Siddharth likes to put himself in the shoes of a viewer and ask himself if he would watch the films he’s approached with. The actor says he’s never been more conscious of his film choices than at present. Aval, which is getting released this week, he says, is “India’s first truly scary horror film.” He’s convinced that the audience hasn’t watched a quality horror film in a while.
“We haven’t diluted the story for our audience, who have shown their appreciation for a genuine horror film like The Conjuring. Milind Rau (the director) and I wanted to make something on those lines. Great English filmmakers who’ve directed horror films in the past inspired us to write Aval. We’re both huge fans of the genre,” he says.
Horror films are beyond the star power of their lead actors, he says. “Any other actor could have also done justice to the lead role in Aval, as I have. But I’d like to believe that it found the right producer in me because of the creative freedom I believe in according.”
Siddharth and Milind took four and a half years to develop the script. “We didn’t want it to be an ordinary film. Fortunately, we found a real story that happened to some people we met. We’ve added some fictional layers to the story, of course. You can say Aval is our own Conjuring,” he says.
He can’t talk about the true story it’s based on, but says, “It’s not a gimmicky horror film. The tone of the film is realistic till the end. That was pretty challenging to execute.” The actor himself isn’t one to fear the supernatural. “However, I find paranormal activity quite fascinating. The whole idea of ghosts and death intrigue me. I love reading ghost stories too.”
People who make horror films often talk about being part of supernatural experiences themselves. He laughs. “I guess we did sense some eerie energy that made us complete the film. Almost everyone felt it,” he says. “It was a hard film to shoot. We shot in extreme conditions in the North. But I enjoyed the atmosphere as it was unusual for me. But no, we didn’t see a ghost while shooting.”
The director, Milind Rau, and he share a relationship that he says cannot be categorised. “We’ve been good friends for 17 years. We discuss cinema all the time. While we co-wrote the script, we had lots of differences of opinion. We argued and argued till we found amicable solutions. We have watched many wonderful horror films over the years, and now, people are going to see such a film. I am thrilled!” He hopes that word of mouth will do the trick for this film. “Word of mouth travels faster when you’re screaming,” he laughs.
He knows one film is all it takes to create a trend. “If one pure horror film turns out to be successful, people will make more of them. Horror is the most-watched genre across the world. It’s usually hard to judge a film, but I’m confident about Aval because it took such a long time for us to finish writing it.”
The actor has become frustrated at waiting for good scripts to come his way.
“That’s why I became a producer. I might not have the judgement to decide what people like to watch, but I’d like to say I have done something unique and interesting. That’s my driving force.” He’s acting in quite a few films now, and producing a few too. “I want to create original content in our cinema, which isn’t happening now,” he says.
Isn’t it important that the original content also do well? Jil Jung Juk, for instance, didn’t fare so well. “It depends on how you define the term, ‘hit’. The film was profitable for everyone involved. We showed that a film can run with homegrown talents, technicians, artistes. We got back the money we put in on day one!”
He is all praise for Aval’s composer, Girishh Gopalakrishnan of Vidiyum Munn fame. “He has been working on the music for almost three and a half years. When we spoke to him about the film initially, he came up with fantastic inputs. It felt like we were talking to a seasoned professional from Hollywood. He really got the grammar of our film,” Siddharth says. “As the script grows, so does his music in the film. We even rewrote a few portions after the music was composed. If people say Aval feels like a Hollywood film, it’s all thanks to the team.”
Andrea, he reveals, has a plum role in the film. “She brings strength to Aval. I take offence when women are portrayed weakly in cinema, as tender people who faint and scream. Actors like Andrea and Atul Kulkarni make the film believable,” he says.
Siddharth’s definition of a hit film is this: “A film that comes out the way we envisioned it when we set out to make it. That’s success. It’s not about money always.”