Arguably, no other Indian language has as rich a heritage in spooky tales as Bangla. Its practitioners include giants like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore, the three Rays – Upendrakishore, Sukumar and Satyajit – Premendra Mitra, Parashuram, Leela Majumdar and Manik Bandyopadhyay, among others. Even the classic children’s folktale collection Thakurmar Jhuli contains supernatural entities aplenty. However, this hasn’t quite translated into cinema as it probably should have, and one would be hard-pressed to name a true-blue horror/slasher film. Writer Mainak Bhaumik and director Shabbir Mallick try to address this void with Bhoot Chaturdashi.
Mainak Bhaumik, writer
I’ve always been a horror film fan. I have never missed even a Friday the 13th Part five, an Omen 4 or a Poltergeist 3. When it comes to horror films, you are not always looking for an award-winning great film, you just want to spend your evening getting scared. Two years ago, I was reading an article in Forbes that mentioned that the two genres consistently profitable in America are the superhero and the horror films. I was relieved that I was not some freak – there are others of my ilk.
In the last few years, I have often felt the need to take a break from the kind of ‘relationship’ movies I’ve been making and try my hand at a something different. However, since the film was about a group of four friends who head out to demystify the urban legends of Bhoot Chaturdashi – the film derives its title from the rituals associated with the night before Kali Puja when Bengalis light earthen lamps in their homes in the belief that their ancestors descend upon earth on this night and that these lamps help them find their homes. I didn’t want to direct a film about the young generation right after having made Generation Ami. I felt it was time to let my associate director, Shabbir, team up with young people. More importantly, a young team, free of the baggage of our cinematic masters, might end up heralding horror as a genre in Bangla cinema.
I have always felt that the reason our exceptional literature of supernatural stories haven’t translated into cinema is because we have looked down upon it as a lower form of art. In fact, if you notice, even in Teen Kanya, Monihar was dropped, and I think after that filmmakers felt that ghost stories might not go down well with the audience. After Bhooter Bhobishyot, horror-comedy is now in vogue. A lot of ghost stories aimed at children have been adapted – possibly assuming a captive audience – but these are not classic horror.
From the first draft of the script, my brief to Shabbir was clear: I was aiming at a horror movie that would scare me. As a horror movie buff, I can vouch for the fact that this is a really good scary movie. And if it succeeds financially, it might open the door for more horror films in Bengal.
Shabbir Mallick, director
Being an avid fan of ghost stories and horror films, I always wanted to make a horror film but never imagined that I’d start my career with one. I was worried if I was doing the right thing, because as a director your first film often defines you. Bengal has a treasure trove of ghost stories but sadly horror films are not only rare in Bengal, they don’t do very well at the box office either. I believe that the audience likes to be scared but the problem is that Bengali horror films have not been scary enough.
Mainak-da gave me a gripping screenplay that incorporated elements of Bengal’s myths and folklores. I went for a writing recee to Bolpur, stayed there for a few days, exploring the deepest interiors of Bolpur and also ‘Lakkhi’s House’ which is like a character in the film. I hope that this film will fill the void in Bengali cinema when it comes to good horror films.