The Big Picture
- KILL is an extreme action film that is unlike anything previously seen in Indian cinema, but the producers were immediately on board with the idea.
- The movie is described as extremely violent and not for the faint of heart, but the actors were eager to be a part of such a project.
- The film’s production involved 77 days of shooting, with 66 days dedicated to the intense train sequence, and the actors underwent rigorous training for nine months to prepare for their roles.
To promote his bloody thriller, aptly titled KILL, Indian writer and filmmaker Nikhil Nagesh Bhat (Saluun) stopped by Collider’s studio in the Cinema Center by MARBL at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival for an exclusive interview with Editor-in-chief Steve Weintraub. Joining Bhat were the movie’s hero and antagonist, Lakshya (Haseena) and Raghav Juyal (Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan) to talk about bringing genre films to Indian cinema and premiering at Midnight Madness.
Boasting some rather impressive set pieces and nonstop action, KILL takes place almost entirely on the Rajdhani Express, barreling full speed ahead for New Delhi. Among the passengers aboard the train are star-crossed lovers Tulika (played by Tanya Maniktala) and Amrit (Lakshya), with Tulika’s next stop an arranged marriage. Unable to stomach losing the love of his life, Amrit and his fellow commando set out to rescue Tulika from her predicament in a bold romantic gesture. This romantic drama goes off the rails when a ruthless gang of bandits, 40 men strong, takes over the train. In order to protect his love and her family, Amrit and his friend take on the criminals in heart-pounding martial arts combat, but their opposition is met by the gang’s psychotic Fani (Juyal), whose bloodlust must be sated.
The trio discusses what it was like first screening this bloody, action-packed film for friends and family, the shocking initial reactions they received, and the trust their producers put into bringing this vision to the big screen. Lakshya and Juyal share what it was like to prep for nine months before filming in a speedy 77 days, the intense training, and the physical and mental toll it took even off-set. They talk about how KILL changed in the editing room, why this is a perfect date movie, the hopes for a sequel and even a John Wick-esque franchise, and tons more. You can watch the full interview in the video above or read the transcript below.
COLLIDER: I really want to say a strong congratulations to you guys for KILL. I thought you guys did such a great job with this. I had a blast watching, but I’m also sick and twisted. So everyone watching won’t have seen the movie yet, so how have you been describing the film to friends and family?
NIKHIL NAGESH BHAT: Don’t watch.
LAKSHYA: Watch it if you have balls.
RAGHAV JUYAL: Is it okay if I speak in Hindi?
JUYAL: [Speaks Hindi] “If you have guts come to the halls.”
LAKSHYA: If you have balls come to the halls.
[Laughs] The thing about this, though, is I’ve seen a decent amount of Indian cinema, not a ton, and I’ve never seen a film like this out of India. Was it tough for you to make to get this made? It’s really bloody, it’s very violent, and it’s not something that typically comes out of India.
BHAT: To tell you the truth, actually, it was not that difficult to make it because when I met Guneet [Monga] and Karan [Johar] they jumped at the opportunity of making such a film, and I’m really, really thankful to them because this kind of a genre is not made in India at all. This is the first extreme action film coming out of India. When I went and told them about the story, they just wanted to make it. They said, “It’s high time. It’s high time. We’ve not tried this.” And that’s how quickly it got processed.
Again, let’s stress the word violent. I’m curious for both of you, were there any people in your life – managers, agents – telling you, “This is too violent, you should not do this,” or were they encouraging you by saying, “This is gonna be really cool?”
JUYAL: No, they were like, “I like it! Do this!” They had that sadistic pleasure [laughs], so they said, “Go for it and just do it.”
LAKSHYA: I mean, as a child growing up, I’ve only watched action movies, all kinds of action films, and I wanted to be a part of such a project. When it came my way, I was all for it. I was like, “There’s no chance I’m letting this go, no matter what people are gonna say.” It came to me through my producer, the guy I was doing a film with. I was doing a film with them already, it came through them, so I trusted him, and he’s also my mentor.
The direction that I got from him was so good. It was amazing. The entire film came to life, and I could only imagine myself doing it. That’s the only question I asked him, “When are we starting this? When can we just start?” And my second question was, “Am I a part of this? Am I already selected? Please tell me I am.” He was like, “We’ll see to that.” That’s what he said! He said, “We’ll see to that.”
This movie has a ton of action, how long did you actually have to film the movie? How many days?
BHAT: So, in all, we shot for 77 days, out of which around 66 days was shooting the train sequence, and action part, we shot around 58 days or 57 days.
LAKSHYA: Barring the rehearsals and the workshops, of action.
BHAT: We did a lot of rehearsals. We almost prepped for around nine months. So, for almost three months, these guys were training. We got an action director from Korea, Mr. [Se-yeong Oh]; he’s been a part of Snowpiercer. He came on board, and he got his team, and we had another action director from India, Mr. Parvez Khan. Both of them trained these guys for three months, and not just these guys but the other goons who are playing in the film. There are some 45 goons, so they trained them as well because we had to cast them. We couldn’t use the stuntman to do that because they had to emote in the film, so we cast them, and then we trained with them. These guys trained with them for almost three months.
