Horror as a genre is not given importance in Bollywood – Pawan
Pawan Kripalani says that horror movies are in his DNA. The director who is known for movies like Ragini MMS and Darr @The Mall is back with yet another dose of thrill & horror in Phobia. The movie will see Radhika Apte playing a character suffering from ‘agoraphobia’, an irrational fear of stepping out the safe confines of her house. The movie has been much talked about ever since the trailer, which is considered to be edgy and frightful, hit the Internet.
As the film gears up for release, we caught up with Pawan where he is reveals his undying love for the horror genre, his own phobias and experience of working with Radhika Apte, among other things.
What was it about the subject that encouraged you to make a movie like Phobia?
Over the last few years I had this sense and feeling that has grown and made me overtly paranoid about a lot of things. It is mainly to do with the city and the world outside in general. You read the newspaper or log on to any social media site and you keep hearing about a lot of negativity that is happening, people are getting raped, mugged, murdered and a bunch of other things. Over the years this constant reading has ultimately lead to a growing paranoia in my head. I found that I felt a little unsafe at times when I am outside. But I feel the exact opposite when I am at home, there I feel extremely relaxed and secure. I think this feeling is very interesting and it was something that I wanted to talk about and I thought we could make a film about it. I decided to heighten that problem in my character and take it to a level that even taking one step outside was impossible. That is how Phobia was born. I then came upon ‘agoraphobia’ where people can’t step out of the house at all because something very traumatic has happened in their lives outside the house. That was the genesis of the movie.
Your previous films have also dealt with the horror/thriller genre, so it safe to say this is you preferred genre?
Yes, I think it more like the first love for me. I enjoy making horror films and have an absolute and complete love for this genre. Even as an audience, I love watching a horror movie. Horror movies are in my DNA, I have grown up watching these movies. When I sit down to write that is what comes out of me, it is just who I am, I can’t help it. It is not like I haven’t thought of doing comedy, but nothing comes.
Was Radhika Apte your first choice for the lead, if so what was the reason behind it?
Agoraphobia, most of the time hits women more than men, most of the cases involve women between 20 to 40 years of age, who are trauma induced. I realized that I wanted a female protagonist who embodies this character. Moreover, the film is about this character, from every frame to every scene, this was about one girl in her house.
I remember seeing Radhika Apte in Badlapur. She comes in the movie just before the interval and is there for around 20 minutes after the interval, and that for me was the best part of the movie. This girl stole the movie from everyone, she just outshined everyone from that small little supporting act. I thought, if she can do this in 20 minutes then I can’t imagine what she can do in 100 minutes. I got her number from someone and called her, met her for coffee and explained the story and I told her that I have no scripts or a producer but asked if she liked the idea. She loved it and told me to call her once I had the script and producer.
What kind of research did you undertake to understand Agoraphobia thoroughly? It must have been difficult for for Radhika to adapt to the character.
I told Radhika what I wanted to show in the movie, which is the sense of feeling unsafe outside (your house). We spoke about that theme and she too felt those feelings. Plus, she knew what agoraphobia was as she’s from a family of doctors and neurosurgeons, so she easily tapped into that side and therefore, had a lot to put on the table. I had done enough research as well.
What was the casting process for the rest of the cast?
This movie literally has no cast; it just has Radhika and five other people. This movie is as bare as it gets. The props are more than the people. Once I got Radhika on board, we were discussing options as there was a male lead in the film as well. That is when she told me about Satyadeep Mishra with whom she had worked in a short film called Madly. I saw some work of his and thought that he was quite interesting, but more than that I liked the fact that they both had a good chemistry.
Then there was Ankur Vikal, who plays one of the neighbours staying next to Radhika. He is a really interesting actor. I have liked him since his appearance in Slumdog Millionaire. He looks like a genuinely creepy man, so he fits the role that I was aiming at. Besides them there was a young girl whom Radhika befriends in the movie. This character is very spontaneous and spirited, in short, the exact opposite of what my main character is. So there was this girl whom I saw in an ad and I thought that she was great and I called her. So this is it, it is a very simple cast.
A majority of the film is shot within one apartment. Was that restricting in any way?
For a movie like this, where you are telling a horror story, the more confined you are to a certain location the easier it is for you to scare people. You get to build tension and sustain that tension in that environment. The moment you have many environments or a huge space, which is what I had in Darr @ The Mall, the suspense cannot be sustained after a point. There were too many characters, too many tracks running together and you are not focused on one thing. When you have a singular motive you make a good horror movie. The movie needs to be focused on one specific space, emotion and journey, then it is easier to rile someone up.
From your first film Ragini MMS to Phobia, how have you grown as a filmmaker?
I have made tons of mistakes. During Ragini MMS I was a young kid and was really excited that I got an opportunity to make a movie. At that time I thought the idea was cool and I just went for it. I wasn’t thinking about anything, I never went to a film school and had never made a movie before. So I was a complete fresher and I have made gazillion mistakes, not just one. Darr @ The Mall was all wrong because I did the movie for the reason that was not true to the subject.
But with this movie I realized that I needed to start all over again and do a movie that is completely and utterly my vision. Luckily, Eros International really backed me on this and gave me the freedom because it is a small budget film. I am glad that they let me be on my own, so I could make a movie that I wanted to make.
How would you describe the state of horror as a genre in Bollywood today?
I think we don’t like to explore horror movies. There is a lot to do in horror movies, a lot to say, but I think we as an industry tend to look at it in a different manner. We think about it as a cheap genre, throw some scares and sex in it, with some songs and that is it. Horror is not given importance in Bollywood, but that is wrong because it is as important as a drama, biopic, comedy or romantic movie. In fact, some of the greatest horror movies have so much to say. Good horror movies are representative of the time they are made in. They are usually a commentary on the things that the filmmaker is going through and is seeing around him.
Is there a specific message that you are trying to convey through Phobia?
Don’t hide from your fears; the only way to conquer them is by confronting them. I think that is what I am trying to say through this movie, it is also something that I keep telling myself. You need to confront it otherwise it will constantly keep growing, till it becomes a large elephant in the room and then you can’t control it.
Can you shed some light on your future projects?
There are a couple of things that I want to do. I want to do a horror comedy after this, so let’s see how that goes.
Transcribed by Aarti Sukhija