After starring opposite Anushka Sharma in Pari, Parambrata Chatterjee shares his take on horror films made in India with Suranjana Biswas
What was your first reaction when you were offered the role?
The casting guy called up and asked me to meet him. Since I was travelling to Bombay anyway, I agreed. I was taken straight to the narration. I was very confused and then they said that they wanted me on board. Things were finalised after only a couple of meetings.
What was the brief for the character/story given to you?
Prosit (Roy) wanted to build Arnab, my character in the film, as a recluse. He is a recluse who has built a façade which he uses to function in the outer world. Deep down, he is a loner who just wants to be with himself. That’s just how he has been… socially awkward. And that’s one of the reasons he took a liking to this girl, Ruksana (Anushka Sharma), who is socially awkward as well. Somebody who is socially proactive with a social circle or someone who has a lot of friends would really feel for or understand Ruksana. He made this clear to me at the outset.
Most of the film has been shot in Kolkata. Did that make you more comfortable while shooting?
No, I am comfortable shooting anywhere in the world. I have shot in America, studied in London, I have shot in Dhaka, and I have done a lot of work in Bombay. So the location doesn’t have anything to do with my work.
Are you personally fond of the horror genre? Did you take any inspiration from the films that you have grown up watching?
I come from a very educated family; both my parents were film critics. Horror doesn’t really qualify as a rich genre. Not many famous films are from the horror space, you would not hear of Federico Fellini making a horror film. There are some people like Polanski or Altman who have tried horror, which qualified as a refined genre only after directors like Altman, Kubrick and Polanski started making horror films.
I have always been inclined towards the supernatural; I have always liked reading supernatural stories. Bengalis have a wide variety of stories written around the supernatural theme. I like imaginative horror and never really liked Evil Dead and stuff like that. That has never really been my kind of thing. I like atmospheric horror like The Shining, although it was quite gruesome. Films by David Lynch are my kind of horror, very psychologically driven. In fact, when Prosit narrated the story to me, I found this to be a very Guillermo del Toro world even though he wasn’t aware of Del Toro. I have reasonably been a fan of the horror genre.
Do you feel the horror genre needs to be explored more in India?
When it comes to this genre, India has been kind of looked down upon it. I am getting this a lot from people… that Pari has redefined the horror genre. It can also be beautifully shot; it can be made very atmospheric; it can have a very concrete storyline, going beyond people being possessed.
Horror tends to follow a template, where a woman gets possessed by an evil spirit And this becomes the rest of the story. In the case of Pari, every character is well etched, very human and every character has its own arc till the end. Earlier, we tried to include everything inside a horror film while keeping the Indian audience in mind… like singing and dancing, a bit of fighting and so on!
I think in the post-Netflix era, post-Amazon era, there is a certain audience which knows what to expect from horror films. They don’t want to watch song sequences shot in Mauritius in a spy thriller! Earlier, the Indian audience wanted something like this, why else would you have to watch a dance sequence in a well-crafted spy thriller? I have watched films like this but the genre has evolved a lot since then.
What was it like to work with Anushka Sharma? How did you break the ice?
We did a workshop for almost ten days. That helped us get comfortable with each other. Of course, she is a big star. She is also a very active, engaging and contributing actor and producer. She is always eager to come up with new things. The energy she has is infectious and that helped us. Most of the film is about our characters and so we had to be on the same page with each other.
What has the response been like, after the release of the film?
Oh, I think it has been absolutely fantastic. The reviews have been very good, some haven’t been as kind. But when it comes to the youth, I think the response has been stupendous. My phone hasn’t stopped buzzing. People love our work.
What projects are you looking forward to after Pari?
I have made a film that will release in May and will mark the comeback of Tanuja Mukherjee to Bengali films after almost 40 years. Also, I will be acting in and directing a Bengali comedy soon.