Interview with “Black Cat” director, Bhargav Saikia

In conversation with the man who brought Ruskin Bond’s “The Black Cat” to life.

Firstly, what inspired you to adapt Ruskin Bond’s The Black Cat into a short film?

When my first horror short film, Awakenings, was being screened at some of the highly noted genre film festivals like Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival in Spain and Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland, I was suddenly exposed to a lot of top-notch independent genre cinema from various parts of the world. I was very inspired and I wanted to make another film which would help me grow as a filmmaker within the genres of fantasy and horror. That is when I remembered Ruskin Bond’s The Black Cat, a story which I had read many years ago as a school student. The old-world charm of the story, its fine balance between fantasy and the supernatural, the eccentric characters, and the unusual setting were all very exciting to me as a filmmaker. The story also gave me the opportunity to explore many new aspects of filmmaking, both creatively and technically.

Image Courtesy: Bhargav Saikia

How did you go about to get permission from Mr. Bond to adapt his short story into a film?

I was introduced to Ruskin Bond by a family friend and he generously agreed to meet me at his residence in Landour in July, 2016. The meeting which was meant to last only 30 minutes, went on for almost 3 hours. We chatted about his books, his love for reading, his close association with Vishal Bhardwaj and about his fascination with the supernatural. He watched Awakenings and I believe he enjoyed the film. He was pleasantly surprised that out of all his supernatural stories, I wanted to adapt The Black Cat. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity and for trusting me to pull off the film adaptation. Collaborating with him has truly been a dream-come- true for me.

Adaptations come with their limitations. Did you face any while writing the screenplay for The Black Cat?

Ruskin Bond’s stories are pure magic. I retained the essence of his original story in the screenplay and added certain elements to make it cinematically more appealing. A special screening was arranged for Ruskin Bond at Woodstock School, Mussoorie in September. He praised the film and appreciated it for staying true to his story. I was overjoyed to get his nod of approval.

How did Tom Alter, Shernaz Patel and Uday Chandra become a part of this short film?

Tom Alter was a natural choice for Mr. Bond’s character. He was a close friend of the real-life Ruskin Bond and he could easily relate to the characters and the world that I wanted to create in the film. Shernaz Patel was instantly excited about her character of a traditional, eccentric English witch. I have known Uday Chandra for a while and his presence in the film has made the opening sequence very special. The three actors share great onscreen chemistry. I am grateful to them for believing in my vision for The Black Cat.

Image Courtesy: Bhargav Saikia

While we know the cast is exceptional, we would like to know what was it like working with the Black Cat?

Working with the black cat was undoubtedly a big challenge. Cats are known to be stubborn and they cannot be easily trained. I had absolutely no budget for creating the cat through visual effects, therefore I had to make sure that the cat performed convincingly in front of the camera. There were challenging scenarios and I had to take many spontaneous decisions during filming. Overall, it was a good experience and the cat kept everyone entertained throughout the film shoot. Credit goes to the animal trainers, the actors and all the technicians, who were all very patient and supportive while filming the cat scenes.

How was the Black Cat cast into your movie?

Image Courtesy: Bhargav Saikia

I hired professional animal wranglers who regularly work with animals in films, commercials and television shows. They trained two identical black Persian cats for three months in Mumbai. Major portions were performed by a cat named Jumbo. The other cat, Rosy, was brought in whenever Jumbo needed rest or was too lazy to perform in front of the camera!

The movie has already received 6 nominations and 1 win. Has that changed anything in your career so far?

The Black Cat has screened at several film festivals since its premiere at FilmQuest in Utah, USA in September. The film has been received very well by the festival audience and it has garnered positive reviews from leading critics/publications in India and abroad. My first short film, Awakenings, and my first film as a producer, Kaafiron Ki Namaaz, were also well-received at film festivals. Awakenings gave me access to some of the world’s top film festivals showcasing pathbreaking genre cinema. I got the opportunity to network with festival programmers, curators, filmmakers, and most importantly, I was exposed to the latest trends in quality genre filmmaking. Mainstream filmmaking in India has its constraints. But through festival markets, one can experiment and explore varied narratives, and reach out to a global audience.

It takes more than just the screenplay writer, director and actors to make a movie. Who were some of your unsung heroes of The Black Cat?

The Black Cat is a result of excellent teamwork and seamless coordination between all the filmmaking departments. Cinematographer A. Vasanth, sound designer Dhiman Karmakar, music composer Advait Nemlekar, production designer Pooja Ramesh and editor Arjun Mogre have been my long-time collaborators. We share a common vision of creating unique cinematic experiences. I must also mention Phantom-FX, the visual effects company from Chennai, for beautifully translating the fantastical ideas in the narrative into stunning VFX-driven visuals. Phantom-FX recently worked on the visual effects of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Last but not the least, Plexus for the wonderful credit sequence and chapter title designs.

Did you always intend to release the short film on YouTube and why was such a decision made?

I always wanted to release The Black Cat on YouTube on Children’s Day. Firstly, it was the perfect occasion to share a Ruskin Bond tale with everyone. Secondly, I am in the process of creating an online presence for Lorien Motion Pictures as a film production company focussing on quality genre cinema and related media within the horror and fantasy genres. There may not be immediate monetary benefits with such release strategies, but I am certain that this risk will pay-off in the long run.

Are there any other short stories that you wish to adapt into a short film?

I recently read an abecedarian book that can be adapted into an exciting and unique short film. I love the short film format and I look forward to exploring many more tales of the supernatural and the fantastic.

Are there any actors or actresses that you wish to work with in the future?

Radhika Apte, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranveer Singh, Pankaj Kapur and Jim Sarbh to name a few. Also, I cannot wait to work with Shernaz Patel again in the near future.

What can we expect to see next from you?

My next film will be a full-length feature in Hindi/English in the horror-drama genre. The script is complete and pre-production will begin soon. It will mark my feature directorial debut.

Is there any message you have for our readers?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, and do what you truly love for a living.

We wish all the best with all your future endeavours and thank you again for talking to BUZZ Magazine.

Thank you!

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