The lead pair of 1921 – Zareen Khan and Karan Kundra – in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: What response have you been receiving to the trailer and songs of your film 1921?
Zareen Khan (ZK): I think everyone has noticed how tremendously amazing the response has been. We are happy with the way people love the trailer and songs. We are completely overwhelmed.
Karan Kundra (KK): As Zareen said, it was amazing. The trailer was trending at number one for a long time and the kind of comments, likes and messages we are getting in response to it is overwhelming. I was driving somewhere yesterday and I was stopped by these young boys who told me how much they loved the trailer. It feels very good because it is my first full-fledged film.
BOI: Zareen, this is the first horror film you have done and Karan, it is your second. What kind of preparation went into your roles?
KK: I did try my hand at some piano lessons because my role is that of a pianist in the film. I wanted to figure out more about this art but I couldn’t get it all done. When we were shooting on location for the songs, Krishna, who is Vikram (Bhatt) sir’s daughter, used to teach me some things because she is very good at playing the piano. She is also very strict when it comes to that. So, yes, I did get some prep done for the role but not completely.
ZK: The movie is set in 1921, so the look and our characters are from that era. I think people in that era were much simpler than they are today. Thanks to this movie, I also learnt that people back then felt very deeply and differently about things.
There wasn’t really anything I had to prepare before going on the set. The only homework I was able to do before 1921 was to watch other good horror films. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that as I am very scared of this genre. Luckily, we had Vikram sir as our director and that’s why we didn’t have to do much prep before the movie began.
He was always around on the set and helped me a lot. He has taught me a lot of things that will help me go a long way in my acting career. He taught me some tricks about acting, dialogue delivery, using your pitch in a certain way, etc. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to work with him.
BOI: Zareen, Vikram Bhatt said that when he started the film, he thought of you as a star but now you’re a friend. How did this transformation take place?
ZK: My God! Vikram sir called me a star! But, yes, he is definitely a friend now and it’s a God-level friendship (Laughs). That’s an inside joke. But jokes apart, I have always been a fan of Vikram sir’s work. When I watched Raaz, I was in school and was awestruck by the terror it struck in me. So I was ecstatic when I got a call for this film, a message actually, where he said he wanted to narrate this story to me. The idea of working with Vikram sir was overwhelming. When I went for the narration and he shared the story of 1921 with me, I knew it was something I had to be a part of. I could never say ‘no’ to a script like this. Before we started the film, he was ‘the’ Vikram Bhatt for me, a serious personality who doesn’t say much. But when I started working with him, I discovered that he was the most chilled-out, amazing person I know. You can have a conversation with him about anything under the sun. I love that about him and I think that is why we have become such good friends.
BOI: And, Karan, what about your association with the director?
KK: I have worked with Vikram sir for a while in a film called Horror Story. That film was produced by him but when we were shooting for it, he took ill and he couldn’t complete the movie. So this is my first film with him as a director and as somebody who is teaching us. His vision is very, very clear. The way he brings everybody onto the same page… me, Zareen, the DOP, the ADs, just everybody… it was that much easier for us to understand what we were doing and why we were doing it. So, yes, we have learnt quite a lot from him. It is not just acting or the art of making a film, that is obvious, but also just some things about life because his perspective to it is great. He is a fabulous story-teller.
ZK: (Cuts in) He has an ocean of knowledge. He knows something about everything.
KK: Also, he was very good at just catching us when anybody fell down. There are days when there’s something bothering you but you don’t show it when you are on the set. But Vikram sir would notice and ask, ‘Kya hua? Is everything fine?’ He would also tell us exactly what was going on in our heads, which was great!
ZK: (Cuts in) And a little freaky too (Laughs).
KK: Yes, absolutely. This is why it felt as if we were one big family.
ZK: We were away for, like, two months in the United Kingdom, in a place called Bradford, which is Lonavala for Londoners. Two months went by in a blink and we didn’t realise what a great film we had made in the process. Credit for this goes to Vikram sir because he kept everyone in peace and harmony, and everyone’s spirits up.
KK: We had a lot of fun. Every day was a new story. Vikram sir seems to be this serious sort of person but his comic timing, his sense of humour, is amazing.
ZK: We found ourselves telling him, ‘Sir, please ek comedy film bana lo.’ But he totally shot down the idea.
BOI: What is your connection to horror films? Zareen, how difficult is it for you to be a part of horror movies since you don’t like them?
ZK: It’s not that I don’t like horror films; I just get really scared after watching them. I usually get sleepless nights after watching a horror movie. The last scary film I saw was Annabelle, which was tolerable but before that, I watched The Conjuring and I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t go to the bathroom alone, couldn’t wash my face with my eyes shut because I thought that if I closed my eyes, the ghost would come.
KK: I am actually a horror film buff. When we started shooting, we were doing shots with the fun, wild and scary things you see in the trailer. There was this girl who had this crazy hair and make-up and with whom we had to shoot. And before every take, Zareen would be, like, this is not really happening, this is not real, etc. (Laughs). It was very cute.
ZK: Yes, I did that a lot because I was scared to look at her.
BOI: From what we see in the trailer, Karan, even you have a few scenes which could scare people.
