The Man Behind ‘Ghoul’, Patrick Graham Talks About Radhika Apte, Ghosts & More
Even before the fervour of Sacred Games had settled down, Netflix announced another Indian production, Ghoul, starring Radhika Apte. A horror mini-series backed by Phantom Films, Blumhouse Television and Ivanhoe Pictures (the guys behind the critically acclaimed Get Out), Ghoul’s trailer itself has led to a lot of curiosity and at the center of all of this is Patrick Graham. Not only the director but also the creator and writer of the series, Graham has made India his base for the last eight years. A London Film School alumnus, he sits down with us to discuss Ghoul and how horror has been untapped as a genre in India.
I had two people on the sets who would help me on the monitor to gauge if the delivery was right, to pick up on continuity errors or speech errors, so, I insulate myself against foreseeable problems.
The world aspires to move to the west to make movies and you moved to India. How did this journey happen?
My brother moved to Los Angeles from England, so I thought I should move the other way. If he’s going to do the west, I’ll try and do the east. After film school, it was difficult for me to get work in London as the markets were completely saturated. I was struggling to earn enough money to stay in London and do what I wanted to do. So, when an offer came from a friend in Mumbai, I decided to check the situation out. I realized I knew nothing about the industry but India just grabbed me, you know? The first two Hindi films I watched were Udaan and DevD and I had no clue that I would be working with Phantom in the future.
How did Ghoul happen?
Initially, Phantom was looking at making genre films. They had read one of my earlier scripts and got in touch with me. They wanted to know what else I was doing, so, I pitched Ghoul to them. They liked the idea, I wrote the first draft, and then soon enough it was commissioned as a full-fledged project.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
Funnily enough, I don’t. But I still am a massive coward even though I don’t logically believe in all these things. If I am in a dark space, my imagination runs wild. I start freaking out and then I will sleep with the lights on, which is embarrassing. All the things that I conjure up in my head and get scared about, it is a fun form of catharsis to spring it on others. The genre of film-making that I’ve always loved to watch was horror and thrillers and dark, disturbing films. I had always known that my first proper project would be a horror film.
What is your take on Indian horror films and how different is it from the west?
I have a slight problem remembering names but I have seen a lot of horror films here. I have seen the ones directed by Ram Gopal Varma, like Bhoot, Vastu Shastra and Raat. I think Bhoot was a solid horror film. I also liked the first half of Ek Thi Daayan. I’ve also seen bits and pieces of Ramsay Brothers’ films. They were very kitschy and I’m not like that. Though I do understand the space and the value it offers. There is a certain kind of voice that India needs to find when it comes to horror. A lot of west’s work is derivative. There are a lot of possessions and exorcism and kind of repeating tropes whereas in India there is so much more. There is mythology, folklore and superstitions — so many potential stories. So I feel very sad when only very few are focussed narratives. Most of the time the same story goes on and on, usually with a female avenging spirit or a demon possessing somebody. Having said that, I really liked Pari recently.
How was it directing actors in Hindi?
My Hindi is shit. I can’t speak Hindi. Directing actors in Hindi is a challenge you have to plan for, strategise and overcome. We had rehearsed, we knew each other and we knew what we wanted from the character. I had two people on the sets who would help me on the monitor to gauge if the delivery was right, to pick up on continuity errors or speech errors so, I insulate myself against foreseeable problems.
You have a very strong team of actors working for you in Radhika Apte and Manav Kaul. How was that experience?
I genuinely feel that I couldn’t have asked for better actors. They were very patient and professional. Radhika is one of the best actors around. She brought things to the character that I hadn’t even expected. She brought a lot of vulnerability which really upped the emotional content to such a degree that we added scenes to explore her emotions even further. Along with that vulnerability, she also brought an incredible toughness which surprised me during rehearsals and freaked me out in a good way. Manav’s character is actually someone who had a glorious past but his present isn’t exactly living up to it and his life is falling apart. Manav is a very funny guy, so it is always fun to have a few jokes around when you are shooting serious stuff.
Is there a possibility of taking the show forward and create multiple seasons?
I wouldn’t want to say anything either ways. It is something that needs to be addressed in the future. But once you see the film, you will have an answer.
Ghoul is releasing after Sacred Games. Does it add more pressure on you?
Yes, Sacred Games was wonderful and I loved watching it. It was a grand story. Ghoul is a very different proposition. It is a miniseries, meant for a onesession binge watch and in a completely different genre. Yes, it does put pressure, but in a way that will also help to elevate Ghoul as people are excited to see what Netflix does next. I hope that it doesn’t lead to crushing disappointment.
How was it interacting with Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, the co-producers of the show?
Anurag and Vikram are stars to me and I was awestruck whenever I met them. Vikram played a larger role in the development of Ghoul, Anurag obviously lent his support to the project. Vikram was there from day one, helping me formulate my ideas. He was great with feedback. His mother (Dipa De Motwane) also really nurtured the project at Phantom. These guys were very nurturing to me as a newcomer and as someone who has a lot to learn. And they are film geeks like me. For them, it is content first, commercials later.