Lockdown has proved to be a turning point in the lives of a lot of people, two such people being filmmaker and screenwriter Tarun Teja Mallareddy and actor Muralidaran, the duo behind the horror-short film Aśvins.
This 20-minute-long pilot project of an intended horror-thriller feature film released on July 1.
Mallareddy directed the film along with Muralidaran (who was also the assistant director), and it has been produced by Night Noise Films in partnership with Nashville Film Institute, a film school based in Nashville, Tennessee. Vijay Siddharth, a music director with National Geographic, composed the film’s background music and sound effects.
Based on the concept of ‘duality of ideas’ such as light and dark, healing and destruction, the short film is based on a fictional tale of a 23-year-old archaeology student, Aarti Rajgopal, who killed herself within 30 days of stealing one half of a doll horse pair from a 90-year-old who lived in a village in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, for research work. According to the film, whoever is in possession of one of the horses either kills someone or kills themselves. The woman also breathed her last on the same day Rajgopal was found dead in her flat. Just before Rajgopal’s apparent suicide, someone makes a video of her screaming and crying on the terrace of her flat, which promptly goes viral online.
The video’s virality prompts a YouTube content creator, Arjun, to go to Rajgopal’s ‘haunted’ flat to get some footage. Carrying his phone in his hand with his friend and co-creator Varun on a video call, he explores the building and the flat while Varun keeps egging him on to film everything and not be so scared. There’s a few jump scares, to begin with – it’s all very found-footage style – and the ending leaves viewers chilled to their bones.
“The title of the movie is Aśvins – a Vedic term in the Rig Veda and means dual horses. The word asvins also stands for Ashwatthama which means a horse and is the name of a character in the Mahabharat,” says Mallareddy.
Talking about their motive to incorporate Hindu mythology in the story, he says: “Tarun [Mallareddy] is a pro at Hindu mythology. He knows the Mahabharat and Ramayana by heart and all of his scripts and stories revolve around this concept [hindu mythology]. One of the reasons why The Conjuring or any of the Hollywood horror movies work is that they go back to their roots, which is the Bible, and further strengthens the connection between the viewer and the film.”
He adds, “Aśvins is all about how far will you go to get what you want? Will you pledge your soul in the quest for fame? And what if your deepest desires take you to a point of no return?”
Social media validation
Apart from making a blood-curdling film, the creators have made sure that they don’t compromise on the relatability factor. Either by bringing the aspect of social media, or using millennial slang, or the general leg-pulling between two friends, the creators have tried to create a connection between the characters and the viewers.
In the film, we see the two friends discussing Rajgopal’s viral video and how they wish to increase the reach of their YouTube channel by making a video inside her abandoned flat.
“Today everybody wants to be famous; everybody needs more views, followers, likes; everybody is looking for validation from the audience for their work. This is something that everybody connects to in this new social media era. So we decided to take that simple idea that everyone, especially Gen Z/ millennials, connects with and then just take it from there,” says Mallareddy, who plays the role of Arjun.
‘Chennai’s Blair Witch Project‘
According to Mallareddy, Aśvins has been termed as Chennai’s Blair Witch Project. “We were inspired by the Blair Witch Project, which is Hollywood’s Bible for horror. The entire movie was shot from the point of view of the camera which was again inspired by the Blair Witch Project. This shooting style has not been used much in India and that was the motivation for us,” Mallareddy said.
The film was entirely shot during the lockdown with a lack of resources and several other restrictions. “The movie was entirely shot inside Mallareddy’s house, which was built in the 1950s and has a spooky look to it. He took about two days ransacking his entire house and to come up with a script. For me, the biggest concern was the lack of any professional pieces of equipment, cameraman, lighting or resources. However, we decided to go ahead with it and take it as a project to learn from if not anything else,” Muralidaran said.
According to Muralidaran, the editing, poster design and cinematography was entirely handled by the director, Mallareddy, due to a lack of funds.
The movie has been received well, even by a number of South Indian celebrities, including actor R. Madhavan, who called it “a fully loaded capsule which gives a great insight into the ability of the team with respect to creating fear, telling a story, and maintaining intrigue. Right up there technically too!”
What an amazing, effective and innovative creation during lockdown with limited resources.. Engaging story and not for the faint hearted .Wow . Well done guys .. https://t.co/0CKUal1YrL
— Ranganathan Madhavan (@ActorMadhavan) July 31, 2020
While director Gautam Vasudeva Menon calls it “quite a thriller”, actor Karthi expressed, “I had to switch on the lights to continue watching the film” and film critic, Baradwaj Rangan called it “an atmospheric, claustrophobic horror short with a nasty twist at the end”, amidst several others who expressed their appreciation for the film.
Muralidaran indicated that “the end role of this pilot is to take this as a full-fledged feature film that the team is currently working on with the hope of releasing it next year”.
All images provided by Muralidaran