Roohi director Hardik Mehta on Janhvi Kapoor's 'palat' scene: 'In our universe, the chudail is filmy'
With gags, gasps and a shout-out to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Roohi aims to further generate curiosity about horror-comedies, a genre that allows creators to subvert the folklore to present a contemporary story, says the film's director Hardik Mehta.
Starring Janhvi Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma, Roohi revolves around a singing ghost who puts grooms to sleep so it can possess their brides.
The trailer of the movie, which is slated to be released theatrically on March 11, reinterprets the iconic scene from DDLJ where Shah Rukh Khan's Raj wills Simran (played by Kajol) to 'palat', that is to turn back if she loves him.
In Roohi, the viewer sees the character played by Kapoor, who is possessed by the ghost, rotate her neck to 360 degrees after Sharma says 'palat'.
Mehta said the aim was to give a new twist to the memorable dialogue while honouring the classic horror trope with some laughs.
"Horror films have always used this twisted neck or turning around the neck for horror effect but here we have subverted that and combined the DDLJ mainstream memory of 'palat' and given a chudail (witch) 'palat' moment. It was something not done before. In our universe, the chudail is filmy," the director told PTI in an interview.
Roohi is the second film in producer Dinesh Vijan's horror comedy universe, which was envisioned following the success of Stree, featuring Shraddha Kapoor and Rao. The 2018 movie also featured Abhishek Bannerjee, Aparshakti Khurana and Pankaj Tripathi.
Mehta, who made his feature-length directorial debut with the Sanjay Mishra-starrer drama Kaamyaab, said there is a lot of interest around this genre, which is not completely discovered in India as yet.
"We all have grown up with so many folk tales and rumours about ghost and witch and each region has a specific folklore. That helps establish a folklore, create curiosity and subvert it in today's 21st century, where you can be rational about few things but you can also give up your rationality after few times," he said.
The concept of Roohi, Mehta said, came from writer-director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba of Fukrey fame and Gautam Mehra and is based on a popular folklore of north India.
"There is a chudail (witch) called 'mudiyapairi', who targets grooms and as they fall asleep, she abducts the brides." The film is based in a fictitious town, he said, quipping they didn't name the place "because times are changing".
While Stree and Roohi come from the same stable and genre, they are "completely different films". "Roohi has its own individual identity. The film has nothing to do with Stree except it is a horror-comedy genre and it is coming from the same producers. Content-wise it is not similar," Mehta said.
The filmmaker, who won the National Award for his 2015 short documentary in Gujarati titled Amdavad Ma Famous, said the biggest challenge for the makers is to gain full engagement of the audience.
"Horror films have a typical trope like someone might appear in front of the door, keyhole or above the cupboard, etc. We have seen certain things in Ramsay Brothers movies or The Conjuring. They have become part of our mainstream audience memory and subverting that makes the comedy.
"The most important thing is to not lose the concentration of horror, the moment you try to dilute horror it might become comedy-horror and not horror-comedy. And then it becomes spoof and more dangerous," he noted.
A graduate in Dairy and Food Technologies, Mehta initially worked at a leading company in Surat but his passion for storytelling led him into the film industry where he co-wrote movies like Trapped and the web series Paatal Lok.
The director, who served as a script supervisor on films like Lootera and Queen, said he is happy to be associated with diverse projects.
"I am glad I got the opportunity to do different kinds of things and I am not being put into a box for making certain kinds of films only. Bollywood, otherwise, is known for its stereotypes. In today's time a good film cannot be ignored irrespective of the genre," he added.
Also starring Manav Vij, Sarita Joshi, Anurag Arora, Roohi is one of the first Bollywood projects to arrive in theatres after the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting allowed cinema halls to operate at full capacity with adherence to COVID-19 safety norms.
Mehta said the team is under pressure to recreate the success of Stree with his film, besides getting people to visit cinema halls amid the pandemic.
"We have all kinds of pressure. There is a successful film in the same genre from same producer and there is pressure of getting people into cinema halls given there is a talk about second wave (of Covid-19)... We are hoping to get people back in cinema halls," he said.
Roohi is presented by Jio Studios and Vijan's Maddock Films.