He has a terrific bloodline: his grandfather was Vijay Bhatt, who made classics like Baiju Bawra, Bharat Milap and Himalay Ki God Mein and the only film that Mahatma Gandhi ever watched, Ram Rajya. Vikram Bhatt's father is Pravin Bhatt, just retired due to old age, who was a cameraman in umpteen films including Vikram Bhatt's movies. It was Pravin who shot Haunted-3D, India's first movie to be actually filmed in 3D rather than reprocessed later.
Vikram is known more for having assisted Mahesh Bhatt (no blood relation) and his films like Fareb, Ghulam, Raaz, Awara Pagal Deewana, Raaz 3, Haunted 3D, and for pioneering web shorts and series like Maya, India's first series on BDSM. He is now set to launch, on January 27, his birthday, an OTT (over the top media services - an app that bypasses traditional distribution) called VB Theatre On The Web, which he describes as a "multiplex on the Internet."
Closer to that, his latest horror film 1921 (and he's been a horror specialist for the last 16 years, ever since Raaz topped the 2002 releases in business), released recently. Vikram calls it, "A beautiful love story - there is horror in this love story rather than a love story in a horror film." He says that it was a story he wanted to tell for a long while.
Why has he named it as 1921, when it is generally taken to be the fourth part of his horror franchise, 1920? So, why not call it 1920 with a suffixed title? "The story is in that zone, but my film is sufficiently dissimilar not be seen as a follower of this franchise," he answers. "Besides, after the third part, 1920 is a damaged franchise. Part 3 had to be released virtually incomplete due to production partners who let me down."
Vikram is known most for his horror films than for the many thrillers he has made, or for directing one of the most hilarious comedies seen in Hindi cinema, Awara Paagal Deewana. What does he have to say about this? "People ask me why I am making mostly horror films nowadays. Do they ask David Dhawan why he only makes comedies? Or why Abbas-Mustan make only thrillers? I have realised that today a brand sells, and if Vikram Bhatt is a horror brand, why should anyone care? I am giving my audience their time's worth, and making money. Why should I let others decide how I live my life?"
Getting pragmatically cynical (!), he goes on, "My daughter Krishna is a gifted film-maker who is doing the first show on my OTT, Untouchables, a riveting and emotional courtroom drama in which I am making my acting debut. But she does not know who Manmohan Desai and Prakash Mehra are. Most of today's youth do not know my grandfather! Forget movies, nobody cares who made the Grand Pyramid."
He further adds, "So, unlike my grandfather, who was miserable because he never got national honours, I prefer to be happy because I will not be remembered! I am relieved from the jail of immortality. So, I don't want someone else to tell me whether my life was worthwhile or not. At the end of it all, you are just a picture on the wall."
He goes on passionately, "So when I forget about becoming great, I start bothering about my audience's interest and enjoyment, about my producer who has to get his money back. I cannot make great cinema to achieve perceived immortality and let my poor producer lose 25 crores."
Having worked with the biggest names like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan, Vikram prefers modest-budgeted genres when he can walk into a producer's office with a script and a budget to make a film, happily conscious that stars do not need to come in. "I understand where stars are coming from. They have to enhance their stardom, take precautions," he explains. "But I want to make films when I want to make them, not when a star accepts it. When I made Raaz 3, Bipasha Basu told me that she won't be possessed and look ugly. I told her to listen to the story first. If you notice, audiences now go for good stories, with or without stars. Stars work only when they are a part of good stories, whereas, in the past, star-driven films would work even without content."
He adds, "Horror films are a director's medium. The poor actors do not even know what they will see in the final product when we introduce ghosts and other things by way of visual effects, while the actors are shooting against a blank backdrop." But Vikram is justifiably piqued about the metro audiences who consider Indian horror movies as "not cool."
"They are not proud of our culture!" he declares. "Hollywood films like The Exorcist or Conjuring are cool because a priest is reading from the Bible in English! But they look down on a pandit who is reading the Hanuman Chalisa, Vishnu Sahasranamam or the Gajendra Muktistotra! They found the mangalsutra scene in Raaz Reboot absurd! Do they even know the powers of all these? Do you know that in a place in Rajasthan, the audience would remove their footwear outside the theatre showing 1920 as there was a scene in which Hanuman Chalisa was recited?"
And today, Vikram feels blessed that films are not his only medium for storytelling. "I have web stories and series, I have my theatre on the web, I have finished a book called A Handful Of Sunshine, which is a love story, and I am doing a show for Star Plus. So, I do not need cinema as a creative urge. I am blessed by God."