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“Horror films have a superb market world over”

As Mushkil hits theatres, Rajniesh Duggall and debutante Pooja Bisht talk to Team Box Office India about their fascination for the horror genre, shooting in Greece and the various new aspects of the horror genre

Box Office India (BOI): Rajniesh, you started your Hindi film career with 1920. Post that, we saw you in a slew of other horror films. What is it about this genre that fascinates you?

Rajniesh Duggall (RD): I have done a lot of films based on supernatural elements. I have done a lot of thrillers including romantic thrillers and a couple of films on karma, past life and reincarnation. Mushkil is my third horror film. There was 1920 and Saansein before this. It has to do with me liking something about the darker side of life. I like to know about souls; it intrigues me. If a simple love story and a slightly darker one are given to me, I will probably pick up the latter. Maybe there is some pichle jaanam ka naata there.

BOI: Since you are intrigued by the spirit world, have you ever used the Ouija board?

RD: No, I haven’t but I feel that I can sense the presence of some kind of energy in a room or gauge the energy of an area. The space that we are now in is pretty clean now that I have arrived here (Laughs).

Pooja Bisht (PB): It is getting a little filmi now! (Laughs)

RD: I am playing a ghost buster and exorcist in Mushkil. That is what intrigued me about the film. I was restricting myself from doing horror films and I thought that I would do one only if a very different role, like something that I have not done before, comes my way. In films like 1920 and Saansein, I have played a victim. In those films, my girlfriend or my wife gets possessed by an evil spirit. In Mushkil, I am the savior. My character has the power and strength to talk to souls, gauge them and control them. I found that very interesting. That is why I became part of Mushkil.

BOI: Pooja, what about you? Are you equally fond of this genre?

PB: I am a big time horror lover (Chuckles). I love watching them and now that I finally got to do one, it feels like a dream come true. I have always been a die-hard fan of horror films. Mushkil is a simple story but it has a lot of twists and turns; there is a lot of suspense here. I loved the concept and the treatment of the film.

BOI: What can you tell us about your character?

PB:  My character is that of a small town girl. She is from Benaras. The story transitions from Benaras to Greece. The parts that are set in Benaras uses a bright light and the portions in Greece are gloomy. There is a transition in my character as well. I loved my character because there were two different shades to play around with.

BOI: Pooja, this is your first film. Are you nervous?

PB: No, not exactly. Once the film is made, things are beyond your control. Everything that happens in the film has logic behind it. If you have watched the trailer, you must have noticed that we do not play these larger-than-life characters. It has a realistic treatment. People will be able to connect to it. I’m hoping for the best! 

BOI: And how does Mushkil fit into your idea of a dream debut?

PB: My all-time favourite movie is Namastey London. I would have loved to make my debut with something like that. But as I said that I love horror films, so I am equally happy and thrilled to be marking my debut with his film.

BOI: What sets Mushkil apart from the lot of horror films that have been churned out in our industry in the past?

RD: A lot of time and effort has been put into making this film. They have tried to bring it to a level that is world class as far as the treatment is concerned. I will not say that the story is very unique and out-of-the-box. A horror film is typically about a bunch or a couple of people going to some place and something happening. Or what can happen is that you play with the audience’s mind and toy around with their psyche. But the way our film has been treated, the way the director has directed it and the way in which the producer has supported him with the VFX make this film different. Hopefully the audience will like it. We have also kept the typical Indian formulaic elements in it – there is romance and good music and then there is the classic thrill element which makes it a joyride.

BOI: Many actors face scary experiences when they are shooting for horror films. Did you have any such encounters?

PB: I did! It was 5:00 am in the morning. I was preparing for my shot. We had an early call time…

RD: This is interesting!

BOI: Rajniesh, did you not know about this?

RD: No, I did not. She didn’t tell me.

PB: I never told this to anyone before.

RD: She was waiting for this interview!

PB: It was so funny. I was washing my face and the light in the restroom went off. But the light bulb in the room was still burning. The first thought that came to my mind was that maybe the fuse in the restroom burned out. When I came out, I saw that that the switch of the bulb inside the restroom was turned off. I figured that it got switched off on its own. I froze for a moment. I was wondering if I should go and tell people but then I decided against.

