Q. You have lately become known for the horror genre in Indian films. How do you view this tag?
A. It is the age of branding. No matter what you do you will win yourself a tag. If you kiss you will be a serial kisser and if you don’t you will be Mr Antiseptic. It is like the dialogue from the film, “I don’t know who you are but I will find you and I will slot you!” Though personally, it does not matter to me. It is better to have a brand than no brand at all.
Q. What attracts you to horror films in general?
A. I am a fear seller. I like selling fear. Fear is the most and the purest emotion that man has felt since the dark ages. I get this asked very often, and I wonder why people keep asking me this. We are all emotion sellers here. Some directors sell laughter, some sell tears, others sell love, and I sell fear. I feel fear, and so I can sell it. I think what attracts me to horror has to do with the fear that I can feel. You can only tell stories that you feel.
Q. Why is the quality of horror films made in Bollywood not the same as those made in the West?
A. Who says it is not? Just because we are a different art form? Why is the quality of love stories or comedies or sci-fi or action not the same? Come on! Let’s not kid ourselves. We love our films with music and emotions.
Q. Your recent film, 1921. How was it different from your other movies?
A. It has already released now. It has done well. Mission accomplished. It was different in many ways. A great love story, no religious overtones, real fear and palpable!
Q. How was your experience shooting this movie?
A. I had a great time on this film because of the cast and crew. I have always maintained that you never know how a film will pan at the box office, but the journey is important. Karan [Kundra] and Zareen [Khan] were a delight to work with. Reliance is a great studio. My technicians, my UK crew members, all were enthused and became like family. I have come out of the film richer than when I went into it, not in terms of money, but in terms of the people I had the chance to be with.
Q. How do you look back at your 2016 film Raaz Reboot, which didn’t quite do well at the box office?
A. I don’t look back.
Q. Who are your favourite filmmakers?
A. I don’t have any favourite filmmaker, but I have a lot of favourite works by various filmmakers—Mahesh Bhatt, Shekhar Kapur, Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, Manmohan Desai, Vijay Bhatt (my grandfather), Sanjay Bhansali, Yash Chopra… The list is endless.
Q. Tell us about your web series, Tantra?
A. Tantra is my research and development series—I always say that to myself and everyone at the office. In a new space like the web, there is no other way to do research but to make content and put it out there… I know that thrillers work, dramas work. I wanted to see how three episodes a week and a subject material with mass appeal worked. It has some interesting findings… which I shall not share [laughs].
Q. Why this shift from movies to web series?
A. There is no shift. The emphasis is on “also”. Just because you dabble in another platform does not mean that you give up the first one. I think that the cell phone has become the first screen of choice and has beaten the television. The crowd is on the phone these days and every entertainer wants to be where the crowd is—that is the nature of entertainment.
Q. How was your venture into digital space with the 2017 web launch of VB, which has so far produced and showcased more than four original shows?
A. The move to digital space happened when I realised that everything was moving onto digital. Music was the first thing to move online, then came books—and we›ve seen a big chain of bookshops being wiped out—and then even retail went online in a major way. So it was only a matter of time before cinema went online. Now, when cinema and entertainment have gone online, one has started seeing apps, which are subscription-based apps, where you subscribe monthly and you get your dose of shows. However, the app we are launching is based on a very different concept. It’s actually a multiplex on your phone. So when you download the app, you don’t have to subscribe, you get various shows and each and every show has a ticket price of its own, very much like a multiplex theatre. So you the watch the show that you want, and only pay for that show, making it more accessible.
Q. This app—what is it called and when was it launched?
A. This platform was commercially launched on the 27 January 2018, under LoneRanger Production, which coincided with my birthday. It is called “VB: Theatre on the Web”.
Q. In your latest web series, Untouchables, you are playing the role of a lawyer. What’s the show about?
A. Untouchables is a courtroom drama which revolves around a medical student, who works as an escort to finance her education. And lands up facing a murder trial when her wealthy client is killed. Her dad, a chauffeur, pleads with his employer, a 48-year-old washed-up lawyer, to return to court one last time to save his daughter, thereby justifying the tagline: “the only one who can save her life is the one the world has given up for dead.”
Q. Are you planning to discontinue uploading original content on YouTube?
A. No, I will always have content on YouTube. It’s like a “freemium model”. For instance, we will start with Untouchables, a show that will premiere on the app and YouTube on the same day. It will appear week-on-week on YouTube, but on the app, it is for binge watching—you can watch all fifteen episodes in one go. On YouTube, the show will take 15 weeks.
Q. Web content is not regulated today, but one day it might be. How could that impact content?
A. There’s already a lot of self-censorship on the web. On digital, people come for a “particular sensation”. They don’t want a story mixed with sex. It could be an erotic story, but it has to be a story. Thanks to Jio, most of India has data. If they want to watch porn they can. I’m not going to watch a film or web series with half-clad women when I can see everything online for the same data, on the same phone. Today if somebody comes to my channel, it’s not for porn (unless I’m specifically selling that), they come to watch drama, suspense or supernatural thrillers. A real content-maker would not fear online censorship.
Q. Will Vikram Bhatt ever make a light-hearted comedy for the digital medium?
A. There’s too much comedy on the web. There are whole channels doing rom-coms, husband-wife situations and there’s no point being another one like that. We are all selling different wares. Also, on “VB on the Web”, there’s hardly any horror there. There’s Twisted, Maya, Hadh and Spotlight, these are out-of-the-box. We’re going to have drama, supernatural and sci-fi on the app. Untouchables is an emotional courtroom drama. We’ll also have Breaking News, which is about corruption in media.