1920 London lead actors Sharman Joshi, Meera Chopra along with Aditya Chowksey, Domestic National Distribution Head-Reliance Entertainment and Sameer Chopra, Head of Marketing-Reliance Entertainment, tell Team Box Office India about their upcoming film and why the horror genre has immense potential
Box Office India (BOI): Let’s start with you, Sharman… what made you sign a horror film?
Sharman Joshi (SJ): Vikram (Bhatt) told me they were planning a supernatural thriller and asked me if I would be interested. He said it was the third instalment of the 1920 franchise. I said it was a successful franchise and I would love to do it. I didn’t have any reservations about it being a supernatural thriller. Vikram narrated the story briefly and I thought it was a great concept. Generally, this genre doesn’t allow you to do much as an actor, but the story was so well written and it would have been exciting for me to play this character, which is very complex and has many shades. Since it was very challenging, I jumped right in.
BOI: The film is the third instalment of a successful series. Were you apprehensive of being part of the franchise?
SJ: No, you feel you have already hit the jackpot even before the film starts to roll. It already has loyal fans and commands a market, thanks to its reputation. This becomes a big advantage for any actor who gets involved.
Aditya Chowksey (AC): I would like to add that when you watch the film, you realise that the film has a great role for him. The journey of his character is superb. It has a number of shades, with a lot of twists and turns. The script required an actor like Sharman. Rather, we needed a competent actor like him to do it.
SJ: Thank you. So, yes, effectively, it is a big plus. It is a time of franchises and one has to therefore put in that much less effort in terms of reaching out to the audience because the film already carries goodwill. I don’t mean to compare this instalment with earlier ones but, in terms of production, the third instalment has gone up several notches. It looks absolutely fabulous, and even though it is a supernatural film, it has some breathtaking shots.
Although many films are now shot in the UK, I think credit should go to our cinematographer Prakash (Kutty) and of course Tinu (Suresh Desai, director) for bringing in that edge to the location and making it look gorgeous. In addition, it is complemented by a very intense love story. This was the brief we were all given by Vikram – to go out and shoot a great love story. It is a lovely story.
AC: The script has several layers. As Sharman mentioned, it is not only about the supernatural element; the film has romance, revenge and some fabulous performances. Many films have been shot in London but I am sure no other film has shown the 1920 era that Tinu has identified in the film. That is a major plus. Not only the locations but also from the VFX point of view, this film is different.
BOI: The film has been directed by a newcomer. Were there any concerns about that?
SJ: Yes, but when you have a talented person like Vikram writing the story and him supporting Tinu, you can rest assured. Vikram is extremely talented, we all know that, and he is extremely knowledgeable and experienced. So if he has spotted talent that he is backing, you know he will deliver. Tinu lived up to our expectations, and more. The kind of passion he has and the fact that he really works hard is further fuelled by the fact that he is talented. Also, Tinu has spent many years in the business. He has assisted many leading directors and yet he has his own distinct way of operating, which is very apparent and you know he is not being influenced.
This is a director’s medium in the first place, and the director’s role is even more crucial in the supernatural genre, including, like I mentioned, locations and production values because the moment you get the setting right, everything else falls in place. In 1920 London, the era itself has been established so well. As an actor, when I walked into that space, I could feel it, I didn’t really need to add much because all the other aspects were already taken care of. So, yes, it’s a job well done.
BOI: Meera, how were you approached for the role and what made you sign the film?
Meera Chopra (MC): Vikram and I wanted to work together for a very long time. Earlier, we had shared a lot of scripts and when he called me for 1920 London, he said, ‘I think this is a tailor-made role for you and something you have always wanted to do.’ He called me to his office and Tinu narrated the script and I had every reason to say yes. There was no reason for me to say no.
I was getting to work with a brilliant actor, Vikram was writing the script, it was a hit franchise and Tinu was extremely clear about his vision during the narration. I had a very strong role; it was not that I was playing a small role in a big movie. I play a Rajasthani princess who gets married in London and something goes wrong in her family. So it is her quest to save her family. It is very different from the other horror films that we see. It has a very beautiful love story. I am very confident of what we have shot.
AC: (Cuts in) All the angles of the story are very well defined in the film.
BOI: Why do you think producers and corporate houses shy away from the horror genre?
AC: Horror in India or even worldwide has its own audience. Speaking of 1920 London, if we get the promo right, we already have a great star cast, a fabulous story and Sameer (Chopra) is doing a very good job with the marketing. So I am assured of a decent number at least on day one. We have had many horror films in the past doing great business as well. Our cost of production is under control. So keeping that in mind, we don’t need big numbers to achieve ‘hit’ status. For me, 1920 London looks like a safe bet. Maybe they don’t understand the economics of filmmaking. (Laughs)
Sameer Chopra (SC): Well, it is an underrated genre and it has such incredible potential. As a genre, even globally and in Hollywood, it is one of those genres where the return on investment is huge. But it is all about about going forward and taking those little chances. 1920 London has everything going for it. It has a loyal fan base, it is a successful franchise, it has a great cast and everything has come together so beautifully.
