‘The only violence I have had in any film of mine is a slap.’
‘When Nikhil narrated the film to me, I was blown away.’
‘I was literally screaming out of my chair.’
Film festivals are always full of surprises.
But this year, the Toronto International Film Festival had something very different for the audience to watch.
The festival programmed an out and out violent, gory and thoroughly entertaining Indian film called Kill in its Midnight Madness section.
Directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, who has a few small films to his credit (Hurdang, Long Live Brij Mohan and Saluun), the film is produced by two unlikely producers — Guneet Monga (Haramkhor, Zubaan and the Oscar-winning short The Elephant Whisperers) and one Karan Johar, fresh out of the success of his latest film,Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani.
Most of Kill is situated in a moving train where a commando Amrit (Lakshya) tries to save his girlfriend Tulika (Tanya Maniktala) from a marriage engagement her father has forced on her.
But the train is stormed by several bandits, led by a creepy Fani (Raghav Juyal). They are a violent bunch and Amrit and his colleague Viresh suddenly realise their mission has grown in scope. They now have to save the occupants of the train from the bandits.
Kill is inspired by a number of violent action films including the Indonesian The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 (both directed by the Irish film-maker Gareth Evans). The film’s actors were trained by veteran action choreographers Seyeong Oh (Snowpiercer) and Parvez Shaikh (War).
Kill won the first runner-up People’s Choice Award in TIFF’s Midnight Madness section.
Aseem Chhabra spoke to Karan Johar, Nikhil Nagesh Bhat and the film’s stars Lakshya and Raghav Juyal about the making of Kill.
Karan, how did you decide to produce Kill, a film unlike anything Dharma Productions has done?
Karan: It is true that Dharma has never produced, in fact, I would go as far as saying that India has never produced a film like this.
It is possibly the most violent film made out of India. Whenever we make action films, they always have the tropes of romance, with thriller beats. This one is relentless, with non-stop crazy violent, gory, blood-porn action.
Very strange that Guneet and me collaborated on a film like this.
Her track record speaks of beautiful films like The Lunchbox, besides, of course, Gangs of Wasseypur which was violent, but not to this extent.
The only violence I have had in any film of mine is a slap.
When Nikhil narrated the film to me, I was blown away.
I was literally screaming out of my chair.
It was just a narration, so I could well imagine with the execution where the film would be. And we really wanted to put out a new actor who could give us one year of his life into the prep because we had a Korean team coming in.
Lakshya was the perfect choice and Raghav was the greatest antagonist we could have asked for.
So yes, I went on my instinct, my bloody instinct.
How do you expect the audience in India will react to Kill?
Karan: You know, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
We will have to test this film with an audience.
But I am bloody sure the audience will be swept by the relentless narrative and the action, as well as the blood and gore, which can be fun if you really succumb to it.
I am hoping this opens the market for these kinds of genre films.
Nikhil, we all see action films. How did you develop a passion for the action genre?
Nikhil: It started way back in childhood.
There was a strange incident which happened when I was in Standard three.
There was a film on Doordarshan, and there was a rape sequence in it.
Because of that, my parents and extended family decided children should not watch films.
So from the third standard to the 10th standard, they didn’t let me see any film. But the more you restrict a child, the more curious he grows.
That was almost like a boon in disguise for me.
I used to skip school and watch films.
I have seen a lot of action films from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films. And whatever else I could watch in Patna.
When I was writing the story, COVID happened. I was locked down in one room. This was during the first wave.
I was surrounded by feelings of claustrophobia, rage, insecurity.
You had no idea and you couldn’t step out. That entire frustration I penned it down on the page.
There have been many action films in India. But to conceive of something on this scale at par with international standards, where no matter what the spoken language is and what the nationality of the actors is, this film breaks those barriers.
How did you have the faith in this concept, the confidence that you could make the film at this scale?
Nikhil: I don’t know. It was the first time I was doing extreme action, so I tried to get everything right on paper.
I wrote down the entire script with each and every action moment, so that when it gets translated, I would know how it is.
But the film comes through in this form on the editing table. Every shot is edited and joined with the previous and the next shot. Were you editing the film in your mind?
Nikhil: You would be surprised, but everything to the word T was written on paper.
