“Everything in ‘Bhoothakaalam’ relied on performances and the atmosphere,” says director Rahul Sadasivan
The psychological-horror thriller, starring Revathy and Shane Nigam, explores the dynamics of the relationship between mother and son
Rahul Sadasivan is stoked with the success of Bhoothakaalam (Past). “I did not expect so much love and appreciation for our small film,” says the filmmaker over phone from his hometown, Palakkad.
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Currently streaming on Sony LIV, the thriller tells the story of Asha (Revathy), a single mother and kindergarten teacher and her unemployed son, Vinu (Shane Nigam). Clinically depressed Asha and Vinu have a strained relationship owing to several reasons. That is when they start encountering strange incidents at their rented house.
Behind its simple setting, ghosts of the past lurk in Bhoothakaalam. Rahul admits that he has always been a fan of horror films. “I love to scare people. The genre appealed to me. There are so many variations in the genre. I realised that there is space for an experimental work in Malayalam. There is no blood, gore or explicit scenes inBhoothakaalam. It is essentially the story about a mother and son. And the scariest part of the narrative is that the ghosts do not make a terrifying entry even though they are with the characters all the time in their home. The challenge lay in conveying that feeling. Everything relied on performances and the atmosphere.”
Rahul wrote the story and co-wrote the script with Sreekumar Shreyas. “I had Revathy chechi and Shane in mind while writing the story because I needed powerful actors. I pitched the idea first tochechi. I had no clue Revathy’s real name is Asha! She was in fact happy about the coincidence. As for Shane, I love the subtlety in his acting. I also wanted to try out a new mother-son pair on screen. And it worked.”
The 35-year-old has done his masters in animation and VFX from University of South Wales and learnt filmmaking from London Film Academy. His debut film, Red Rain (2013), a sci-fi thriller was about the eponymous phenomenon. “AfterRed Rain, I took a break. I needed to be with my family. Since I was away from the industry for so long, I was like a newcomer while looking for a producer for Bhoothakaalam. It took time for everything to fall in place. It was my second chance and I wanted to nail it. It was Shane who took the project to Anwar Rasheed who came on board to present the movie.” Shane is also a co-producer of the movie.
The film was shot in and around Kochi after the first lockdown. Finding the right house took a while though. The house had to complement the storyline. The team needed a normal-looking house and not one with the characteristics of haunted houses one expect from horror movies. “I was particular about the position of bedrooms, the type of flooring, make of the windows, the terrace… among other things. However, the focus was always on the two central characters.”
Setting the mood
The background score by Gopi Sundar strengthened the central idea, Rahul says. “He fixed the theme music, but did not want to overplay it. We have moved away from the format where music supports a scene. Instead, there is silence in most of the sequences, especially in the first half. We wanted to give a new viewing experience and we believe that experiment worked. I also had a script for sounds, which was designed by Vicky and Kishan (Sapthaa).” Nearly 80% of the movie had sync sound recording.
‘Ra thaarame’, the only song in the film, was written, composed and sung by Shane.
Having an “experienced and thoroughly professional” Shehnad Jalal as the cinematographer was another strong point. “Much of it is visual storytelling and for that I had to do a storyboard. I sketched everything and that was possible with his help. We choreographed the scenes and put them in paper first so that we could shoot everything according to the storyboard.”
He stresses that the film is not about people with clinical depression. “It is a sensitive topic and it was only weaved into the narrative as an underlying factor. Even the horror element was secondary. The film is about the resolution of issues between the two characters. They are scarred and once they resolve to take on what is happening around them, all hells break loose. Eventually the eerie situations change the dynamics of their relationship.”
While the film is grim, Rahul says that they had so much fun on the set.
Describing Manichithrathazhuas the best horror film in the world, Rahul says, “It is a classic. Everything about the movie is a class apart. It might have inspired me how to handle horror as a filmmaker.”