Despite a roaring revenue from films like Ragini MMS, Ragini MMS 2, the Raaz franchise and many more,horror films in India seem to lack the much needed ‘x-factor’. Urban Asian sat down with the maker of the upcoming horror flick, The Maya Tape, to find out what exactly are we missing! Check out what Nikhil Allug has to say about film making and horror!
What interested you to join the world of filmmaking?
Since a very young age, I have been an ardent reader and writer. Short stories, poetry, articles for youth magazines, unfinished full length novels was what I indulged in. Then I got very interested in Music and spent 9 years of my life touring and performing with my Metal band all over as a front man. The travel really helped open my mind and gave me a fresh perspective on people and stroked my writing. Though it was not a “smooth” transition for me into film making due to my late realization of my interests, but I think it was a very natural one as I always had an artistic bend. Film making fused my earlier strengths of writing and music very well. It gave me the edge others around me did not have as directors. I dabbled in short documentaries and short films when I entered my full time MBA course in 2008. I made my first short films during this time and with beginner’s luck I suppose, it won appreciation at a few prestigious platforms. I made a short documentary on Rubina Ali Queresh the Slumdog Millionare child star when I learned in the newspapers that she had attended the Oscars and was now back living in the dingy Bandra slums. The short documentary won much acclaim and was personally lauded by Jill Gwen, Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations at Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA). I then went on to make my short film named Nothingness which was featured at Cannes film festival in 2011. I went on to be a Directors Assistant to Rajkumar Hirani of Munnabhai, 3 IDIOTS, P.K fame. Simultaneously, I had also finished writing a script for a horror film and pitched it around to multiple producers. I was ravenous in my approach and determined to gain finance for the film. I eventually found a production house very interested to fund the script and they signed me on immediately as the writer and director of the film. It’s called The Maya Tape and is a found footage horror/thriller film featuring actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Gangs of Wasseypur, Kahani, Talaash, Bombay Talkies, Lunchbox), Vishakha Singh (Khelen Hum Jee Jaan Se, Fukrey, Ankur Arora Murder Case, Bajatey Raho) and others. The film is now completed and ready for a release this year in theaters.
What difficulties have you faced as an independent filmmaker?
Howsoever cliched it might sound, for me it has always only been money that’s been like a real roadblock. Films are an expensive medium. Money is mandatory to envision the film, there is no escaping that. As far as I know, Zero budget films are a marketing gimmick as literally no such things exist. Sure, there can and have been extremely low budget films but even that isn’t “zero” budget. In a generation loaded with content of all sorts, would it make sense to make such a compromised product?
It’s a challenge in the Indian market today to gain finance, wherein micro budget projects are looked down upon and big budget projects needs to have an actor attached to it for it to be sold. No one is willing to take any kind of risks anymore. Everyone chases glorious names rather than brilliant content. We need Producers who need to get their heads out of their wallets and peep into the script and understand its potential. After all, what good is a producer if he/she cannot even make a good judgement of what comes their way? A good Producer is the one who should believe, speculate, invest and trsut. Lazily investing monies into lucrative sounding projects can be done by anyone who has some extra cash to spend. Only the wise and ever evolving shall survive in the long run of this business.
As a filmmaker, what is the most important aspect of pre-production according to you?
Getting the script right and tight. Then, it’s getting the actors completely in sync with the film and i have always made it a point to give as much time my actors need from me to clarify their doubts and discuss their take on things. An actor should not need to bother you on shoot day with doubts and neither should a maker disturb an actor and his space on set. Also, locations are really important. The space defines everything. So, I am very meticulous in selecting a certain location for a certain character, scenario etc. The way I see it, shooting is just a process of filming what you planned. I am yet to make a storyboard for my films but I am not averse to the idea. I think it does bring a much greater level of control on the film and your vision by preparing your lighting graphs and storyboards beforehand. I understand its need as I am one of the few rare makers who are well versed with their lighting and camera know how. I am really surprised to know that most of the biggest makers in India right now have no clue of lighting and camera basics and rely completely on their DP’s and their gaffers for it. Hence, our films come out looking shot so dull and uninteresting most of the times. Also, on set decisions of angles and lighting patterns aren’t the most appropriate thing to do. But on the flip side, the unpreparedness of shot transitions and movements could also bring in a sense of interest while shooting. How do you plan shots for a film like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie? Otherwise, the process of shooting a film is almost boring and extremely tiring for me. I personally only enjoy my shoots due to the actor’s performance. When they really outdo what you had in mind, it gives immense happiness and confidence and a short rush of zest and zeal.
The cult of remakes and sequels has taken over Bollywood. What is your take on that?