RD: But did it happen again?

PB: Thankfully, it didn’t! If it would have happened again, I would have run away from the set (Everyone laughs).

BOI: Did you experience something?

RD: No, not during this shoot. We shot in such lovely locations! A major portion of the film was shot in Papingo, Greece. Papingo has a lot of rock pools. If you happen to be there during the evening when it is dark, it is very eerie. You will not even have it in you to walk alone. You will constantly feel like there is someone behind you. There is a persistent sound of the river flowing and that renders the whole place an eerie vibe.

BOI: Horror films in India, especially in Hindi cinema, have not been respected enough even though we know there is an audience for them, with Hollywood and other foreign horror films doing so well.

RD: Horror films have got a superb market all over the world. It is still not tapped to the ‘T’ in India. There are a lot of Korean and Chinese films which are way scarier than even Hollywood films. If you look at the horror films made in India, be it Hindi or Tamil, we have a few that have done extremely well and then there are some that have fallen really flat. I do feel that if someone puts in the time and the effort in the VFX, the background technicalities and in the way of shooting it, there will be a lot of scope. People are getting there. Stree has given birth to a new genre, horror-comedy. I heard that there is someone making a musical horror. You need to put in that time and effort to make a good horror film. Today there can be so many different kinds of horror. Beside the cost and recovery, people make a lot of horror films and thrillers because they feel that the recovery is speedy. OTT platforms and satellite get you a lot on money from these genres. Hopefully Mushkil is one of those films.

PB: Horror, as a genre, began to be explored to its full potential in India only recently. The horror films that were made before would be looked down upon. That is why top production houses shied away from making such films. Romance and action thrillers were safer options. You make an action entertainer or a love story using your own experiences. For horror, there is no reference point. Hence it can happen so that it may end up looking funny. So execution is very important. Spooky films require a lot of time and creativity and they should look real. After Mushkil, I’m doing Koka Kola, a horror-comedy.

RD: I’m doing a horror-comedy too. It is called Khalibali.

BOI: Seems like you both are true-blue horror lovers!

RD: I don’t like to watch horror films. I can watch my own films because I already know what is going to happen. It’s just that I hate sleeping with that dark feeling. As a child, I was really bullied by my cousins. They used to force me to watch these ghost films. They used to play films like Kabrastan and Veerana at home and force me to sit in front of the television.

BOI: Veerana is such a classic!

RD: I am sure it is but it used to scare the hell out of me. I’m sure it made a lot of money but I would still not watch it.

PB: I am a pahaadi. So I grew up on a staple diet of this game where one of us would be the ghost and scare the others (Everyone laughs).

BOI: Pooja, what are films or characters that you would really want to do after Mushkil?

PB: I have not planned anything as such. I’m happy with the films that I’m getting because they are such good projects. I used to love watching horror films and I got to act in one with my first film itself. I am doing a Marathi film with Mukta Arts called Vijeta where I am playing a boxer. It is all about these opportunities. I want to do characters that I relate to.

BOI: Any plans of venturing into the digital space now that it is the order of the day?

RD: I’ll be doing a web series. I’ll start shooting for it by October end.

PB: I’m doing a digital film. Digital is the next big thing.

RD: I would say that it is already dominating in the urban cities. I don’t see people recharging their Tata Sky boxes, they would rather have their phones equipped with OTT platforms.

BOI: Rajniesh, it has been more than a decade for you in the industry. How would you look back at your transition from the ramp to the big screen?

RD: I feel there’s still so much in me. I want to work with good directors and there is so much scope today to do different and newer things. It feels like the beginning. I also have certain things in my mind that I would want to do. I’m moving towards them. There are films on sports and patriotism that I plan to do.

BOI: What are your expectations from this film?

RD: Mushkil is a full-on commercial, horror film. It has got the correct mix of romance, music and horror. It has Kunaal (Roy Kapur) and I. Kunaal has a comedy and urban market; I have a horror market. There are four girls in this film – Pooja, Nazia (Hussain), Archana (Shastry) and Shafaq (Naaz). I believe that Mushkil will be a good film for the producer, it will earn good money. Anything that does well benefits the actors. We really want the film to do well. We need all the support from our audience.

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