FILM

TNC Film Interview | 2019 

Neil Biswas 

Writer/Director 
Darkness Visible 

BERLINALE

Out February 8th 2019 - US​ 

London-raised Ronnie returns to his home in India to discover his mother Suleka has died in mysterious circumstances. As he uncovers a series of similar past murders, Ronnie's own inner-darkness come to light.

 

Hi Neil thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for release day?

 

Yes - I’m flying out to LA to attend the opening night! So yes, very excited.

 

Do you ever get nervous when a new film is coming out?

 

Yes - nervousness is a part of the whole process. A mixture of nervousness and hope, and relief that finally the project you have spent so much time working on will have an audience - and a life of its own. 

 

Can you tell me a little bit about Darkness Visible, how did this film come about?

 

I have always been a fan of Horror movies - and guess they were kind of the first movies that made me fall in love with cinema. Especially The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now. So I guess I’ve always been drawn to making something in the genre. Darkness Visible is a supernatural horror very much influenced by the movies I’ve just mentioned, but it’s set in Kolkata, India. It follows Londoner Ronnie, a Second Generation Asian graffiti artist, as he goes to India in search of his mother - when she suddenly goes missing from London. Ronnie learns that she has ended up in a coma in a hospital in Kolkata - but has no idea how or why. What follows is a gradual unravelling of everything Ronnie has ever believed about his own history, and a terrifying journey of discovery. 

 

What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

 

When I was a kid visiting Kolkata with my parents, my relatives there would always tell me the most terrifying ghost stories - all set around Kolkata. My mum is from a family of eleven siblings who all suddenly became orphans when both their parents died within a day of each other. 

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So there has always been a fascination with the occult and seances amongst the siblings. I guess this all entered my own young subconscious - and when it came to writing Darkness Visible - some of their stories must have seeped in. Kolkata itself is a fascinating and crumbling old city - that miraculously becomes almost deserted and very very creepy at night. So it seemed like the perfect setting for a tale like this.

"I spend so much more time thinking and planning how to achieve this..."

Being a writer/director do your own personal experiences find their ways into your scripts?

 

As I mentioned above a lot of Darkness Visible is inspired my stories that came from my extended family. But yes - as both a director and writer - one of your main sources of truth is your own experience. It’s not necessarily a straight transposition from your own life - but it’s often a feeling that you understand intimately or a situation that you have been in - that is a starting point for a scene or a sequence - which you then put characters, that you have invented, into. You are always looking for truth - as this is what the audience will recognise and relate to most. And that is why it’s often best to trust something you know. 

 

What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?

 

The shoot itself was incredibly demanding. We filmed 30 nights in a row out on the streets of Kolkata - often in incredible heat - and in some pretty challenging locations. There was frequently a real unpredictability to what we would face from the world outside - and I know this caused a lot of frazzled nerves amongst my crew and lead actors. But this was all because I wanted the film to have that feeling of authenticity - where it would feel as real as possible - and yet hopefully still be filmed in a visually striking and poetic way. It required a lot of determination on everyone’s part - and a lot of organisation to try and make those almost opposing challenges work out. We often worked with untrained actors - and in real situations like the huge Durga Puja festival - just placing our Lead Actors into the real world around them… 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

 

A short answer to this is YES! I started out in theatre - writing and directing plays there - but I quickly shifted to screen work. I’m drawn to the magic of capturing those images, those moments - that can affect an audience in such a visceral and powerful way. I feel there is no art form that elicits that same physical and emotional connection in its audience. Every time I watch Satyajit Ray’sThe World Of Apu”, or those first twenty minutes of "Up", or “ET”, I know exactly where I am going to cry - and I still cry even though I know it so well.  

Has your approach and style to you films changed much since your debut film?

 

As a film-maker, I just think you learn if you are given the opportunity to learn - and in this profession that is sometimes few and far between. Stylistically I think I have become more precise - and more anonymous - at the same time. I want to draw attention to the story - to the characters - to the truth - not to the camera movements or the decisions I make behind the camera. Yet at the same time - I spend so much more time thinking and planning how to achieve this - and how to unconsciously plant images in the audience’s mind that they won’t forget. 

 

In 2007 you got BAFTA Nominated for Break-Through Talent for Bradford Riots, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your work?

 

Any type of recognition gives you just a little more power to create other films - and eases the difficulty to get them made. I’m really proud of Bradford Riots and think it is still a really interesting and important piece of drama. I was just really happy that it got recognised by BAFTA.

 

After the nomination did more creative opportunities present themselves to you?

 

I think it established me as a Writer-Director - rather than just a writer. Like I said above, it changes the way people in the industry see you. I’m sure that it was a part of the journey that helped get Darkness made so many years later.

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How important is the collaborative process on a project like this?

 

It is at the heart of it. Every aspect of the film came into being because of the relationship between each individual HOD and myself - as well as the army of AD’s working tirelessly to achieve our shared vision. I love that collaboration, and it truly enriches the film. From working with Robert Baumgartner, my visionary DOP, to Joseph Hodges my designer, to my editor John Harris - who has made huge films with Danny Boyle and been nominated for an Oscar  for “127 Hours” - to my very talented sound team, composer Nainita Desai and sound designer Anna Bertmark - each has made a huge contribution to Darkness Visible. And each, I believe, was incredibly passionate about the film.

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I have just finished writing a film called The Balladeer, and that is currently out to finance. So fingers crossed. 

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Darkness Visible?

 

It’s a psychological supernatural thriller - so, first of all, I hope that it really gets into their minds and disturbs them! But I also hope they go away feeling that they have watched something unique - a world and a landscape that they have never experienced before. Something that is not easy to forget.