If Amrit is turning left and dodging and holding the knife, I would have that put down in words on paper. That gave me the confidence if I could execute it on paper, I could then execute it on a celluloid.
Also, when I was writing, sometimes my wife would come inside the room and ask, ‘What are you doing?’
I would get up and actually enact the fight scene. This is how I knew that what I was writing was believable.
At what stage did Dharma and Sikhya join the project?
Nikhil: Guneet and I know each other for long. We met one day and I happened to tell her one line of this story.
She just jumped and said, ‘Let’s do this.’
I asked, ‘Are you sure you want to produce this since it would be a very unique kind of film coming out of India?’
She said ‘No, no, we should definitely do it. So if you have some written material we can take it from there.’
I wrote it down and we went to meet Karan.
You would be surprised halfway through the narration, Karan said yes. I am extremely thankful to them for the kind of conviction they have shown. They didn’t blink and I am so grateful.
Tell us about how you found your two lead actors. I know this is Lakshya’s first film. Raghav has done some film work. And how did you decide who will play Amrit and who will be Fani? As it is they both look alike.
Lakshya: And we are the best of friends.
Raghav: Maine abhi tak bahut films kari hain, aur sub flops.
Nikhil: Karan mentioned that I should meet Lakshya. He had earlier been cast in a Dharma film called Dono Mile Iss Tarah, which never got made.
I met him and when I was telling him the story, I watched his enthusiasm and his demeanor.
There is a very strange vulnerability in him.
There is a big difference between the two of them.
There’s a lot of balance and energy which Lakshya has. It was actually very easy for me to cast him.
For Fani’s role, we were casting for almost three months.
I saw Raghav’s tape. There was something in his eyes — a distinct stillness for a moment and then the next moment, there was a lot of liveliness.
There was a scene which we had written, it is not there in the film now. It was magical to see how it was happening on the tape.
The characters are quite different, but it never occurred to you to switch them. You were very clear?
Nikhil: Yes, very clear.
Lakshya: Also, I could never have done what Raghav did.
I don’t think that anybody apart from him can play Fani the way he did. When I read Fani in the script, what he did is exceptional.
Your character also gets very violent.
Lakshya: He does, but there is some erratic body language that Raghav has.
I watched the film for the first time yesterday.
Of course, I have known Raghav for a long time since we have been working on a project together.
What I saw yesterday was not something I have seen often.
Nikhil is very right about Raghav’s eyes. One moment you feel okay. This is what he is saying. But then he is not saying that and there’s a subtext to it that has so many meanings behind that.
How long was the training with Seyeong Oh?
Nikhil: He came down for three months and trained them as well as the rest of the goons.
We had to cast the actors who played the goons because there are a lot of performances involved.
We could not just get stuntmen, since stuntmen cannot act.
Also, the fact that Lakshya plays a commando. He could do martial arts in the film, but the dacoits were street fighters.
Training them into street fighting style is something which Mr Oh did brilliantly.
Lakshya: I started training in December 2021 and we started shooting in April 2022 in Amritsar.
Then I trained again and we started in June.
Did you guys have fun doing it?
Raghav: Yes, but sometimes we would get hurt.
I started as a dancer, so I am quite agile. End mein, main bahut pit raha tha. So maine zayada time liya character ko build karne main. Yeh to army walla tha film main, so iski training alag thi. But as an actor, it was a delight to get trained.
Nikhil: Since the set was so tight and small, the camera was very close to the characters. They had to do all the stunts themselves.
Who is your sound designer?
Nikhil: His name is Subhash Sahoo.
I know him. He made the documentary on Mangesh Desai.
Earlier Hindi films would have dishoom dishoom sounds in fight sequences. Here you can hear bones crunching and body parts smashing against metal surfaces.
So where are you both from?
Lakshya: I was born in Ajmer, and grew up in Delhi. I came to Mumbai in 2015 and started working in television.
Raghav: I am from Uttrakhand. Meri education Dehradun main hui. Main Mumbai aaya 2012 aur mera career start hua background dancer se.
So life was a struggle for some time?
Lakshya: Television se kharch nikal jata tha.
Raghav: I auditioned a lot. Maine Mumbai main naukri bhi kari hai to survive.
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