How Game Over, Khamoshi explored fear and desperation within the home invasion genre
From Hollywood to Tamil cinema, several horror films are set inside a house which in itself has become the USP of the genre.
In Ashwin Saravanan’s Game Over, the protagonist, Swapna (Taapsee), finds herself wheelchair-bound when her house is invaded by three faceless men. She’s cornered and her survival depends on how smartly she can escape from the invaders within the confines of her home. A similar premise is also the basis of Chakri Toleti’s Khamoshi, where Surabhi (Tamannaah), a deaf-mute painter who’s also the guardian of a palatial mansion, realises that her life is in grave danger when a psychotic killer, Dev (Prabhudeva), breaks into the mansion in the middle of the night. Although both the films have different stories to tell and the characters have different motivations, there’s a common thread which binds them together — the setting. Both Game Over and Khamoshi explore fear and desperation to survive within the confines of a house. These films are just two of the examples from a long list of horror-thrillers, ranging from The Shining in Hollywood to Aval in Tamil, where the paths of the key characters cross each other under the same roof.
Talking about why he chose to set the story of Game Over inside a house, at least for most part of the narrative, Ashwin Saravanan says, “It’s all about exploring a primal fear. A house is usually a private place and you feel quite secure when you are inside. If someone invades that personal space, your fear is accentuated. That’s also one of the reasons why a part of Game Over feels voyeuristic because the killers record everything on camera before and after they break into the house.” In the film, Taapsee often refuses to come out of her room and keeps playing video games, like Pac-Man and Super Mario through the night. It’s Pac-Man that piques her interest and she tries to outdo her best score night after night. In essence, the whole film appears to be what would happen if Pac-Man got a live-action adaptation. Swapna understands the geography of her house better than the killers, whom she confronts in the end, and she uses it to her advantage just like Pac-Man does while trying to avoid the ghosts. Since she’s wheelchair-bound, the fear factor is accentuated, and she has to use every resource available to survive.
Tamannaah-starrer Khamoshi plays out in a different manner. It’s staged as a cat and mouse chase and silence becomes an important factor for the protagonist to survive. The film is set in the UK, and the eeriness of the night adds drama and tension to the proceedings. Recalling the shooting experience, Tamannaah said, “I was really sick while shooting for the film. The nights were really cold and it’s not a pleasant experience to shoot for long hours. Thankfully, Chakri and rest of the team understood my predicament and were quite supportive.” Shooting such intense films can take a toll both mentally and physically, too. Taapsee also recalled her shooting woes: “It’s really hard to sit for 12 hours at a stretch on the wheelchair for 25 days altogether and shoot for the film. I remember telling my sister that I’m feeling very lonely and I don’t have a good feeling about it. The shoot drained me out mentally. I had to take a vacation as soon as I got done with the shoot.”
For filmmakers too, shooting in the same location for long stretches often results in fatigue because of the restrictions on the movement of the characters. Mahi V Raghav, director of the Taapsee-starrer Anando Brahma, recalls shooting in a house for nearly 32 days. The film flipped the narrative of horror comedies in Telugu cinema and Mahi V Raghav turned the ghosts into meek characters who try hard to survive after several men and women come to live in their house for a week. “When you make a film like this, staging and blocking a scene becomes really challenging because you are locked up in a small geography. It’s not easy to shoot in the same place for too long and fatigue sets in after a point. There isn’t much room to explore and there are only so many ways that you can move or tilt your camera. The challenge is to have enough content which will continue to intrigue and engage the audience throughout the film’s runtime, otherwise everything will seem monotonous,” Mahi says. The film is now being remade in Tamil and Tamannaah is stepping into Taapsee’s shoes to play the lead character.
Interestingly, finding the perfect house as a setting for the story is part of the challenge and quite essential too to offer a new experience for the audience. One of the best horror films in recent times, Aval (The House Next Door in Hindi), starring Siddharth and Andrea Jeremiah, posed a huge challenge for the makers since they were adamant on finding two houses side by side to narrate the story. Milind Rau, director of Aval, says, “Finding the perfect house is essential for the storytelling in this genre. The house was an important character in Aval and we didn’t want to compromise there. We saw plenty of houses in Goa, Chennai, and Hyderabad which would suit the story, and ultimately found the right one in Manali. And then, the house where Siddharth and Andrea stay was a set that we built next to the original house in Manali. In terms of production design, we had to redo the corridors and change the wallpaper to create a claustrophobic effect. I believe that all this added to the success of the film because we were able to create the right atmosphere.”
While the spookiness and primal fear sets the mood for a gripping drama, horror films which are set inside a house have found lots of takers in film industries across the world. No wonder, almost every other horror film in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi has a similar setting, where all the characters are in the same house. Besides, they are extremely budget friendly for the producers. Several recent Telugu and Tamil horror films being made with a budget of under Rs 5 crores. The Raju Gari Gadhi and Kanchana franchises have grown bigger over time and so have the budgets of each of their films. “Horror films have a niche audience and hence, they have to be made on a tight budget. It’s a common phenomenon all over the world, right from films like Sinister and Insidious in the West to Kaun, Aval, Game Over in India. Since all the characters are under the same roof, the drama between them gets quite interesting, and for a filmmaker, it’s also easy to tell a story. Ultimately, it’s the factor of primal fear, that something is going to go wrong in a place which you thought was your safe zone, that works so well with the audience,” Milind Rau avers.
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