'Evil Eye' doesn't glorify superstition, say directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani

·4-min read

Mumbai, Nov 1 (PTI) Touching upon themes of reincarnation and superstition in their thriller movie 'Evil Eye', the Dassani brothers -- Elan and Rajeev -- say they were aware as directors to not present a sensationalised version of the story.

Based on Madhuri Shekar's Audible Original audio play of the same name, 'Evil Eye' stars Sarita Choudhury and 'Glow' actor Sunita Mani.

The film, which released on Amazon Prime Video last month, follows a mother, who is convinced that her daughter's new boyfriend has a dark connection to her own past.

A large part of the film's premise relies on Mani's Pallavi navigating her overbearing, superstitious mother Usha (Choudhury), before it opens up to its larger theme of sexual assault, domestic abuse and misogyny.

In an interview with PTI over Zoom call, Elan Dassani said the duo wanted to depict tropes of superstition in a way they see it around them.

'We didn't want to glorify superstition, we wanted to try and show it in a way that we see in our families and communities. There are people who really do believe in this, care about this. We didn't want to get into the sensationalised version of it,' one half of the Los Angeles-based director duo said.

Elan Dassani said the reliance on astrology for some people is so strong, that they wanted it to feel real while touching upon on the subject for the film.

'Our own mother, whenever we go on a date, asks us, what time were they born, or what day in terms of astrology.

'We wanted to portray it in a way that it would be recognisable to people in India, US or even those who have no connection to it should see this as 'oh, that feels like something that happened.' As opposed to the sensationalised 'pundits' or others that you see in Bollywood films from the '80s.' 'Evil Eye' is executive produced by actor Priyanka Chopra's Purple Pebble Pictures and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, known for backing Hollywood horror blockbusters like 'Paranormal Activity', 'Insidious' and 'Get Out'.

The film cleverly makes Usha follow the typical Indian mother trope of wanting her daughter to get married but turns it around with its big reveal in the end.

Rajeev Dassani said he saw the characters of Usha and Pallavi as two women who want to do the right but struggle how to.

'Pallavi is the first generation daughter but she is not just someone who wants to rebel. She loves her mother, calls her, but also wants to live her own life. Usha wants to have her daughter see that she's trying to help.

'All characters have good intentions, even if they are flawed, trying to figure out what's the right thing to do. That's how we see them - two women trying to do the right thing.' The brothers came on board when Shekar had already finished writing the script.

The biggest challenge for the duo was to give a cinematic feel to the original material, entirely staged on phone calls between the mother and daughter.

'We worked with her a lot on how to turn it visually. There were scenes where things were explained but we tried to push it more without words, to let the images speak for themselves.

'That meant adding a lot of those flashback sequences, showing Usha's mental state, to show blood, water, almost surreal imagery to give this visual flare,' he added.

Much of the film involves actors being alone in a room, specially Mani and Choudhury, talking to each other over phone.

The director duo said they were aided by a strong central cast, including Omar Maskati and Bernard White, to translate the written material visually.

'They had to be compelling, charismatic, because they had to carry these long scenes essentially by themselves. We got lucky that we got our first choice for all of our main cast,' Rajeev Dassani said.

For the role of Usha, the duo decided to cast Choudhury as she had a rich filmography, having featured in strong roles in films like Mira Nair's 'Mississippi Masala', 'A Perfect Murder' and 'Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love'.

'For Pallavi, we wanted someone who had a comedic and a dramatic background. That was key for us because the film is so heavy in many parts, we knew we needed someone who could help the audience through.

'An actor who was too serious in that role would have dragged the film down. Sunita balanced really well, being both, sarcastic and dramatic,' Rajeev Dassani added.

'Evil Eye' marks the first feature length collaboration between the Dassani brothers, after working on a couple of shorts films. They have also executive produced the Netflix supernatural drama 'Jinn' (2019).

The benefit of working together, Elan Dassani said, is as they have similar tastes, so when they disagree, they are willing to tell each other 'the whole and complete truth'.

'If I think his idea is terrible, I will tell him... We always make sure never to argue on set. On set, we are always a united front. It is useful to understand and have each other's backs,' he added. PTI JUR SHD RDS RDS