MC: And I think, right now, our audience is hungry for a good horror film.
SC: Yes, I agree, a horror film should scare you and once we start delivering films like that, things will start to change.
BOI: When you market a horror film, is the strategy different?
SC: First, we are super excited about 1920 London as there is an existing fan base. Our job actually becomes tougher because we have to live up to expectations. So, one of the few things we are doing differently – and I agree with you that we need to do things a little differently – is going back in time and getting the Gumnaam hai koi song that became an engine to the whole campaign. We started with that as opposed to just putting out the dialogue and spooky promos. We went with the popular song first and the reactions that we are receiving online are pretty incredible.
Besides that, soon, Sharman and Meera will be going to places which are actually haunted or are rumoured to have supernatural forces at play. These visits will be covered by the media and we will broadcast them on shows which cater to an audience that watches horror films or shows. We are actually breaking the template here as opposed to regular interviews, which obviously you will do but at the same time customise shows like this.
Besides, we have some amazing marketing and promotion partnerships with Reliance Communication, which will be pushing co-branded content on their platform. Our another partner, Micromax, is pushing the material on the digital front, directly to mobile phones. These are some of the initiatives we are taking. As we go forward, you will see a lot more.
AC: Sameer and his team have won the first round with superbly designed posters and putting out the first trailer.
MC: We have 3 million views already.
BOI: You have been in the distribution space for three decades. According to you, which are the hot circuits for the horror genre?
AC: I wouldn’t use the word ‘circuit’; I would call it a pan-India audience. Nowadays, people find it difficult to make films keeping in mind the interests of people across India. So they make films targeted at a certain section of the audience. But ours is a universal film. The first two 1920 films did very well all over India and I am hoping this one follows that trend.
BOI: What about the overseas market?
SC: Overseas, there are certain markets we are going to open and we are looking at different marketing plans too.
BOI: Keeping that in mind, what kind of marketing strategies do you use when you are distributing a film to the overseas market?
SC: The overseas market reacts in pretty much the same way as the Indian market does because the audience is more or less the same. Give or take a few, depending on the genre of the film, the fact that once a buzz is generated here, it travels to the overseas market and tends to replicate all the activation we do here as we start populating our individual pieces overseas.
Luckily for us, Sharman will be in Dubai when the film releases. It is in two forms – one, we export all the material from here and show that enough of a buzz has been generated for the overseas market, and two, house talent is available to go abroad, which is what happened in this case. And backed by communication, it penetrates even further.
BOI: Sharman, you are known to choose films of different genres, whether it is comedy, multi-starrers or experimental films and even erotic thrillers with your last release Hate Story 3.
SJ: I want to be part of commercial films, and I hope that every film I do is commercially successful. Sure, you cannot get it right all the time but there was never a sense of experimenting because I believe that a film has to be entertaining. It may be out-of-the-box and all that but, at the end of the day, when you step out of the cinema, you should feel entertained and be convinced that the film was worth your money and time. This genre is very underrated and I believe it holds immense potential. It is just a matter of the time before filmmakers start exploring it further. There are a few fine films like Ram Gopal Varma’sBhoot.
AC: There were also films like Raaz, Haunted, Ragini MMS…
SJ: Yes, if so films like these are made, more filmmakers will dare to take it on. For me, it is a no-brainer; it is a genre that not many are attempting . So I am more than happy to attempt it because I feel that there is an audience out there. We just need to reach out to them with the right thing.
BOI: Long gone are the days when horror films were just about creaky doors and spooky mahals. What is the way forward?
SC: The film has to be backed by an engaging and engrossing story.
AC: Like comedy films make you laugh, horror films should really scare you.
SJ: (Cuts in) Special effects, technique…
AC: First, the VFX shots should come organically from the story. Forced emotions never work, whether comedy or action or horror. If there is a definite story, everything else will follow. So we are banking on the story and some great performances in this film.
SJ: Fortunately for us, technical advances have made things much easier for filmmakers. They are also cost-effective and yet you can create special effects that are very impactful. That is a definite plus.
AC: Horror is the only genre that has done very well in multiplexes as well as in single screens. It is the only thing that does well, from Nariman Point to Bihar.
BOI: What was the idea behind reviving the Gumnaam song?
SC: The interesting thing is that we are pushing the song at the theatrical level. Usually, we only push trailers but with this, we are also pushing our song at the theatrical level so it establishes the horror genre very effectively. We are doing things a little differently.
AC: This week, our song-trailer is being played in cinemas all over, only the Gumnaam song.
SC: We have actually cut and created capsules of the Gumnaam hai koisong specifically for the theatrical audience.
AC: That song has great haunting value.
SC: It is not part of the narrative of the film, it is a hardcore marketing tool as we needed something to convey the horror feel. And what better song then Gumnaam hai koi? It is one of the most memorable horror songs and has great recall value.