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I found myself quite engrossed in the preview of a yet-to-be-released Hollywood feature. It starts out as a charming story about Julia (brilliantly played by sitcom actor Charlene Amoia), a single mother who moves to a small Illinois town where she has been offered a teaching job. But soon, her teenage daughter Charlotte (Hollywood newcomer Patricia Ashley) starts to have eerie nightmares and behaves weirdly. She gets a strange rash, so mother and daughter consult the handsome but alcoholic Doctor Jeremy (played by Clint Glenn, star of the zombie horror film The Quick And The Undead). After treating Charlotte’s rash, he starts dating Julia, but what he doesn’t divulge is the history of the house the two women have just moved into—a girl died of demonic possession in it a few years earlier.

So far Nefas: The Wicked is a classic American demon horror film, but the quick-eyed watcher might spot the two young movers and packers in an early scene. À la Hitchcock, the film’s co-directors have insinuated themselves into the film. One of them is Ayush Yoda Banker, a 26-year-old from Mumbai who recently moved to Los Angeles, US—without ever having travelled abroad before that day.

One can safely assume that Banker has thrillers in his blood, since he happens to be the son of novelist Ashok K. Banker—known for his mythological best-sellers.

“Being the son of a writer I was exposed to stories and storytelling and I’ve read many books because he recommended them. We also went to the theatres to catch flicks whenever possible," says Banker, who one day wants to adapt his dad’s books into movies. Interestingly, films weren’t his primary career choice: “I spent a lot of time in my youth playing basketball and though I loved it, I just didn’t grow tall enough to make a career out of it."

Then, as it happened, Ashok Banker was drafted to script India’s first English-language TV soap, A Mouthful Of Sky which ran into 252 episodes in the mid-1990s, and his son got his first gig as a child actor. “I played myself on the show. My character’s name was Ayush as well. I was the son of the lead actor Milind Soman. The show had quite a few stars who weren’t big at that point—I had scenes with actors like Rahul Bose and Ayesha Dharker." That experience made studios feel like home ground for Ayush as he performed in some 70-plus episodes.

Then there is the influence of Mumbai and a childhood in Bandra, a suburb of the city. “Mumbai can be a tough city to grow up in and yet it can be amazing. The value of patience and persistence is one of the key elements I learned in Mumbai. I learnt early that you need to have thick skin. Something that has come in handy being a film-maker."

But instead of joining Bollywood, he went to Hollywood. “I knew right off the bat that I wanted to hone my craft in Hollywood. I needed to distinguish myself by making something that didn’t fit into “Bollywood" at all. That was the only way people would sit up and take notice."

In the US, Banker got admission in a film production course at the New York Film Academy which has a campus in Los Angeles. He also interned at Lynda Obst Productions (whose latest film was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar), and then formed a team with some of his classmates—including Justin LaReau with whom he co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed his film. “Nefas: The Wicked is a story that Justin brought to me. The original idea was based on this house that he used to ride by as a kid, which was supposedly haunted. Our story evolved over three long days that we sat burning the midnight oil discussing how to make it fit into the classic horror genres and yet be different enough to be noticed."

The movie was shot in 2014 on location in Illinois, on a tight budget and even tighter 20-day schedule, and Banker and his producer-girlfriend Helene Gonze— who is also part of his core team since film school—ended up working for 20 hours every day.

What is it about demons and horror that attracts him to them? “Horror films can be made for many reasons, but we wanted this to be about human beings and real people as much as it was about the demons. Whenever we doubted if it was scary, we asked ourselves ‘What would scare us?’ and that’s what we chose to put in. It’s the demons within us that are the most terrifying and most destructive. It’s a theme that has piqued my interest because I feel it breaks down horror to what is real."

The film will release later this year.

Zac O’Yeah is the author of Once Upon A Time In Scandanavistan.

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