Episode 13 — Marathi Cinema’s 1st Found Footage Horror Film
Yogesh Raut‘s debut film Episode 13 is no doubt a landmark in the Marathi film industry — the first found footage film in the industry that doubles as an attempt to revive the horror genre in Marathi films, that haven’t seen quality cinema pertaining to the genre in over 30 years. We speak to Yogesh about how the film was conceptualised, his biggest inspirations and the intricacies behind shooting the unique endeavour.
Tell us a little bit about your fascination with the horror genre, and how far back it goes.
I used to work as an Assistant Director on a show called Mano Ya Na Mano, anchored by Irrfan Khan and produced by Siddharth Kak. It was while I was working on this show that I came across an interesting story that I felt had to be told. And there aren’t many found footage films in the Indian industry whereas in Hollywood, it’s been attempted so many times that the audience has almost outgrown this genre of filmmaking.
I felt like it was time that a Marathi found footage film was produced, especially after I watched LSD (Love, Sex Aur Dhokha) and realised that audiences were opening up to different kinds of cinema in the country.
How did you first come to hear about this village, and how did you acquire the footage? Why did you feel that this content should be converted into a film?
Back when I initially came across this story, I knew it was a great story, but the time hadn’t come for it yet. When we were in Aurangabad — back in 2004-2005 — on a research/recce trip for Mano Ya Na Mano, we had discovered a rather strange family that hadn’t left their house in close to 7-8 years. We had pitched a story to the show, and even spent two days trying to get shots of them, get some access to them, but we couldn’t manage an episode with that much footage. They never opened the door, and never left the house. The odd thing was — they seemed like a really normal family and it was about 8-9PM when we were around their house, and we saw them sitting at the table and having dinner together, after which there were sounds of vessels being rinsed. It was a very eerie experience.
Aurangabad had quite a population even then, and none of the villagers could tell us about how they got their food, or went about their lives. The family would receive letters from abroad once in a while, and that’s really all they could tell us confidently, because of the postman.
The story stayed with me over the years, and I knew I would come back to it.
Like you mentioned, Hollywood has a lot of these found footage films. Any inspirations drawn from there for the treatment of this film?
Films like Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity films would be my biggest inspirations. When I watched Blair Witch… for the first time back in the 1990’s, I didn’t know that it was a ‘fake’ film and even the film’s website reported the deaths and stories of those characters. There are no exotic locations or background music in found footage films, and the treatment of the film is done in such a way that you become one of the characters in the film. That’s what the found footage film experience consists of — asking if it was really true, or a work of fiction. This is what makes it unlike other films in the horror genre.
Please elaborate on the team that worked on Episode 13 and the dynamics.
It was Upendra Sidhaye, Ashutosh Mishra and I who started working on this, and it took us almost two years to finish the script. When we started approaching people with the script, they said it would only be successful if known faces were included in it — but that was not what we wanted.
We later held auditions in Mumbai and Pune for the actors and since Upendra had been a theatre actor (and we only needed to cast for four actors), he took up one of the roles.
We went to the village of Tuljapur in Maharashtra to shoot the film, and shot it on a very low budget, with a team of about 40 people. Every member of the cast and crew worked on this project because they believed in the story, and not one of them has been paid till date. Several of them were FTII students or alumni, students from the Mass Communication Department of University of Pune and Digital Film School, Mumbai, and many of them I had actually worked with before — it’s important to identify the people that you can work with, so that the film comes together as envisioned.
We had to spend time on the sound design, since there would be no music used in it, to make it more realistic. We also wanted to use actors that no one would recognise, because if they were recognisable actors — from theatre or films — we felt that it would take away from the story.
In the case of found footage films, the camera itself becomes a character in the story. The cinematographer, Anand Pandey, would either use the camera himself, or take on the role of one of the actors, and use it accordingly. We also spent 10 days in Tuljapur, before beginning shoot, rehearsing the movements and experimenting on location. The actors were instructed to improvise wherever possible, as long as the audience would get the message. We wanted it be as natural as possible.
Tell us a little bit about the premise of the film. What was the research process, and what is the story behind the name of the film?
The story follows the team of a show like Mano Ya Na Mano, who are shooting the 13th episode of their series. They find a family like the one I mentioned in the incident that happened to my team in 2004, except it explores what would have happened if they had had access to the house, and the strange occurrences that might have followed.
The characters in the film include the producer, the anchor, the cameraman and the spotboy cum driver cum production manager. So it’s the footage that they have filmed over the course of their shoot that is the film Episode 13. It hasn’t been edited, or tampered with at all, and there have been no additions such as music or anything else to take away from the realistic feel that we want the film to have. Imagine we, the team, entered the house and we all died, and the police found our cameras and accessed all the footage that we had filmed without editing at all.
We also researched a lot of information through books on black magic, and cults in India, to make it as plausible as possible. We went through actual found footage found by the police, camera footage as though the person who’s filming is an amateur etc. — it was important technically, to keep these things in mind.
We actually got a really established cameraman initially, to work on the film, but he wasn’t able to mould himself according to the nature of the film — we didn’t want clean and beautiful framing. We eventually got the assistant cameraman, whose first independent film this was, to step up and film for Episode 13.
Tell us a little bit about why crowdfunding seemed like the best way to go for the post-production stage of the film.
We spent a lot on lighting, and eventually experimented with smaller lights for the shoot. The rest of the film has been funded entirely by me.
Crowdfunding is a lot like found footage films, in the sense that both have started catching on in India only in the past two years or so. The budget fell short for the post-production phase of the film and especially for the sound that required special attention. We used silence very carefully in the film, especially since there was no background music.
Marathi films have also started experimenting and accepting different kinds of films — even if they aren’t well-received, audiences will give them a watch.
What are your thoughts on the horror genre in the Marathi film industry so far? What is it about this film that you feel will really connect with audiences?
There has actually been some quality cinema in Marathi film industry, but that was almost 30-40 years ago. Two names that come to mind are Haa khel savalyancha (1976), and Pathlaag (1964). Despite being black and white, they managed to really bring out the horror element in the films. After that though, the trend of comedy really picked up and the horror genre pretty much got wiped out from Marathi films, manifesting itself — at most — in a comedy-thriller manner.
Ram Gopal Verma would’ve been another name that I really respected about 10 years ago. (laughs) He experimented a lot back then.
The Indian youth of today is very familiar with the found footage film concept, and I received some really great feedback from the youngsters that I’ve shown the film to, as well.
[You can help the filmmakers fund the post-production phase of Episode 13 by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign here.]