A film is usually followed up with a sequel or remake when the first one has done very well. That’s good as it gets a word of mouth and brand name already attached with it which is really helpful in selling to distributors and to the audience as well. But at the same time, it’s also equally complex and important to at least be at par if not outdo the past glory of the film. I think it’s all good as long as the audience does not feel cheated and the film does not destroy the hard earned reputation of its initial success. There have been innumerable cases of bad follow-ups in the past decade itself. Hence Making sequels and remakes are a huge responsibility which needs all the more care and smartness right from its initiation to its release. I think it comes with its own benefits and burdens. Nothing is easy or simple in film making.
You are very keen on making horror films. Tell us a bit about that. Also, what changes do feel can be implemented to change the face of horror films in India?
That’s because I have always been a Thriller/Horror/Suspense/Fantasy writer, reader and lover. These genres share a lot from each other and i think that’s my forte as a maker. Horror are of various types. Gore, thrill risque, the paranormal variety, atmospheric etc. But the essence of a good horror is always the same. It need to touch a chord of fear somewhere in the viewer’s heart. Even fear is of several types. A film like Evil Dead is funny and full of cheeky one liners yet is claustrophobic, gory and has a constant tense atmosphere. Every cult horror has had a certain way of delivering that fear into the heart of the audiences. We need to be able to conjure something which is probably an observation or thought that we believe shall certainly evoke fear in our audiences. But it’s such a thin line from conceptualization to execution that the most genuinely scary thoughts on scripting stage might turn out to look embarrassingly funny. And the blame will always go to the Director. That is where the director needs to maintain a tight leash on things. Horror is a difficult genre to make and many in India shy away from it due to this very reason. They fear the outcome due to their own shortfalls of not being able to carry forward their thought till the end with all the conviction and precision they can muster. No one wants to argue and win a debate with their teams for the betterment of a film anymore. It’s all about relations these days. Everyone is too scared about everything. Horror is a genre that doesn’t accept cowards of such sorts. The best horror films right from The Exorcist to something like a Cannibal Holocaust was made by such film makers who were ready to make others see their point by words or whatever else it took to achieve the desired results. I think the new upcoming generation of film makers like me need to stop being shy and scared about the big time technicians & Producers and need to discuss with them everything they want to about why they feel a certain thing needs to be done in a certain way in the film. What good is a team if they can’t even be discussed, argued and exchanged ideas with? After all, the more someone knows, the lesser they know. Knowledge hampers the spirit of possibilities and only a great level headed team can make a winning film. A film maker needs to use the team members expertise to align with the films spirit not be daunted of it and end up being a silent spectator of their decisions leading up to a disastrous film. I stress on this as this is exactly what is needed to make a good horror film.
Horror films in India have recently been categorized as “horrex” (horror + sex) films. What is your take on that?
Sex and horror are huge sellers world over and more so in India. The problem is our erotic is done right to the taste and tune of the crowd but the horror bit turns out to be a joke. I think the Bhatt camp excels at capturing eroticism with their whole show reel of successful films dabbling in this zone but when they end up into the Horror portion of the film, they don’t give out anything unique or even mildly interesting with their recent releases. Ekta Kapoor again does a swell of a job in the erotic department but again falters heavily in the horror zone. Sure many would argue their recent films have done well, but how many can argue that they were genuinely good content? No one. The horror genre is a gold mine of potential which unfortunately has not been tapped even 10% yet in our country. It’s come to such a disgruntled stage for the horror aficionados here that they have to hopelessly wait for a foreign film to release here to fulfill their appetite. Horror is also a natural ANTI TORRENT format. It means that a horror can be best enjoyed in the acoustics of a theater and not merely downloaded off the net. This is a crucial factor for anyone making a film to consider. The need of the hour is fresh, new, interesting and genuinely scary scripts. The quality of writing is atrociously low standard in India anyways, so not much can be expected in a genre like horror which needs a much greater level of passion, technical and creative understanding. Hopefully, the newer generation will be of some hope.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
Be smart, be hungry, be flexible, be ready with more than one options always, be nice, be humble, give yourself deadlines, be connected with your inner self, never forget the initial madness. Believe in what you have and be bold! Rather than thinking producers are foolish and can’t evaluate the value of what you have, think the other way around. Think about why anyone should invest their hard earned money on you and your script? What is it there in it for them? Why you? This empathy is the only way to become from an aspiring film maker to a debutant film maker and beyond. Sure Fate and Luck are a big factor in life for everything, but they are out of our reach. What’s left to us is the dedication, belief and passion. Film making and Life in general is exactly like a battlefield. Some have the high grade weapons and armor which you might not have, some might have the brute strength and tactics, some might have the vision of fighting it but one thing should never be forgotten…A battle always has few survivors and fewer heroes.