The trailer of Shaitan seems to be doing what Ishqiya’s (2010) trailer did—spread the word like wildfire. A slick thriller set to a rambunctious soundtrack and with a host of young faces, Shaitan is an invitation to confront one’s inner demons. Jointly produced by Anurag Kashyap Films and Viacom 18, the film is the directorial debut of 32-year-old Bejoy Nambiar, who ventured into films by assisting Mani Ratnam on Guru and Raavan. In 2008, he won Gateway, a short film reality show featured on Sony Pix, and the chance to work with producer Ashok Amritraj on a film. That didn’t work out, however.
He talks to Lounge about his decision to cast new actors, the musical choices, and portraying Mumbai. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Inward gaze: Bejoy Nambiar.
Tell us about ‘Shaitan’.
Shaitan can be slotted as an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Based on true incidents, it’s a topical film. It deals with how well you can keep your inner demons in check. My six young protagonists are faced with a conflict and their journey demands that the demons that it draws out of them be exorcised in the process.
There seems to be quite a history behind this film. How did it develop?
After winning Gateway in 2008, I travelled to Los Angeles to pitch my film to Ashok Amritraj. I had the first draft of my script and I pitched it as an English film set in Mumbai. Unfortunately, he wanted me to work on something else. So I returned to India and fleshed out the script, now in Hindi. No one seemed to be interested in producing my film though. I think every production house in Mumbai must have the script and a demo CD of Shaitan in their office. The film could not go on the floors, and I had to keep (actor) Kalki (Koechlin) and the others waiting. Finally, Anurag Kashyap decided to back my film. We began shooting in November and completed it in a 40-day shooting period.
Your film features several new faces.
It is difficult to cast the age group that my characters belong to. Firstly, there aren’t many good actors who fit the bill. And the ones who are available turn the offer down, citing the film’s ensemble cast as the reason. Shaitan was always going to have an ensemble cast, with all the characters contributing equally to the film. So it demanded new faces. Seven months of rigorous auditioning finally paid off because I know that this film works because of its cast. Gulshan (Devaiah), Kalki, Shiv (Pandit), Neil (Bhoopalam) and Kirti (Kulhari) have taken it to another level altogether.
Fast: A poster from the film, with Kalki Koechlin in the centre.
Was it hard lending a fresh face to Mumbai, encumbered as it is by cinematic history?
Madhie, my cinematographer, has never shot in Mumbai. So he inadvertently brings a fresh way of seeing.
Has your experience of working with Mani Ratnam influenced your approach?
Since I have no formal training in film, all that I have learnt, is while working with him on Guru and Raavan. So it is only imperative that a bit of his influence seeped into my film. But I have maintained my own style throughout.
The trailer of ‘Shaitan’ reveals an uncanny musical diversity.
The visual design and the music of the film were worked out well in advance. That’s why I call it a treatment-heavy film. I didn’t want to make Shaitan boring but more accessible to people. The musical choices complement the pace of the film, right from the Tamil rap to death metal, by way of Sufi rock and a Marathi song. I always wanted to blend different styles in sonically correct ways. The narrative is heavily dependent on the music. (Music directors) Ranjit Barot, Prashant Pillai and the others have done a great job.
Shaitan releases in theatres on 10 June.