Taapsee Pannu is in a wheelchair stuck in a house alone, and someone sinister is trying to break in. This is all that the teaser of Ashwin Saravanan’s upcoming thriller Game Over reveals. The film will be released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi on June 14.
Saravanan, who has previously directed the Tamil horror film Maya (2015), told Scroll.in that Game Over emerged out of his intention to make a home invasion thriller. “But I wanted to add a lot of other things and put layers to the story and not just make it about someone trying to enter the house and kill you and you having to survive it,” Saravanan said. “It’s more than a typical home invasion thriller.” Co-written by Ramkumar Kaavya and Saravanan, the film’s cast includes Vinodhini Vaidyanathan and Anish Kuruvilla.
Saravanan was 24 when he made his directorial debut with Maya, in which a woman (Nayanthara) watching a horror film alone in a theatre is transported into the ghoulish world that she is watching. In an interview, Saravanan spoke about Game Over, Maya’s origins, his delayed project Iravaakaalam, and more.
What are the challenges of spinning a feature-length story about an immobile protagonist inside one location?
Having an immobile protagonist in one location only is an advantage. You know this person cannot run away, so the narrative automatically becomes tense and suspenseful. The helplessness of the character translates to dread and we feel for the character. When you put all that in one location, the writing has to be on point. I made this film because of the restrictions it offered to me as a writer-director.
There are references to arcade video games from the 1980s, particularly, ‘Pac-Man’.
The heroine, Swapna (Pannu), plays those games in the film, for a reason which will be revealed in the story. The vintage 8-bit games, not just Pac-Man, are there for a reason. We got some visual ideas from the games which we have incorporated.
Do you choose female protagonists (‘Maya’, ‘Game Over’) as they appear more vulnerable and onto whom audience fears can be projected?
That is one reason – the helpless, physically vulnerable angle. But we have also tried to combat the preconceived notion that a woman cannot fend for herself. Also, chose a female protagonist for Game Over because the story specifically needed a woman and not a man for the role.
‘Maya’ was a verbose film with several characters. Did you deliberately want to make a quieter film this time?
I was very interested in making a visual film, with as little dialogue as possible. In this genre, the visual is more effective, and the silence adds to the eeriness and makes way for more nuanced storytelling. It’s a fun challenge to translate what’s on paper to screen with just the visuals, taking the dialogue out.
That also gives the film crossover potential. ‘Game Over’ is being released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.
Absolutely. I knew this story could cross over. I always wanted to make an Indian film. That is the reason I cast Taapsee Pannu, who is not identified as a North Indian or a South Indian. I wanted to make a film that every Indian can watch and take something home from.
What inspired ‘Maya’?
In the ’80s and ’90s, you would hear about horror filmmakers challenging audience members to watch their film alone in a theatre for money. I don’t know if that’s true, but I thought that the idea of having a person see a horror film alone would be great.
When I watch a horror film, I always wonder, what would I do if I were inside the film? Then I thought of transporting the person seeing the horror film alone to the film that’s being watched. The rest was about figuring out how to connect what is on screen inside the film, and what is outside. The mother angle, parallel narrative came much later.
How do you avoid traditional horror film devices such as jump scares or having a figure looming in the shadows?
Jump scares or shadows are part of the horror genre. You cannot go to watch a horror film and not expect them. Movie-watching is a communal experience, where you want the jump scare to work for you on a psychological level. But what to do when it’s done to death? You subvert it in interesting ways. Maya had a lot of conventional horror movie elements, but I believe that in a few scenes, we constructed some interesting jump scares. I am particularly proud of the dead body-stretcher scene.
You have to orchestrate the jump scare in a unique fashion, like telling an old joke in a new way. These days, a horror film is coming out every month, and everyone is trying to update the genre. When horror movie cliches are done well, I am very impressed.
What draws you to horror films and thrillers?
The fear of the unknown is never resolved, so paranormal stories about spirits or life after death will always fascinate us. The uncertainty and ambiguity of these stories make them interesting. I grew up watching such films, but what inspired me the most was a Tamil television series called Vidathu Karuppu, part of Marmadesam, directed by Naga.
It was about this vigilante embodiment of the Karuppu Sami god, who would kill bad people, and then, everyone started thinking that it is the god who was actually striking everyone. The imagery, sound, and every aspect of the series left a huge mark on me. To this date, I want to make something that arrests people’s attention like that.
As for the thriller genre, I feel it is the one that delivers the maximum high in the entire cinematic experience. When I watched Don’t Breathe, after a point, it was so relentless that I could not breathe.
When are you confident that a scary scene you’ve written is working?
At the writing level, when you feel uneasy and restless from reading your own material, you know something is working. I write at night, so when the scene is good, I might feel someone standing behind me. Or when I get up from my chair, go and get a glass of water in the dark, and I feel followed, I know what I have written has potential.
A scene properly comes together during editing. For me, if the scene is working on mute, it’s a good scene.
What’s the status of your SJ Surya-starrer ‘Iravaakaalam’?
The film is in the post-production stage. The producers are having trouble finishing the film, but I believe we will be done with it soon. It’s a relationship drama about a marriage.