‘Bhoothakaalam’, a horror drama with Revathy and Shane Nigam in the lead, brings fresh attention to the horror genre in Malayalam cinema.

Rahul wearing a dark blue shirt smiles, has a beard, and behind him are chairs and a window and a yellow wall
Flix Interview Saturday, January 22, 2022 - 19:36

When Rahul Sadasivan told actor Revathy there is a horror film he is planning to make and would like her to play one of the lead roles, she said no. She doesn’t do horror films; the last one was Raath, a Hindi film made many years ago. Her sentiment is understandable, horror is not for everyone. But when Rahul showed her the script, she changed her mind. She liked what she read, the relationship between a mother and son at the heart of it. And Bhoothakaalam – a word that means past but could also be split into two as Bhootha and kalam which means quite literally ‘ghost time’ – got made. It is not clear if Rahul meant the latter but by making the film really well, he managed to bring fresh attention to the horror genre in Malayalam cinema.

“I have always really liked the horror genre. Suspense, horror, thriller, all of it. I thought, how can I bring in horror that’s not loud. How can I capture it with subtle performances?” says Rahul Sadasivan, director of Bhoothakaalam. The movie began screening on SonyLIV on Friday, January 21.

For the ‘subtle performances’, he first asked Revathy, and then Shane Nigam to become his lead actors. Shane played the son to Revathy’s Asha, a woman with mental health issues. “Shane was at first not reachable but later when he heard the story, he was game. He became an associate producer along with T Films (Teresa Rani and Sunila Habeeb),” Rahul says. Anwar Rasheed presented the film.

Watch: Trailer of Bhoothakaalam

Shane had fallen into the middle of a controversy with the Kerala Film Producers Association towards the last half of 2019. There was a call to “ban” the actor from all South Indian films. The issue was resolved a few months later after Shane agreed to work on three pending films which had been shelved during the row and pay an amount of Rs 32 lakh as compensation.

In 2020 and 2021, none of his new films had released. Bhoothakaalam is therefore an important film for the young actor and he appears to answer all his critics with a really powerful performance. “Fear is the main theme in the film but it had to have some elements of realism. This can happen only through powerful performances,” Rahul says.

Shane plays Vinu, a young man who is frustrated because he can’t find a job long after his graduation, and because his mother will not let him go away for one. He plays the indifferent guy perfectly well, scrolling through his phone and eating his dosas as his mother’s loud sobs can be heard from another room. Mother and son are not exactly on the best of terms – their conversations often end with one shouting at the other or walking away.

“It is at the heart a story about the mother-son relationship. Horror is secondary. You can empathise with a character only through emotions. You can feel their fear only once you know them well. And then you understand how it affects them – their social life, professional life,” Rahul says.

Watch: Song from Bhoothakaalam

It was important for Rahul to tell a ghost story in a way it hasn’t been told before – without being explicit for the most part. “How can you tell a ghost story without showing a ghost? It had to be subtle,” he says.

He is also the scriptwriter and carefully builds up the story. Vinu’s grandmother – a white-haired Valsala Menon with no lines to say – passes away at the beginning of the film. With minimal effort, just by showing the old woman walking with her flowing white hair and the grandson looking startled by her appearance, the director turns on an alarm in your head. Clueless though, you spend time putting it all away to logic till you see things from Vinu’s side. Shane’s really good at letting you in on his fears. So is Revathy. For her, it is often a disturbed mind that has to be fought – disturbed by the mother’s passing away, by the endless arguments with the son, by everything going wrong in life.

It is really commendable that Rahul wrote in his script a full length performance oriented character for a middle aged woman. But he doesn’t make a big deal about it. He needed an actor who could perform the mother character really well and Revathy was apt for it. “Both the actors had to fight an adversary that they didn’t understand. How do you do that? How do they connect to each other through it, that’s what the film tries to say,” he adds.

Before Bhoothakaalam, Rahul directed a film called Red Rain, a science fiction thriller with Narain in the lead, in 2012. Bhoothakaalam is his second.

Read: Bhoothakaalam review: This Revathy-Shane Nigam film is a tightly scripted horror ride

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