Sharman Joshi on his new film: ‘1920 London is true to the genre of a horror film’

1920 London, releasing on Thursday, is a thriller set between London and Rajasthan, with Joshi in the role of an exorcist. 

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Raju Srivastav, Sukhi, Rustam "Rusy" Deboo, Laxman Prasad – the characters Sharman Joshi has portrayed have always hovered on the fringes of a Hindi film "hero".
From playing a nerd in 3 Idiots and a reluctant patriot in Rang De Basanti, to a helpless father in Ferrari ki Sawari and the buffer for his rambunctious friends in Golmaal, Joshi always manages to come through, thanks to his undeniable acting prowess.
A former stage actor, Joshi has now turned his attention on a genre of Bollywood that has not found much box-office favour: horror.
1920 London, releasing on Thursday, is a thriller set between London and Rajasthan, with Joshi in the role of an exorcist.
The actor, who was holidaying in Dubai with his family last month, tells The National why he wouldn't be taken aback at all if he had a true-life supernatural experience.
What's the significance of the title, 1920 London?
The film is a period-horror drama, and is the third instalment in the 1920 series of films. While the story is not connected to the previous films, the era in which each of them is set remains the same. Also, it is about a couple based in London, who receive a mysterious package from a village in ­Rajasthan.
How did you prepare for your role as an exorcist?
I think fear, and the desire to eliminate it, is a very natural human emotion. I was able to relate to what the haunted couple must be going through and then portray the role of their saviour. So in that sense, the script was the riding force behind my preparations.
Have you experienced any paranormal activity yourself, then?
I haven't, but I would say that should I ever encounter a ghost or spirit, I would not be surprised at all. I would be taken aback, sure, but I would not be in denial. I believe in positive and negative energies, and feel certain vibes, which could well be connected to the presence of a spirit world around us. Plus, as has happened to all of us, I've heard stories growing up, ­especially from my grandmum who once sensed a distinctive presence in her village in ­Gujurat.
Many horror films in Bollywood, including 1920 London, deal with black magic. Is that something you've ever bought into?
Let's just say that I would not take any undue risks. Or, conversely, if someone pointed out a good or bad talisman, I would use or discard it "just in case". In India, we see evil-warding props all over the place – from coconuts to green chillies and lemons. We also have certain auspicious and inauspicious days, where you don't conduct business and so on. While I find these things odd, I think it's a trick believers use to potentially avoid the evil eye or bad luck. It's about drawing good energy to yourself, which is something I buy into.
You've done a horror-comedy (Gang of Ghosts); and a thriller (Hate Story 3) before. What's different about this film?
1920 London is true to the genre of a horror film. It has inexplicable supernatural elements, and is essentially a battle between human and non-human entities. It's my first time in this genre, and I think horror has a lot of potential and performance opportunity, but it's not been very well explored in Bollywood. What's also interesting is that despite the scary elements, the film also has a gripping love story.
Which are some of your favourite horror films?
I enjoyed The Conjuring and the original Poltergeist as well as Evil Dead, although I suppose that would not be considered scary anymore. In Bollywood, Ram Gopal Verma's Bhoot and Vikram Bhatt's Raaz are my ­favourites.
What are some of your ­phobias? Which "entity" would most scare you?
Before filming 1920 London, I would say none. However, in this movie there is a scene where a disembodied hand is burying me in a hole by throwing mud over my body and face. I was freaking out because it was a long night of shooting and my face was covered completely, so in answer to your question, I think being buried alive would be my biggest phobia.
1920 London is directed by Tinu Desai and written by Vikram Bhatt. The film opens in cinemas on Thursday, May 5