelling. They too were coming to it with great authenticity and what worked according to them as per their skills and experience. You must absorb it all like a sponge, and hopefully then, you’ll get it right.