Wilson Louis, director of the award-winning horror film Kaalo, is a highly respected name in the roster of horror movie makers in Bollywood
In his own words, Wilson Louis, maker of Kaalo, starring the young Swini Khara, highlights the dark side of life. His self-styled mission is to keep the audience hooked by providing riveting spectacles and mystifying story elements without using the banal route to storytelling. He speaks of his love for horror films, the challenges he faces and the future of the genre in India.
Horror films have evolved from the staple Ramsay brothers fare to more subtle stories where blood and gore aren’t the keywords. Is that a western influence?
Yes. Though the Ramsay brothers were considered the mainstay of horror in India and we have grown up watching their films, we were also deprived of good horror movies here. We were exposed to only one kind of horror by the Ramsays and that was full of masala, tilted more towards sex. These films have been the biggest mistake in the history of Indian cinema, for the simple reason that they catered only to the sex-starved adult, all in the name of horror. I still say that I came into horror films after watching these films but they are also definitely to be blamed for putting horror in such a category. Before the Ramsays, horror in Indian films was classic.
From Ho Sakta Hai to the more recent Kaalo, both of which you made, do you see a change in the perception of horror films?
Yes, while I was making Ho Sakta Hai and when it eventually got released, I was told that I was making a ‘B grade’ film. Now, after nearly five years, it is considered to be a horror film to be noted. Today I have many horror fans loving my debut film. Maybe I did the film without any kind of interference or any Hollywood reference, making it straight from my heart. I think it was too early for our audience. Kaalo is a first creature day horror film (horror films dwell in the dark of the night) and I thought it’s too early again for our audience, but now with its repeat telecast on television channels and the demand for it, it is obvious that the audience is ready for such films and we as filmmakers need to catch up and give them great stuff that is not copied, influenced or clichéd. Today the audience is exposed to all kinds of horror films readily available at DVD parlours or on the Internet. Whatever we do should be on par with international filmmaking, which is not tough to do. We have the technology; all we need are the producers.
Who do you think in Bollywood does justice to the horror genre?
Me, because I am experimental, doing all kinds of horror films and not worried about box office outcomes. The rest are going with the same safe formula. Ramgopal Varma keeps doing Raat, Vikram Bhatt keeps doing Raaz. Ekta Kapoor just wants sex in her films… But I think if they too start experimenting with horror, it will be the end of the genre, so fair deal!
What have been the most effective horror films made in Bollywood?
For me it was Bees Saal Baad, Woh Kaun Thi, Madhumati and Raat, though all of them were copied. Honestly, even my own film Kaalo was influenced by Jeepers Creepers. It could have made an impact if it was promoted the way it should have been; after all, it won the Best Horror Film in Horrofest 2010 at Cape Town (South Africa). In my opinion, the most effective horror film made in India was Raat, because it broke the mould of the Ramsay breed of films in India and we needed that. Remember, before the Ramsay films there were superb horror movies made in India by great filmmakers with big stars, and suddenly it all went away…and then we got Raat. We got to see some kind of experimentation with technology in terms of camerawork, which is now replaced by VFX. Bhoot was a remake of Raat.
What should the highlight of a horror film be?
It’s easy to say ‘scare the audience without showing the ghost’. You can do so for a few scenes, but then you have to do more than that. I think it’s the proper placing of silence in between horror sequences. Though content is very important, VFX should be excellent, even if it’s a low budget film. It adds the much required packaging. I did the VFX of my film Kaalo for a very small budget, but it was done smartly. You don’t need a big studio for that.
Do horror films without sleaze work with audiences wanting only chills and cheap thrills?
There are now different sections of audience, so it’s up to filmmakers which we want to cater to. We should be sure for whom we are making the film. I think we should be honest and tell the audience what the film is about in the promotional campaign. Ragini MMS worked because it did not lie to the audience – it showed what it promised. Raaz and Haunted worked too for the same reason. My film Mallika promised a fresh face, sleaze and sex, but it had none, so it did not work. Today’s audience gets much cheaper thrills and chills from big budget films. They don’t need horror films for that any more.
Which is your all-time favourite horror film?
The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Also, I can’t forget the climax of The Others and Sixth Sense.
Which is the horror film cliché you hate?
First it was the car not working scene. Now days it’s the mirror sequence, which is repeated in almost every horror film.
Compared to the West, do you think there are enough takers for horror films in India?
Yes. Soon it will be bigger that the West. Today every second producer or director is making a horror film, because you do not need a star and even with low budgets the returns are always there. Very soon we will have our own horror channel and a horror film festival.
What is the biggest challenge faced by horror filmmakers?
Going by my experience, it’s the producers. The day they stop promoting their wives as creative directors or stop screwing the heroines and let the directors do the film without demanding references to any Hollywood film – only then will we filmmakers manage to do some great stuff. Till then, it’s a real horror to make a horror film for them. Moreover, even if corporate houses have creative directors (or wannabe directors) who are there only to see that they get their monthly salaries and impress their bosses, it’s going to be real tough. More than our filmmakers, our trade critics should be given a crash course in filmmaking – they are absolutely bogus and totally star driven. The biggest nightmare for any horror filmmaker is showing the first cut without sound to the producer, where the director has to replicate the background score and sound effects orally to show the final effect. May the devil bless us all.