“We became filmmakers because we wanted to tell stories,” said Vikram Bhatt at the launch of his digital show, Once Upon A Time With Vikram Bhatt. The show that’s now streaming on Sony LIV presents short stories in 104 episodes and has been shot in Bhatt’s study. Bhatt feels that filmmakers have been gripped by the economics and stories have taken a backseat. About two years ago, Bhatt found an alternate medium to tell his stories on Facebook. His short stories became immensely popular and now will feature on this digital show. He talks to The WEEK about the show, the way forward for digital medium and his love for horror.
How did the idea of Once Upon a Time With Vikram Bhatt come about?
When Sony LIV approached me with the idea, I wasn’t sure. My initial response was that people have already read these stories. But they believed in the concept and convinced me to do it. Now, whoever has watched it thinks it is a much better experience than just reading these on Facebook.
How is collaborating with a digital medium different from a conventional collaboration with a film producer?
Let us put it this way, anybody who is working for the digital medium wants to do something different. It’s a bonanza for someone with a creative bend of mind – there’s no censorship. But when you say there’s no censorship, there’s a censorship of responsibility. I can stand here and talk nonsense and say obnoxious stories, which will definitely find an audience like a KRK (Kamaal Rashid Khan) does (Bhatt refers to the popularity of KRK on Twitter; he even had an ugly altercation with the self-proclaimed Twitter critic over some obscene tweets by the latter). But the idea is not that, the idea is to do something different with responsibility. The producer, however, is going to think along different lines. He has to get an actor, he has to think about the release, selling the film and go through the Censor Board. The amount of money spent is not even close.
Digital is at a very nascent stage, but my prediction is that digital will wipe out the small and medium budget films. Only the big budget and digital will exist after some time.
You have mastered the art of telling supernatural and horror stories. The stories on Facebook, and now on this show, are though of very different genres.
When I was making these movies, there were a lot of restrictions. There are dictated terms that you have to follow in filmmaking. I have been a producer, too, and I understand that you have to keep wondering what is going to bring audience to the theatre. The digital medium, on the other hand, has given you freedom to experiment. There’s no specific time-limit, neither is there any appointment viewing. It is on-demand. You binge watch or you can watch one episode at a time. There’s freedom of choice.
Does that mean that you wouldn’t experiment with your films?
It’s not that. We tried doing different things. We tried to do Creature 3D. We tried to do Mr X about an invisible man.
But most of it is restricted to the same genre; you were a lot more versatile in your younger days with films like Fareb (1996) and Ghulam (1998).
Versatile or prolific doesn’t have money today. Can you name a director who is switching between genres? If you have a Karan Johar, he makes only romance. David Dhawan made comedy all his life, Abbas-Mustan have made thrillers all their life. Somehow, I have to answer why I make thrillers all my life.