Team Ghost - Director Vikram Bhatt and lead actors Sanaya Irani and Shivam Bhaargava, talk to Manisha Karki about the making of the film, the eerie experience while shooting and what sets it apart from other horror films
Vikram, you have mastered the art when it comes to horror films and you always come up with something new. How did the idea of this Ghost come about?
Vikram Bhatt (VB): All the films that I have made in this genre have been love stories or period horror films like 1920. This is the first time I’ve made something based on a true story. I was researching something and I came across this case called ‘the devil made me do it’ case. It was about a man called Arne Johnson, who apparently murdered his landlord. And then his defence in court was that ‘I didn’t do it. The devil made me do it. I was possessed.’ Of course, the judge threw out the case because he found it ridiculous. But I didn’t find it ridiculous because I love spirits. So I thought it was a fascinating idea. What if someone is framed for murder and the spirit has actually done it. How are you going to prove in court? This whole the legal system versus supernatural was fascinating. And that’s why Ghost is really different than what I’ve made for.
Sanaya and Shivam, how did you come on board for the film? What was your reaction when you heard the plot and about your character?
Sanaya Irani (SI): When I was reading it I was like, ‘what’s the issue with her?’ But it was a very challenging part for an actor to play. Also, it is the guy who usually saves the girl and here I felt like the hero of the film. Vikram sir was entrusting me with this character. He believes that I can carry this on my shoulders. He’s giving it to me and saying that she’ll be the hero of my film. So there was no way I could say no.
Shivam Bhaargava (SB): I was sitting at home when Vikram sir’s casting director got in touch with me. When I spoke with sir, and he told me about it, I was blown away, because there’s so much to the story. I have grown up watching horror movies, I love horror movies. It’s always really nice when there’s a horror movie that actually has a story to it and not just dumb skills. So when I heard that I was immediately on board.
What challenges did you face while making Ghost?
VB: When you are actually directing a horror film on the set, it’s very different because there is no dialogue. There are just the lighting and the camera and you’re taking shots. The crew really finds it boring because you are just working and working and working. But you need to keep the final shape of the film in mind when you’re shooting. The basic challenge if you’re making a comedy film is when are jokes good and everybody in the crew laughs. Or when you’re doing an emotional scene, everybody in the crew is really moved. But in a horror film, everything is done in post-production. So that’s the biggest challenge. The spirit is never there because that’s special effects. So there is a pole and the heroine is getting scared of that. So basically, you don’t get to gauge what you’re doing on set. You generally see bored faces and you have to keep your strength through that boredom and say, ‘No, Vikram, you got it, don’t worry, they’ll still be scared in the end, even if they’re bored’. So I think that’s the biggest challenge. And in the case of Ghost, the challenge I think was also the weather. We were shooting in very cold temperatures. As a matter of fact, there was one location where we were doing the climax. It was below zero degrees and we were shooting nights.
SI: Pretty much what Vikram said, there is one pole and I am getting scared. For me, my VFX was Vikram. He would keep complete silence on the set. He would make scary sounds and how nice was it of him to do that! I was reacting to all of this. So he made that challenge easy. But I just cannot handle the cold. And most challenging for me was the character. I feel initially I just didn’t get the character. I didn’t understand what Vikram sir wanted from me. But I’ve said this in multiple interviews that it is he who really nurtured the character of Simran Singh. He nurtured me as well to get into it I couldn’t have done this without him.
SB: I think more than anything it is just that our personalities were so different from our characters. So it wasn’t exactly a challenge but at the same time, we really had to believe in the character to get into it. And of course, there was the weather.
You are working with each other for the first time. How was your experience working together?
SI: It’s not my first time with Vikram sir. I did a web series called Zindabad and he was my co-actor. But with him (Shivam) it was my first time.
SB: Honestly we were just like a house on fire. We were always laughing, always jumping about, we were like children. Our characters in the film are super mature. It was my first time working with Vikram sir and it was really great because he’s very clear about what he wants. While we were on set, it was all business and when we would have a lunch break then we’d have our conversations. He’d tell us about his stories from other films.
