Ghoul director Patrick Graham, actor Manav Kaul discuss upcoming Netflix show, reviving the horror genre

Seema Sinha

August 23, 2018 08:43:42 IST

The collaboration between Patrick Graham, the writer-director of Netflix’s latest Indian original, Ghoul, and the mini-series’ male lead, Manav Kaul of Tumhari Sulu fame, is unique. While Kaul is too scared of horror films, his director is hugely passionate about them. “I take a lot of pleasure in watching horror films so I was having great fun directing. This is what I have been dreaming of my whole life and if somebody gives me a camera, a great set and a wonderful crew and cast, it's a playground for me. Being on such a film set is like a holiday for me,” says Graham, a London Film School graduate, who’s probably the only Westerner working in Mumbai in the Hindi film and television industry. "But I consider myself to be an Indian filmmaker," he smiles.

Manav Kaul in Ghoul. YouTube

Manav Kaul in Ghoul. YouTube

“Horror renaissance is happening worldwide and I am so excited. Two of the most recent financially successful foreign films, Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation inspired us to work on horror in India which is quite satiated by the homegrown Indian products, not to say that there are not many good stories out there. Our intention is to fill the market and make serious horror,” Graham further adds.

“I don’t like horror movies, I don’t like this emotion at all,” saying so Kaul points fingers at Graham and gets theatrical, “And he loves horror, he loves blood, he likes everything gory. I would look at his eyes when he had to shoot a brutal scene. They would pop out. He would look very happy as if he was saying, 'Today is my day, I want to see blood’. He would shoot orders at me, ‘Manav cut cut…’” (both laugh).

So how did Kaul manage to shoot the film? The actor instantly says, “It was easy because I would get scared like this (snaps his fingers), so my director realised that even if he threw a football at me, he would get the reactions he wanted. Also, the place where we were shooting which was in the basement of a suburban hotel, was so claustrophobic, with water dripping from everywhere, it was all damp..there was a stench. There were certain passages in the hotel where I would never venture again.”

Kaul continues, “When I was growing up I saw this film called Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche made by the Ramsay Brothers. I got so scared that I had nightmares for months. When my father and brother would watch horror films, I would be hiding inside a blanket and I would make sure that I go off to sleep before they start the film,” guffaws Kaul as Graham looks at him all amused, and says, “It was fun because we were working on quite a grim set, but Manav still provided comic energy, so it livened up everybody when he came on set and made those funny comments.”

Ghoul is a three-part Indian action horror web television miniseries. It has been in the making for over three years but it didn’t come to life as a TV show. “At that time, it was supposed to be a film,” says Graham, and then later was turned into a miniseries after Netflix came on board last year. Graham and his team had already filmed a portion of Ghoul when the producers, which include Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane’s Phantom Films, Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions, and Ivanhoe Pictures, began talks with Netflix.

The series is about a new recruit in a specialised interrogation team based in a secret military facility in the middle of nowhere, but evidently in India. The newly minted military interrogator (Radhika Apte as Nida Rahim) arrives at a covert detention centre to discover that some of the terrorists held there are not of this world. Once they start interrogating a particular inmate, she and the other soldiers realise there is more to him than just terrorism, as he starts to turn the table on his interrogators, exposing their most shameful secrets. “I knew Radhika from before and I was a great admirer of her work. She surprised me because I realised how tough and intimidating she could be. I had seen Manav in Kai Po Che, his role just stands out,” says Graham.

So was Graham asked to make any changes once Netflix came on board? “They asked us to juice (up) certain sequences. We did, and we put back a few scenes that perhaps in a film format would’ve elongated the drama more than advisable. But for a series you have time to let things breathe. We shot an extra 30 minutes of footage to kind of increase the emotional content of the story,” said Graham.

While Ghoul is set in a dystopian near-future, in an India that’s suffering from intense sectarian conflict, Graham always intended Ghoul as a horror story with other socio-political aspects coming in later. “Dystopian future is something I've always enjoyed seeing in fiction,” he adds. “So we thought it would be a nice backdrop to this oppressive, claustrophobic story to have this fascist state behind it all. But really the main bulk of the story came first, and the atmosphere we wanted to create came after.”

To Graham, horror is about creeping out and disturbing the audience, making them reflect on what they have seen while lying awake at night. “That to me is a great achievement of a horror story,” he says, adding that he’s gone beyond scariness. “Yes, horror has to scare people; you have to set the mood, the atmosphere. But the most important thing for me was to tell a good story. The primary goal of Ghoul as a story is first and foremost to provide entertainment. And it is fiction. Beyond scariness, I want it to be a good story, I want people to be satisfied by the genre and I want them to go away thinking about it and remember it. Then of course, it is a horror film and we need the scares, suspense, thrills,” says the British writer-director, who had his own challenges, given Hindi is not a language he's well-versed in. He wrote the script in English and had the dialogues translated to Hindi as close as possible to how they were in English.

Further, explaining the title, Graham, who extensively researched the origins of ghūl in Arabic folklore, says, “Ghoul is the anglicised version of the Arab word 'Ghul' or 'Gul'. I felt this monster will be perfect for this film. I haven’t seen it before in cinema nor have I read about it in literature. I thought it would be exciting to explore this new monster instead of reusing a vampire or zombie.” Says Kaul, “I was very intrigued and excited by the way Patrick has written the entire series, and the way he was seeing everything. I haven't experienced this kind of horror here in India – this is something absolutely new for everyone, and I really wanted to be part of this.” Kaul loved his character, a colonel named Sunil Dacunha, for his fervent patriotism and the strained relationship he shares with his family.

And is there a possibility of Ghoul returning for a second season? Graham says they are “just going to play it by the ear and see what happens”, and when asked about the series’ open-ended finish he says, “Anybody who watches it can very much realise that it isn't the end of the story.”

Ghoul starts streaming from 24 August on Netflix.

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 08:58 AM