A bulk of the Marathi language feature Lapachhapi takes place in the aesthetically captured corners of a quiet village. Swaying stalks of sugarcane, picturesque window views and unruffled mornings abound. But looks can be deceptive in Vishal Furia’s horror-laced drama.
The July 14 release, which is being premiered at the London International Film Festival, explores chilling and obscurantist practices that affect the lives of a very pregnant woman (Pooja Sawant) and her husband (Vikram Gaikwad). The cast includes veteran Marathi actress Usha Naik.
After making television promos for over 13 years, Furia decided to make his big screen debut three years ago. Every filmmaker wants to adopt the Hollywood module of making a horror film, but that almost never happens, he told Scroll.in in an interview.
Your first directorial venture has already travelled to many international film festivals. Were you expecting this?
Indians have made terrible horror films in the last few years, and the horror genre has become a joke. That really saddens me and so I thought of trying out something different and keeping it as pure horror not muddled by sex and songs. But sadly, producers are not receptive to new ideas and such stories do not find acceptance in the system.
The idea was always to make an honest horror film and check the response at film festivals before releasing in India. But frankly we did not expect such a great response. We were ignorant enough not to submit the film to the biggest festivals. We lost that chance. But we are extremely happy at the response we have got at other festivals. Surprisingly, most of them are not even genre festivals.
Did you think of any other genre before settling on horror?
I really wanted to change the face of the horror genre in India, and fortunately I had this story to tell, which could be executed in a certain budget. So I thought of starting off in this genre and I am glad I took that decision. But I do have half-completed scripts in other genres, which I am not sure I will ever finish. I love the horror genre and will try and make a couple more films till the genre gains some respect.
Be it the sari, the sugarcane fields or the tape recorder, your film is filled with motifs and symbols.
Yes, that’s true. Lapachhapi is a socially relevant horror film. So those motifs and symbolism automatically become a part of the screenplay. Having said that, it’s a very commercial movie and the audience will enjoy it even if they don’t get the motifs and symbols.
What was the production process like?
I started writing the script in 2013. I finished this script along with Vishal Kapoor and one more by mid 2014, and quit my job on August 15, which is India’s Independence Day and now mine as well. I was very confident that I had written a path-breaking and a very different horror film and I was sure to find takers for it. Imagine my surprise when the reality dawned on me and I was told by most producers to add songs and sex to the script.
So I struggled for about a year and a half to find the right producer. Jitendra Patil came on board as he saw the power of the script and did not bother with what the market had to say. Fortunately we found the right cast and crew as well, with most of them having worked with me in television.
After making the film, the struggle was to find a release partner. Everyone loved the film, the studios loved it, but they did not want to release it as it was not a family film. That’s when Aroona Bhat and Suryaveer Singh of Wild Elephants Motion Pictures stepped in.
Was funding equally challenging?
To find funding is always challenging as producers are not open-minded and innovative enough to execute risky scripts. Everyone wants to adopt the Hollywood module of making a horror film based on strong concepts without stars. But once the process starts, there’s a complete reversal. Stars are sought and the concepts become weak. It is a challenging process to find the right person who will fund a film and want to make it with honesty and sincerity.
How did Usha Naik and Pooja Sawant become part of the project?
I had earlier seen the trailer of the Marathi film Ek Hazarachi Note, and I loved the old lady in it. She plays a very innocent, meek woman in that film, which is not exactly her character in my film. I saw her range and decided to get her on board. And then I realised that she was the legendary actress Usha Naik, almost unrecognisable from her younger days. I met her and she loved the character and sealed the deal in half an hour.
As for Pooja, I came upon a trailer of her film. There was something about her eyes that caught my attention and I started seeing my character in her. Luckily, she was available too. All the other actors who were on my wish list were not free on the dates we were pursuing and some of them did not want to play a pregnant lady.