What should the audience expect from this film?
SB: I think they should go with an open mind because this is definitely a scary movie. It’s a horror movie, but it’s also got a story to tell.
VB: For me, the final test is when my boss Mahesh Bhatt sees my film. Because I show him the film last when I have gained confidence from everybody else. Then I call him and he sees it. Whenever he sees it, I’m tensed because I’ve been an assistant and he doesn’t mince his words. If it’s bad, he’ll walk out halfway. He says, ‘Bad. Shut this bloody shit movie.’ And he says ‘I love you. I don’t have to love your films. I don’t have to like your work to like you.’ But when he saw Ghost and he came up and said, ‘It’s a very good film. I love this girl’s character. She’s so complex and she’s so wonderful. And I’m feeling so sorry for her.’ He asked, ‘Why do you have that song in the climax?’ So I gave him the reason for it. But he said that he did not like it. ‘Go change it’, he said. He said it’s boring. I ran and got it changed. I took the song out and then remarkably it made the end sparkle. So for me, it’s the Censor and the boss these two people have to pass the film. So one certificate we have got and now the Censor is left.
Any interesting incidents that happened during the shoot?
VB: We were shooting the climax with two English actors. We didn’t know that one of them was a medium (to communicate with spirits). We were shooting the climax at an old asylum. He tells me that he’s looking at the staircase and he’s telling me there’s a woman looking at us. So I’m looking for a woman but I can’t see her. He said, she is a spirit and she wants this place. I asked him what her name is. He said her name is Rebecca. I didn’t believe him so I sent my line producers and to find out about her and it turned out he was right. And that was the scary part. 100 years back that place was actually a hostel. There was a matron there by the name of Rebecca. And it was not on the internet. It was not anywhere. There was no way that guy could have found out. That was I think one of the eeriest experiences not scary but eerie. Other than that we heard what you call the usual suspects.
You have made films as well as web shows so how different it is making a web series vis-a-vis making a film? How different are these two spaces?
VB: Not really different. I think the only thing is that in a web series, you have fewer chances of going wrong because you have a longer time to actually shape the nuances of the story. You can allow the story to meander a bit. You are allowed some extra tracks. You allowed some extra characters, even if they don’t lead up to the end. There is a lot of exploring that you can do with the characters and the story. But the expectations out of a film have become huge these days. And that also has got to do a lot with the ticket prices. A web series comes out asking almost nothing from the audience, and the whole family can see it if you cast it on TV. But as far as films are concerned, for an average family, it would cost almost `2000. That makes them more demanding because the more they pay for the ticket, the more they want as value for the money they pay. So you have to give them more tangible entertainment.
What’s next for you?
SI: I’m hoping that after Ghost we’ll have better content coming my way. There’s a lot of what I like on the web, and obviously in films. But again, the web is exploding with content. And I can’t just do anything that comes my way; I need to pick the good projects. And if that means I need to sit and wait it out and have somebody like Vikram sir believe in me, then I think I will wait.
VB: I will make some prediction. I think both Shivam and Sanaya are going to be really in demand on October 19, one day after the release, if not on 18th night. Because I believe both of them have done well. The world has known Sanaya as a good actor. She’s been a top star on TV and so I think she’s being a little humble at this point of time. Shivam has done the role really well. He doesn’t know that as yet. He is still a little child in a candy shop. He hasn’t seen the dark side of the moon. But I don’t think he will after the film because it takes a lot of courage as an actor to do a film like Ghost where the actress is saving you and you are not being the hero and saving her instead. And it takes great maturity to know that a film is a film. I think it’s very brave of the boy. I have never told him this. But I wish him a great future. Not that I don’t wish her the same but because it’s his first and anybody who’s doing their first film, my heart goes out to them. So I wish him the best from the bottom of my heart.