KK: Yes, I do. But, luckily, I didn’t have to use any make-up. For all my scary shots, my ‘horror face’ was worked on during post-production. After a while, we were so used to shooting in weird places, at weird times and all that, we were, like, okay, theek hai, it’s all good.
BOI: Do you personally believe in the supernatural?
ZK: I do and maybe that is why I get so scared.
KK: I do as well but I am not all that superstitious. I believe in the universe, in energies. I don’t know if that is ‘supernatural’. I have heard a lot of stories but have never encountered anything like that.
ZK: In Mumbai, we are unable to see ghosts. Even if they are around us, they look like people. But, in rural areas, we hear so many stories of ghosts. In these places, there are far fewer people and people spot ghosts every now and then. So I am sure it’s true.
KK: Every culture includes the concept of supernatural beings, so there is a good chance they exist.
BOI: There was a time when horror movies included a strong element of erotica but the trend is diminishing. What is your take on this?
ZK: I believe the erotica element is dying because people can get those same thrills elsewhere and at the click of a button. Right now, the audience is sticking to what is working without erotic scenes. It is beneficial not only to viewers but also to filmmakers who are trying to make honest movies. I am happy that this will force people to stick to the genre they are trying to make rather than trying to mix stuff.
KK: I think filmmakers used erotica in horror films to lure movie-goers to cinemas.
ZK: (Cuts In) Yes, now the audience is smart and they don’t fall for things like that.
KK: Movies have become very real and believable because people are watching quality cinema from all over the place. Content is coming back.
BOI: What other challenges did you encounter while shooting the movie?
ZK: Actually, for me, the whole film was a challenge. I am so deadly scared of this genre but I play a ghost whisperer, a person who sees spirits. It was difficult and I remember a conversation with Vikram Bhatt sir, where I told him that every day, before coming on the sets, I used to be worried about the fact that I didn’t know how to do this. But every day, he managed to get it done. I am so happy that we have such a nice product now.
KK: Another big challenge for, not just me but everyone was that Zareen would crack up all the time. You give her a serious scene and she would crack up. We weren’t laughing out loud but it was so hard to control ourselves… our eyes would show how bad the person doing the scene with her wanted to just laugh out loud.
BOI: People wrongly believe that this film is a sequel to or a part of the 1920 franchise.
ZK: No, it is not. 1921 is a new film. It is a new franchise that we are trying to start and we might have sequels in future.
BOI: Does being compared to the previous 1920 films add pressure?
ZK: People absolutely love comparisons. Even if the films have nothing to do with each other, they will find something to compare them. That is their passion so we should not take it away from them.
KK: I don’t think it is entirely unfair to compare both films and I don’t think they will be disappointed. 1920 was also Vikram sir’s baby but it has been a decade since that film released and the difference between the size of the two projects is obvious. Cinema was very different then.
BOI: Speaking about progress in Bollywood… what is your opinion on the development in VFX and how important do you think it is for a horror film?
ZK: It is very important. If the VFX is not good, then horror can look funny and we don’t want that.
KK: People are primarily coming to watch a supernatural, horror movie. They want to get the chills, and they have high expectations after being exposed to content from all over the world. The audience will not accept a poor job. Hence, the VFX has to be great.
BOI: What was it like working together for the first time?
KK: We hadn’t even met each other before except for, like, five minutes in Georgia.
ZK: Yes, it was just, like, ‘Hi, my name is Karan Kundra.’ That’s it.
KK: I had already started shooting for 1921 but I hadn’t met Zareen because she was travelling then. We first met on the first day of her shoot, on the set. Surprisingly, it worked as far as the chemistry is concerned. Zareen is a very cool, chilled-out person. She doesn’t come across as one of those style divas.
ZK: I can talk. I can talk so much that I can make anyone else talk too (Laughs).
KK: Yes, Zareen, we already know that. But I didn’t think we needed to break the ice because she is a very warm person.
ZK: Before I met Karan, I had only seen him on TV and thought he was a very serious person. And I avoid serious people because I don’t know what to do. When I met him, I saw a fun side to him and thought, ‘Arre, yeh toh apne jaisa hi hai.’ We had a great time on and off the set. It was a blast.
BOI: There are two other films – Mukkabaaz and Kaalakaandi – also releasing on the same day as your film. Do you think the clash will affect the business of 1921?
ZK: All the genres are very different from each other. I am very positive about our film because people enjoy watching horror and look forward to it because we make only a few films in this genre in our country. And the audience always will not miss a horror movie made by Vikram Bhatt as he has made it his brand.
KK: I feel the same way. There is a great market for our film which, other than horror, also has other angles like a love story. The trailer and songs suggest that the film is very different from the other films releasing along with it. Being a part of this industry, we should want all the films to do well because eventually everyone is growing.
BOI: You are starting 2018 with an interesting project. What else is in store for next year?
ZK: The new year will start with a bang, with 1921. After that, we are very likely going to be doing another film with Vikram Bhatt sir.
KK: We have basically forced him to do it.
ZK: Yes, we have already decided where we want to shoot it. Everything, from the food to the basic necessities, has been planned by us (Laughs). I am starting another film early next year with Mr Anupam Kher, where he plays a judge and I am a cop.
KK: Nothing for me as such, but I really want our reunion film to happen.