In conversation with Milind Rau who tells us that even the wind in his horror film, Aval, has character
In the 20 minutes we speak, Milind Rau describes with delicious excitement a horror scene he’s particularly fond of. After I hang up, I switch on all the lights in the room, and the restroom, where the said scene is set. No, there’s no spoiler alert — you’ve seen it already in the trailer of Aval, which Milind has directed.
If that’s the kind of effect a voice over the phone can trigger, imagine a full-length feature that is proud to call itself “pure horror”, untouched by comedy or anything that will reduce the experience the team has worked so hard to create.
The film, releasing on November 3 as Aval (Tamil) Gruham (Telugu) and The House Next Door (Hindi), stars Rau’s long-time friend Siddharth, also the film’s producer and co-writer, Andrea Jeremiah and Atul Kulkarni.
Milind is one of those whose childhood passion has lingered on. Like Siddharth, his first horror film in a theatre was The Omen, when he was about 10 or 12. “Those were the days of video libraries. I loved the journey of discovering horror films in the late 80s and early 90s. I’d go to video shops, see the posters, think that something looks interesting and take a chance on it. You had no access to reviews, and you had to search for B Movies and other cult horror series. Sometimes, they would be so bad, but that was a chance you took. The classics would release in theatres, though.”
For someone who worships this genre, Milind says that making a horror film is a fun experience too. “Watching a good horror film is like riding a roller-coaster; it’s fun. A bad, cheesy film is fun too; you wonder how much more cheesy it can get! Once you make a good horror film, it’s great to see the audience scream. You’re laughing then, because you’ve done a good job.”
But, it’s not all easy. “During the entire process, you never know how the end product, with all the effects, will be like. You go with your gut feeling while making it, presuming this is how it will turn out.” Luckily, says Milind, he had a team of technicians who think on the same wavelength. “It helps that Siddharth and I are horror film buffs. We wanted to create something so original, no one must ever say that it is a rip-off or inspired.”
So, were he and Siddharth like kids in a candy store, who’d been allowed to do what they loved? “Kind of. But, we polished the script over many, many sessions. That’s why it took us a good four years. There are some unique sequences that, I believe, even horror lovers abroad will find new.”
The sound and colouring team is said to have done a spectacular job with the film. “The sound design team of Vishnu Govind, Sree Sankar and Vijay Rathinam and music director Girishh have so worked in sync that you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. That adds to the atmosphere of a movie. It has helped create a soundscape that is very organic, and takes you into the heart of the movie.” For instance, he adds: “They have lent the wind a character; you’ll experience the cold because of how they’ve layered the winds. It took about seven months for all of this, because if something did not work, we went back to the drawing board. Because, sound is very important in a horror movie; if you see it on mute, you’d even find it funny! But, if you watch it as it is meant to be, say in Dolby Atmos, you’ll know the detailing that has gone in.”
The trailer of Aval has a shot of the grey-green Himalayas cloaked in mist in parts, not a brilliantly-lit snow-clad range as is the norm. “Framing is so important in a horror movie. And, Shreyaas Krishna has done a great job with compositions that unsettle you, with frames that are not what you expect. Colourist Suresh Ravi has lent it a tone that goes with the soul of the film,” he says.
If there’s something that gives Milind confidence in what his team has created, it is the belief that a well-made horror film is always well received. “It’s no longer a niche genre. It’s coming of age. Did you know The Conjuring 2 made about Rs 60 crore and Annabelle Rs 46 crore, just in the dubbed, regional versions? People love the genre. It delights me that on our social media page, young people, including girls, are making plans to watch it. The whole perception that only boys love horror is gone.”
The director says the film turned out this way, because of the bond he shares with Siddharth, and because he was the producer too. “We have known each other for nearly two decades now [from before the scripting of Kannathil Muthamittal; they were assistant directors of Mani Ratnam] and would like to keep our partnership going. With him, I never had to explain why I needed something. He understood. We have plans to do a lot of things together. We are already talking of sequels…”
As a person, Milind is deeply positive, and loves to look ahead. “I move on, all the time,” he says. Of course, everyone asks him, what next. “For now, I’m happy we have made a movie that has shaped up the way I wanted it to.”
A romance, possibly? “I could. After all, ‘Kaarigai Kanne’ in Aval is a deeply romantic number. I would love to explore a love story. One must not limit oneself to a genre. So yes, I would love to make an enjoyable romance someday.”
PS: The lights are still on at home.
The Milind Rau interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.