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The Rediff Interview
'Bhoot will make audiences uneasy'
Subhash K Jha | May 27, 2003
A master at thrillers (Satya, Kaun, Daud, Jungle and Company), Ram Gopal Varma had told rediff.com in an earlier interview that he wanted to bring 'horror into the homes of people'. With Bhoot, he does just that.
Bhoot, Varma's second horror film after Raat (1992), stars Ajay Devgan, Urmila Matondkar, Fardeen Khan, Rekha, Victor Banerjee, Tanuja, Seema Biswas and Nana Patekar. It will be unleashed on audiences this Friday.
Ramu is known as a filmmaker who loves to experiment. This time round, he has refused to include songs in the film as it would disturb the story's flow. Instead, he made a separate music album and two music videos -- featuring singers Sunidhi Chauhan and Usha Uthup -- so as not to lose out on the income generated by music sales. Unfortunately, the gimmick did not work.
Ramu's next production, Darna Manaa Hai, is expected to release in July. Directed by his assistant Prabal Pandey, the film stars Urmila, Fardeen, Saif Ali Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Shilpa Shetty, Antara Mali, Esha Deol, Manoj Bajpai and Isha Koppikar.
Ramu talks to Subhash K Jha about his films.
Do you think the curiosity about Bhoot has increased?
The promotion has certainly made the audience curious. Though technically it is a horror film, we don't see a murder or any overt horror. It is the facial expressions that have made audiences curious. In the shot where Ajay Devgan peeps from behind a door, people actually feel his fear. Ultimately, cinema is an actor's medium.
The other day someone told me she was so scared by the promos she did not want to see the film. I hope others do not feel the same way! I am surprised because the promos are not scary.
How much has the film's star cast contributed to this curiosity?
I don't think a star cast can help. If Bhoot was called Man Ke Rishte, no one would be interested. The title is a very essential part of a film. It subconsciously prepares the audience as to what they can expect. I don't think a title like Mother India would work today. The emotions might still work, but the packaging has to be different. Most of my films have one-word titles. But now, there's Darna Manaa Hai. People just don't know what to make of it. While the visuals scare you, the title tells another story.
Do you think the delay in releasing Bhoot has worked in its favour?
I started the promotional campaign for Bhoot on the wrong note. The film has no songs. The idea of cutting an album inspired by the film was wrong. It works as an independent soundtrack, but not in association with the film. So the music videos based on the songs did not click. The minute the dialogue promos started, things fell in place.
I don't know whether the delay will work in the film's favour. But I must add that the promos of Kaante were on air for eight months. It only added to the audiences' curiosity. I think the audience loses interest in a particular film only if another, more appealing promotional campaign comes along.
Two of your productions, both supernatural thrillers, have their campaigns on simultaneously.
I have so many productions, I cannot space them out according to my convenience. Prabal Pandey, the director of Darna Manaa Hai, shouldn't be made to suffer just because I have another thriller behind me. Personally, I think the campaign for his film is far more exciting than Bhoot. Bhoot is a hold-on-to-your-seats horror film, while Darna Manaa Hai is a hold-on-to-your-popcorn horror film.
Would you say Bhoot is like The Exorcist while Darna Manaa Hai is like I Know What You Did Last Summer?
I don't know if they are the right examples. Darna Manaa Hai is a bizarre film. It has no parallels. People think it's like The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or The Zee Horror Show. The six stories in Darna Manaa Hai are surreal. There is a story about a woman who's scared of apples. Has anyone ever heard of such a thing? The film is about six guys lost in the woods passing their time telling horror stories to each other. Some people will hate it. Others will love it. The film will provoke the strongest reactions ever.
Why are there so many stars in Darna Manaa Hai?
The point behind making this film was to put together six stories that could not stand up as independent two- or three-hour films. The stories cannot be stretched too far. The other option was to put these stories on television. But then there would be budget constraints and advertisements interrupting the story.
When I narrated each story to the actors, they were taken aback by the audacity of the script. I guess over a period of time I have legitimised weirdness! I am releasing Darna Manaa Hai on the same day as Sooraj Barjatya's Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon [Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan]. My film is the underdog that dares to challenge the biggie [laughs].
You have given many of your assistants a chance to branch out on their own.
I have become a full-fledged producer. I spend a lot of time on pre-production work. But once the production goes on the floors, my job is over. If an assistant is excited about a project, I let him make the film with the budget that he has decided on. I won't say, let's sign stars to recover Rs 10 crore [approximately US $2.13 million]. That's the wrong approach to filmmaking. I make no bones about being a film factory. What's wrong with that? We're an industry, aren't we? If I make substandard films, my factory will close down.
What kind of response do you expect for Bhoot?
I have graduated in my storytelling technique. Here, I have tried to maintain a very fine balance between emotionally involving the audiences and constantly scaring them. Many people would enjoy it for a good scare. Others would choose to get involved with the characters' trauma.
On a story level, I can narrate it in five minutes. But the dynamics of storytelling are crucial in Bhoot. We have used a different kind of visual and sound quality. The film's impact depends on the technique. I expect audiences in the interiors to connect more with Bhoot than Company. It's a very massy subject narrated in a very sophisticated tone. The average viewer may not understand the way it's shot. Everything in Bhoot is in opposition to what one expects in a supernatural film. There are long silences that will make audiences uneasy.
Have you gone beyond Company in Bhoot?
In Company and my earlier directorial films, I was like a transporter carrying fragile glass. Bhoot is about placing the fragile material. It's about playing with the audiences' minds. As a director, Bhoot is a bigger challenge. I'm not talking about the content, but in the way I have used the performances and technique to create a specific aura. As far as supernatural films are concerned, Bhoot will set a trend. Everyday sounds -- the lift moving or water falling -- take on a new life in Bhoot. We have flirted with psychological effects. See, in a typical horror film, the camera would follow a character from behind. In Bhoot we have used wide-angle shots. The audience is privy to all that's happening. The fear is multiplied because the viewer does not know what to expect.
Is there a point of release in the terror?
No relief. The terror is unrelenting. I do not understand the need for relief.
There is an explanation at the end for all that is going on. The other day I was asked what to expect from Bhoot. I said, fear. All my drama is restricted to press interviews!