Article Hindi

There is a lot of scope and opportunity in the horror genre: Sohum Shah at Jagran Film Festival

Speaking on a panel with Lupt director Prabhuraj and music composer Meghdeep Bose, Shah emphasized that the field is open for the horror genre and exciting things are being tried.

Sohum Shah, Prabhuraj, Parag Chapekar and Meghdeep Bose in conversation at the 9th Jagran Film Festival 2018

Blessy Chettiar

The super success of Stree (2018), directed by Amar Kaushik and starring Rajkummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor and Pankaj Tripathi, has got the film industry talking about the horror genre in a new light.

At the recently concluded 9th Jagran Film Festival in Mumbai, four film personalities sat down to discuss the viability of making films in this genre.

Sohum Shah, producer and actor of Tumbbad; Prabhuraj, director of Lupt; and composer and music producer Meghdeep Bose were in conversation with senior film journalist Parag Chapekar.

Tumbbad and Lupt are upcoming horror films which aim to turn the usual formula associated with the genre on its head and present a fresh product. Lupt and Tumbbad will be released on 5 and 12 October, respectively.

Chapekar reminded the audience of the usual tropes used to make horror films in Hindi cinema like Mahal (1949) and Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) — a haveli, a ghost, a few victims and over-the-top sound. “After that there were just two schools of thought — Ramsay and Ramu [referring to Ram Gopal Varma]. Then there was Vikram Bhatt who made a few. However, choosing horror for your debut film is unheard of,” he said.

Talking about choosing the horror genre for his first feature, Lupt director Prabhuraj said, “I didn’t choose this subject intentionally. I didn’t write it thinking I would make a horror or supernatural film. This was my first subject, I wrote a draft many years ago which I called Lupt, and kept registering this title. And today my film is finally made. This is very close to my heart.”

Agreeing that horror is a difficult genre for a first film, Prabhuraj added, “This subject kept exciting me. When we talk about horror, we immediately think about seductive songs, flying ghosts or Ramsay films. Today, it’s different. People have learnt to laugh. My film has no songs, except the title track. I have shot ‘Bhoot Hu Main’ for marketing reasons.

"As a thrill, the story excited me. I haven’t treated it as a typical horror film, in that even my ghost is a character in the film. She is not doing any gimmicks like flying around, sucking blood, biting or strangling anyone. In my film, all superpowers are only with the ghost, no one else. Not even the protagonist.”

Shah, who has previously acted in and produced Ship Of Theseus (2013), said that directing a horror film as the debut feature would become the norm in coming days: “Stree is Amar Kaushik’s debut film, Lupt is Prabhuraj’s debut, Tumbbad is Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad’s debut film. Horror is changing now. It is not the same like before. There is a lot of scope and opportunity to do more in horror. Internationally, it has been accepted so well and it’s exciting for the new generation. For people who wish to see something fresh, you can explore a lot in the horror genre. The field is open. Tumbbad is not a horror film, but only has horror elements. Currently, new and interesting things are happening in horror.”

Agreeing with Shah, Prabhuraj emphasized the challenges the horror genre poses. “This slot hasn’t been exploited much. So, the fun factor is there. Not everyone is making horror or supernatural thrillers. So, for debut directors like me, it’s a challenge how you keep aside the formula and make a convincing film. In my script, I have given the story utmost importance and it’s a character-driven film. Actors like Javed Jaaferi, Vijay Raaz are known as comedy actors, but I broke that barrier for them in my film. If a director finds great actors, he also gets a different energy. The focus is more on characters and concept,” he said, adding that better writing could break formula.

Shah also brought to light the role of sound and music in horror films. He was of the opinion that things were changing even at the level of sound.

Speaking about this change, music composer Meghdeep Bose elaborated, “In my opinion, definitely cinema has evolved a lot. And like Prabhuraj said, this genre has not been exploited much. So the evolution is even more apparent. The horror films I saw in my childhood, the music used to be very loud. If something was to happen, the music would hint at it much before.”

Bose went on to talk about the use of silence in today’s films. “Now, we hear silence and we know something is about to happen. In earlier times, if somebody went to a haveli there would be the crickets chirping sound or an orchestra would be stationed playing high notes. Sound designers and music composers have understood the value of silence. There is a lot of good silence being used, which actually gives a lot of dynamic leverage to a film.

"This use of silence is giving a dynamic character to a film. Through technological advancements, the muddy sound from old films is now replaced by crystal clear sound. Every detail is felt. From mono we have moved to atmosphere. We can give a lot of information by the use of sound. You tread the film carefully using only what you need.”

Bose also reminded the audience how film music until the 1990s was orchestral and then started becoming more textural.

He agreed with Shah and Prabhuraj that script is important, and called it a film’s topmost limb. “Everything depends on the script, writing. There have been films like Paranormal Activity (2007), which has music. It is just a camera kept in a still position and the whole film is shot like that. Like I said before, you can create the right horror using minimal sound. Today’s music and sound design has become clever.”

Shah admitted he was too scared to watch horror films, but was quick to add on the importance of better writing in the genre. “In the West, horror writing has changed a lot and that’s why good films are being made. The main part is the writing. The genre has become contemporary now,” he said, adding that there are opportunities for exciting stories in Hindi cinema too.

Comparisons of Indian films with the West are a constant gripe, and often budgets are a reason filmmakers here give for not churning out better content. Prabhuraj said it wasn’t always about the budget. “We don’t want to give the excuse of a budget. People are only expecting the best because of the digital revolution,” he said. Shah said new things are being tried in horror, like using it along  with genres like comedy and drama. He gave the example of Amar Kaushik’s Stree which uses scares as well as makes one laugh.

The panel agreed that better writing would make for better films in the horror genre.

The panel discussion was held on Friday (28 September) in Mumbai at the 9th Jagran Film Festival.

Related topics

Jagran Film Festival