Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], January 14 (ANI): Producer Nehal Pal, along with writer-director husband Virat Pal, has been working in the horror genre for the last three years now, getting a lot of recognition for their two short films, 'The Bells' and 'Facelift'.The duo's first horror short film 'The Bells' was a viral hit on YouTube, raking in more than 5.7 million views.
And their follow-up 'Facelift' played in a host of incredible genre festivals worldwide and has since garnered a big following online too.
In this interview, Nehal Pal discusses her eclectic background in the media industry, her plans for their future projects and her goals of establishing a horror film landscape in India.
- Could you briefly describe your cinematic journey so far? And what are your future plans?Like any 90s kid in India, I grew up on a steady diet of Bollywood films, loving all the usual romantic musicals and family dramas that were released during that time. But even though I loved watching those films then, and if can be honest, still retain a soft spot for them in my heart today, a part of me always yearned for something more. Something that was unique, different.
Stories that would challenge me as well as thrill me. Initially, that itch was scratched by books. Being a voracious reader in my teens I would devour all the classic authors, just getting lost in the immersive world they would create.
Everyone from Roald Dahl to Sidney Sheldon, to of course JK Rowling, to name a few. But it was only in college, when I met Virat, my husband, was when I properly got exposed to a different kind of cinema, films from every genre, from every corner of the world and that's when one can say, my real passion for films developed and my cinematic journey began. Though, it did take a few years to get there.
After college, being a journalism major, I did a stint in Times Now as a graphics producer for 3 years. Post which I joined a public relations firm where I worked for another couple of years. Even though these were really exciting opportunities, and big learning experiences, especially in the field of media, I realised over time that my calling was something else. And on the urging of my husband Virat decided to dive completely into my passion for cinema and make it my profession.
Three years, two film certificates from UCLA and a plethora of projects later, I can finally say I'm living my passion. Virat and I have currently been working on developing a few horror projects in India, one of which is a Horror Film that we will be announcing soon. Our aim is to tell relatable Indian stories, stories that are local to our experiences and culture but with a Hollywood style detail and execution.
- What drew you towards the 'horror' genre? Is it your penchant towards such films or do you just plan to cater to the needs and interests of the audience?It is a bit of both actually. To tell you the truth, I was terrified of watching horror films till about 2017. While growing up I had watched the classics like 'The Shining', 'Jaws', 'Halloween', 'Nightmare on Elm Street' and such and would even occasionally watch the likes of 'Mama', 'The Conjuring' and 'IT' in the early 2010s (more than half of it with my eyes closed). But it was only after Virat and I got married and I moved to Los Angeles that I truly developed a great deal of interest in the genre.
For the first 6 months of our marriage, Virat made me watch one horror film a night and helped expand my perspective on the genre. We watched movies from all around the world from Japanese to Spanish horror and the more I watched these films, the more I realized how horror was being used by filmmakers all over the world to talk about larger, contemporary issues in an entertaining manner.
Indian audiences, especially the youth, today have built a fantastic appetite for horror films and TV series, thanks to films like 'The Conjuring', 'The Quiet Place' and 'Parasite' as well as TV series like 'Haunting of Hill House', 'Stranger Things' etc.
We want to cater to that taste and give them stories from India, that are more relatable and current, all carrying a certain specific social message. That's where I feel the previous filmmakers have faltered. 'Horror' is one such genre that is so flexible that you get to explore all kinds of rich themes and deeper ideas and present them in a fun and compelling manner.
- What are you planning to do differently with the content you want to produce?With the advent of streaming platforms and their growing popularity, while I have seen a shift in the kind of topics that films are dealing with in India, we still have a long way to go. The West has been progressive with its stories for ages and we have a lot of catching up to do.
Having said that, I have to say that India being a young country, we have ample of opportunities to make good, meaningful cinema that can travel the world similar to Korean, Japanese and Spanish films that are very popular nowadays. What we can learn from the West is reducing the dependence on named stars or A-listers to headline the films. Especially with horror films, that should be the route to take.
Horror films don't need a huge budget, or movie stars, or any of those extra flourishes. In horror films, the concept is the star! Also, in our current cinematic landscape, no big actor in India is willing to commit to a horror film unless it is a horror-comedyWhy can't we make creepy, brooding films such as 'Sixth Sense' or 'Hereditary'. These films deal with the subject matter so beautifully. This falling back on comedy or sex when making horror films is something, I am not a fan of. Satire, I can understand but comedy, if not done well can make a film seem campy and schlocky. That said, I understand that Horror-comedy done well can be extremely entertaining and effective, something like 'Shaun of the Dead' for instance. But that shouldn't be the only kind of horror films being made. I plan to move away from this tried and tested Bollywood formula and experiment with low-budget high concept ideas, as well as dig into our rich Indian history and culture. After all, we're a land of a thousand myths and legends, just waiting to told on screen in an endearing and thrilling manner.
But keeping all these factors in mind, our aim is to make films/shows with some kind of social commentary. We are inspired by the great works done in the west - John Carpenter's The Thing that talks about the ill effects of global warming to Jordan Peele's Get Out that sheds light on racism to The Purge series that is rich in political overtones. Horror, as well as genre films in general, can be used as a trojan horse to discuss important political and social issues.
Being a horror film, there is an inherent contract with the audience that in the genre framework of the film they'll be scared and creeped out. But that's only 40 per cent of the film. The rest 60 per cent is the actual content that goes into the themes of the story, which can be layered with deep meanings and metaphors; with ideas that would otherwise be perhaps boring to some viewers if presented in a serious dramatic film. These are just someof the examples of the kind of tales we want to tell and the ideas we want to pursue.
I know I've already said this but I'll say it again as my final word on this - I strongly believe there are a plethora of Indian stories waiting to be told through the horror lens, films that are local to our country and our experiences but in their aesthetic, execution, emotions and thrills have a universal appeal. (ANI)