Saptaswa Basu’s film Jatugriha, running in theatres now, follows Rehan, who gets a job as a hotel manager in Nishadgunj set in a remote village in the mountains. Rehan finds Meghna there, a desolate local girl who cares for homeless kids. As they strike up a friendship, a mysterious force tries to take them apart and Joseph, the priest, tries to help Rehan decode the mystery behind this. Saptaswa writes about a few crucial moments from the film, starring Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Bonny Sengupta, and Paayel Sarkar.
1. Rehan is attacked by an unknown force when he visits Meghna’s place and tries to find her brother upstairs.
This is the first scene where our protagonist Rehan finds something is creepy about the house that Meghna is living in. He visits for the first time and perceives the presence of a small child. Unable to see him, Rehan asks Meghna about her little brother Bittu that she always speaks about, and tries to go upstairs to find Bittu. There he sees Bittu’s room for the first time which has a spooky feel. The sketches on the wall, the crafts and the toy horse all added to the mystery. Rehan finds that the horse automatically starts to move and as he tries to approach it, he sees a glimpse of dead Bittu and immediately gets thrown into the wall.
It is a very critical shot and we tried to put in a good standard of production design and VFX to create it. The 10 seconds of action needed three separate shoots, one chroma shoot, one plate and one live action footage. We combined that in post, added 3D elements and as per audience reaction, the outcome is very seamless. This scene is important as Rehan starts to enter the maze of Nishadgunj after this experience shakes him and compels him to investigate further.
Bonny jumps towards the edge of the cliff
2. Rehan sees an illusion where an impostor, looking exactly like him, takes Meghna for a drive.
While trying to find out the mystery of the supernatural force haunting Meghna’s bungalow, he takes Meghna out for a while, allowing Anshu (his friend) to check for paranormal activities with his set of infrared cameras. While enjoying the day, at one point Rehan goes to get some supplies and while returning he sees that someone else, looking like him is driving his car while Meghna is sitting beside, unaware of the danger. He tries to stop the car but falls off a ridge. Then we find that Meghna was standing beside the car all along and what Rehan was witnessing was an illusion of false identity.
This scene has been designed to thematically connect with the twist of the story, at its heart the film is about identity crisis and existentialism. Judo Ramu, the stunt designer, and Bonny helped us to create the scene and Bonny actually jumped towards the edge of a cliff without any safety harness. It was a bit risky, specially shooting in rain and mist. The final scene looks quite tense and exciting in the big screen.
3. The body of Anshuman is found in the jungles, in a semi-rotten state.
In a very eerie scene, while Rehan is trying to find Meghna in the jungles, someone attacks him from behind and he falls down on a slope, ultimately stumbling upon the dead body of his friend Anshuman. Surprisingly, Anshu was with Rehan for the last couple of days and he is the key of information about Nishadgunj.
This scene is designed with quite a twist in the narrative so that if one revisits the film they will find subtle clues and foreshadowing present in the entire plot design that leads to this shocking reveal. We used special prosthetic make-up and also VFX to enhance the rotten flesh of Anshu’s dead body. This scene builds up to the interval of the film when Rehan feels that that there is a lot more to Nishadgunj than what meets the eye and the demonic force has surrounded him from all sides.
A close-up of a face created by using CGI
4. The demon manifests within Meghna and she attacks Rehan before the climax.
This is the crucial scene before climax where Rehan finally faces the demon which has got hold of Meghna. Rehan thinks that as Bittu’s soul is now released, the hauntings will stop. But he did not realise that Bittu was protecting Meghna from the actual harmful demon which has now taken control. Meghna attacks Rehan as he tries to get her back into senses. The CG was done frame by frame to give a premium quality of horror effect, which is rare in Bengali films.
Kuntal Guria, who handled the VFX has worked in films like October and Sardar Udham, has given us proper insight into handling the film’s horror scenes. We really had a fear in our mind that certain horror scenes turn out to be funny and audience laughs instead of getting spooked, but we maintained a serious form of social horror theme in all our scenes and the CG was time-taking as well. We could only put in six to seven such scenes to work within constrained budget. It was important to get this scene right as the final part of the story starts to unravel right from the end of this moment.
The scene was designed with each element meticulously planned from pre-production itself. The lights, the wall art, the colour palette and ambience all contributed to the scene. We arranged a different set of electrical board to create the light flickers and there was extensive work of wireframes to hang the actors and create the effect. It was a costly affair in terms of a Bengali film and we used very focused low light with cinema filters to create the mood.
5. The demon gains power in the climax.
Father Joseph is trapped in a loop in Nishadgunj and returns to his safe place, the church. But Rehan and Meghna are also present there and the secrets of Nishadgunj are known to them by this point. After releasing Bittu’s soul by mistake, the demon has gained its control over the hamlet and its effects start to seep into the church interiors.
Experimenting with a social horror theme, this is a key moment in the film where it is established that mankind can be more horrific than any creature or demon.
The final twist of the tale and the emotional crux of the film is formed in the scene. It’s a juxtaposition of the demonic force and the final reveal of the characters. We shot at Pedong till 1am and it was so cold and foggy. We were literally stuck in a deserted church in the middle of nowhere.
The scene took almost till dawn to complete as we lit up the church interior and the outside to design the scene.
We did not attempt a day-for-night technique as it sometimes looks fake, so we lit up the space and did the shoot in an otherwise pitch-black night.