LapaChhapi: Could this Marathi film be a gamechanger in the horror movie genre in India?
An old woman who tells fables, a haunted tape recorder through which a spirit speaks, little children who innocently say the most terrifying things — Vishal Furia's LapaChhapi has all the ingredients of a quintessential horror film. But what sets it apart from most of the mainstream fare that Indian cinema offers in this genre, such as Raaz 3D or Alone, is that it does not have any sex scenes or item songs.
The horror genre has been explored in India since the Independence era, evolving from black and white films starring A-list Bollywood actors to the Ramsay brothers' campy (if now iconic) style, and Ram Gopal Varma dominating the scene with what was termed 'realistic' horror in the '90s. After the mid-2000s, the 'horrex' genre, which combined plots involving ghosts and spirits with erotic scenes, gained popularity. While the Ramsay brothers' films too contained sex, horrex was publicised on the strength of its scary and erotic aspects in equal measure — take for example Ragini MMS 2. Horrex is still heavily invested in by studios and producers.
In the context of these films comes LapaChhapi, which tells the story of a couple who are forced by circumstances to stay in a small house in the middle of a large sugarcane field. The wife is eight months pregnant and she discovers that there are forces in those fields who are after her unborn baby. What these forces are and whether she will be able to save her baby are the main plot lines that constitute the story of the film. Through the film, Furia also addresses social evils.
When asked about what drew him to this particular story and setting, Furia says that he happened to visit the location by accident. "It struck me as the perfect setting for my story. I had heard about some true events and true facts about the location, and this story is a derived from them. So I started writing it and later, I was joined by Vishal Kapoor in the process, who finished it with a powerful screenplay and dialogues," he explains.
In LapaChhapi, one finds several symbols and metaphors. The old lady who offers to take care of the married couple tells the story of a crow whose eggs are robbed from its nest by a snake. While she tells this story, a flashback of a pregnant woman who stabs herself in the womb plays. The protagonist of the film seems to undergo a drastic change in nature; apart from dressing up in more traditional attire like the woman in the flashback, she becomes more nervous and constantly wears a wary expression on her face. What one can take away from the trailer of the film is that through its visuals and narrative, it will play on your mind rather than using shock value and ghoulish-looking characters to make you scream.
Furia finds himself drawn to the horror genre, and believes that it is our inner fears that make us love this type of cinema. "I'm a fan of horror films because I think a good one remains unforgettable always," he says. He does not view Indian cinema's treatment of this genre favourably. "Except for a few, we have made utter crap," he adds. He hopes that through his film, Indian horror will earn some respect.
He attributes the inability to make good horror films to the tendency of Indian producers to think that directors can replicate the 'small horror film' concept of Hollywood. According to this concept, the idea for the film should be unique, the setting should be small, and no stars will be part of the cast. "Every producer asks a director if they have such a 'project'. They like an initial idea, but then, as the process of making the film begins, the idea gets smaller and the stars get bigger. Finally, it ends up becoming something else altogether," he laments.
Despite all the hurdles he had to face due to the unorthodox creative decisions he has taken, Furia does not think his film will alienate mainstream audiences. "No, I don't think a good film requires sex for audiences to come and watch it. Songs are an important part of Indian films, but in a horror film, they kill the mood. Having said that, I support Indian original music and we'll offer a couple of good songs to the audience while promoting the film," he explains.
Furia says that finding producers and releasers has been the most difficult process in this journey. "The industry demanded that I should modify the film, that I should change the screenplay to fit in sex and songs. But after a year or so, I met Jitendra Patil of Midas Touch Movies, who saw the power of the story and approved it as it was and never interfered. He turned out to be a great debutant producer," he says.
After making the film, finding release partners was also difficult as classic Marathi horror is an "almost non-existent genre". Furia had no statistics to prove that such films could work at the box office. "That's when I met Aroona Bhat and Suryaveer Singh Bhullar of Wild Elephants Motion Pictures, who also saw the power of the film and took it forward. I have a bunch of passionate producers," he says proudly.
LapaChhapi, starring Pooja Sawant, Vikram Gaikwad, Usha Naik and Anil Gawas, releases on 14 July 2017. Watch the trailer here: