Pari director Prosit Roy: A lot of people ask me why I chose a horror film as my debut
Pari director Prosit Roy chats with Firstpost about his favourite horror films, Bollywood's content crisis, and the experience of working with Anushka Sharma and Clean Slate Films
Pari director Prosit Roy chats with Firstpost about his favourite horror films, Bollywood's content crisis, and the experience of working with Anushka Sharma and Clean Slate Films. Edited excerpts follow:
Prosit, you make your feature film debut with Pari, whose posters, teasers and trailers have managed to create a sense of intrigue among viewers. Very little was known of the film, or its story – till as late as yesterday. In an environment where getting people to come out of their homes and enter the theatre is almost as challenging as making the movie itself, was this part of the plan?
This was not pre-decided, so to speak. When we started off, we had initially thought that we will keep making the film, keep everything under wraps, and at one point, we will take a call on how to go forward with the marketing of it. But after we saw the first rushes, our producer and the marketing team felt that it would be in the best interest of the film to build this sense of intrigue around it. It was then that we decided not to reveal even a part of the story to the world. And I must say it’s a tremendous job both Karnesh (Sharma), our producer, and the marketing team has done, and I think it has worked wonderfully well so far. I have been getting calls and messages and mails asking me – what is the story behind Pari? And the best part is, the teasers and the trailers have been decoded by various people in various ways, they all have their own version of the story now, and some of those versions are rather interesting and funny. So, as I said, it wasn’t planned, but along the way we decided that we will do it this way.
Tell us a little bit about the background of the film. Why did you choose a subject such as this for your first film?
A lot of people ask me – why did you choose a horror film for your debut feature? And I always tell them that I never chose a horror film. It was in fact the other way around. The film chose me, in a way. You see my grandparents were originally from the other part of undivided Bengal, what is now known as Bangladesh. They had come over during the Partition, and my grandmother used to tell me literally hundreds of stories — folk tales and stories of the land. Quite a few of these were stories about ghosts and apparitions. So, the love for the horror genre was always there. But then horror is a vast space, you see. Within horror, there are so many sub-genres. I never consciously decided that I am going to make a horror film. The horror element almost came as a by-product of my love for a good story. And then I came to know that there’s this production house in Mumbai which wanted to make a horror film. So, (my co-writer) Abhishek Bannerjee and I wrote a storyline and went to the production house. They said we love your story, why don’t you show us a full draft? Abhishek and I went back and fleshed out the full draft, but by that time, the production house had decided not to make a horror film anymore. By that time, I was working as an assistant director for Phillauri, and I showed the story to Karnesh. He loved the story and that’s how the journey began.
The industry has always seen formulaic horror films over the years. First, there was the white sari clad woman walking through the woods, then came the campy monster films set in old havelis and dilapidated temples and now there’re the films from the Bhatt camp. What are some of your own favourites from the horror genre?
There was this film called Gehrayee, with Anant Nag, Sriram Lagoo and Padmini Kolhapure. It was scary as hell. I also liked Ram Gopal Verma’s Bhoot — it was very nicely made. In fact, I really think his Kaun was also a fantastic horror film. I can’t say I was fascinated by the Ramsay films though, but Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal is, of course, a classic.
And in world cinema?
I am a big fan of (Guillermo) del Toro, and I have loved watching his films over the years. There’s a certain kind of beauty in his films, and scaring his audience is not his primary objective. There’s always a beautiful story behind the scares. That’s the kind of film I wanted to make. That’s the kind of story you also see in films such as The Orphanage or Let The Right One In. In recent years, I loved Jordan Peele’s Get Out. It had a socio-political commentary running throughout the film, as an undertone, and the horror layer was built on top of that. I found it fascinating. But I think when it comes to horror films, no one can beat the Japanese. Their entire approach to horror, the way they use atmospherics, the languid pace of their films — which in turn makes the audience restless and frightened, both at the same time — oh, there’s nothing to beat a Japanese horror film. Years ago, I had watched a Japanese film called Dark Water, and I remember I hadn’t been able to sleep for several nights after watching the film.
Indian literature has always had a rich tradition of horror and supernatural fiction. In your own state, right from Tagore to Satyajit Ray, almost every veteran has written fantastic horror stories. Have you ever considered adapting a story for the screen?
Oh yes, we have a rich tradition of horror stories in the Bengali culture. Authors such as Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Sunil Gangopadhyay are my favourite. Satyajit Ray has written some amazing horror stories as well. At some point of time in the future, I would definitely love to adapt one of their stories. But as I said, I would love to have atmospherics in my film, rather than cheap thrills and jump scares. And the stories by these veteran authors are all about atmospherics.
In general, what is your opinion about the much talked about ‘content crisis’ in the Hindi film industry today?
There’s absolutely no doubt about the fact that it does exist. A living proof of that is the kind of films we make, as against the sheer number of films we make. And I know it for a fact that it does exist because not too long ago, I was doing the rounds of the city myself, going from one producer’s office to another, trying to get my own film made. So, I know. I have first-hand experience of how difficult it is for a writer or a filmmaker to have his or her story noticed by the people who take these decisions. Hopefully, as we go along, that will change, and only when that happens, we will be able to address this content crisis.
You make your debut with a production house that is known to support fresh ideas and new talent. What has the journey been like?
I have been very fortunate, I feel – to have such tremendous amount of unconditional support from the folks at Clean Slate Films. To have the kind of creative freedom that a filmmaker seeks, and to have such faith in his or her vision, especially when there’s so much riding on that vision – that takes a lot of guts and courage to do. I felt right at home, and I have to thank Karnesh for making me feel that way. Also, I have to mention Anushka – she had so much faith in my vision, that even when I told her that we need to go to this remote location in the outskirts of Kolkata and shoot in the middle of these bamboo groves, she agreed in an instant. For an A-lister star to back a debut director in this manner – it is very, very heartening and encouraging.
As a filmmaker, where do you go from here? What can viewers expect next from you?
A lot of that depends on how Pari does. I do have a number of ideas that I would like to take forward. But one thing that I can tell you is that I would not want to repeat myself. As a creative person, I would like to explore other genres, tell various kinds of stories.
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