So, the beginning of the film is very colorful and bright, and it’s not what I expected. Talk a little bit about how you set up this world and how maybe it’s a little different than people might expect.
BHAT: So, our director of photography, Mr. Rafey Mehmood, came up with the idea that because the film starts becoming grimmer and grimmer and grimmer, when we open up we should not even give a hint to the audience what it is gonna come. After 10 minutes, what are you gonna see? That’s the reason why it starts off almost like it’s probably gonna be a love story. We wanted to trick the audience over there, to be very honest, until we introduce Raghav in the film. Suddenly, you see this guy who’s working at the gas station, and he turns, and from there onwards, the lighting, as well as the colors, start changing to a point in the middle of the film, after which, when the shit hits the roof, it just starts going dimmer and dimmer and darker and darker. Also, we took creative liberty because that’s not how the trains are lit in India. Slowly, we started changing the colors, and you don’t even notice how gradually the colors have started changing.
Unless you’re a big film fan. For both of you, this had to have been a very daunting and challenging shoot because of the physicality and how much you had to do in a very limited space. Talk a little bit about the challenges as an actor to deliver performance while doing action while you’re in very tight quarters pretty much the whole time.
JUYAL: I think the whole time for me. I have a long limbs. [Laughs] Sometimes, we used to take two or three shots just because I used to hit my hand. So yeah, it was challenging, but it was really fun. And you know, all the during our shoot, all the time, we were like this [sways] because Indian trains move a lot, you know? So whenever I used to go home, back home and sleep, I’m almost like this [sways]. So for 77 days, nine months, I was like this whole time. And the train [imitates train sounds] all the time, and you were so much into that space and that character and that body language. I worked on that during the prep. So yeah, it was challenging, but it was really fun-loving, man. It’s an actor’s dream to perform, to play that character.
BHAT: We could do this all over again.
JUYAL: Yeah, and a cruise. [Laughs]
LAKSHYA: Yeah, that was my quote [laughs], which everybody’s stealing now. “I would do it all over again.” Considering the fact that it was physically exhausting, not only that, but for me, it was mentally more exhausting, to be very honest with you. Of course, we shot it for 77 days consecutively, but the film happens in a span of two hours, so the maintaining the emotional continuity of the character was everything for me. Something or the other is always happening with him, like, he gets into a fight, then he’s taking some time just to catch a breath, so something or the other keeps happening to him. He’s always trying to catch his breath. Then, when the big twist happens in the film, maintaining what happened, the personal loss, throughout the film was the biggest challenge for me because that has to be evident on his face throughout until the very end…I was getting dreams, you know? In my dreams, I’m thinking of the sequence that I had shot the day prior. The action sequence was running in my mind throughout, and I slept for six/seven hours, but I’m feeling that probably I didn’t sleep at all because my mind was constantly thinking about the scene. I was in that loop. So it was mentally more exhausting for me than physically because physically, it was not so much. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Well, the other thing is that I’m sure, for both of you, you’re also thinking about, “What are my moves tomorrow? What do I need to remember? What are we doing tomorrow?” I’ve never acted, but every actor tells me it’s like a marathon, especially an action film.
LAKSHYA: I usually look forward to it, to be honest. It’s not like I was thinking about what’s gonna happen tomorrow, but it was more in a very positive light, like, “Okay, tomorrow it is the same thing that I’m gonna do. It’s the same set, the same set of people I’m gonna see, it’s the same sequence.” I was looking forward to it more than being nervous about it. That was my take on things while shooting for it.
JUYAL: Generally, what happens when you’re well-prepped—for me, I’m talking about my personal experience—when you’re well-prepped, I tend to just forget before I go to the set. If I’m well-prepped, I forget what I learned. So that way, while doing in the moment, the element of surprise is there for me, and I get discoveries. I can discover new things on the set in the train, during my scenes. Not in the fight, the fight we choreographed, but during the scenes, I try to forget everything and just be there, and subconsciously, whatever I’ve learned as a character or whatever it is, I just go there and I discover new things. That’s what I love about this job of mine. That’s why I prepped a lot, nine months, and then I took two weeks to just forget it and do different things and see if my body is still working like that. And I used to come on set and just discover and explore.
Sure. There’s also a lot of muscle memory because you’ve prepped for so long.
JUYAL: Yeah, subconsciously.
It’s The Karate Kid. I’ve seen Cobra Kai. It’s like the wash on, wash off…
JUYAL: Repetition, repetition, repetition, and then [snaps].
One of the things that I enjoyed about your character and the performance is that sometimes in American cinema, the lead actor can’t get hurt. I don’t wanna say anything about Jason Statham, who I’m a huge fan of, but he can’t lose a fight, you know? What I appreciated is that you got the shit kicked out of you in this movie. Talk a little bit about what it’s like playing someone who is getting their ass kicked in, you are caked in blood, you’ve got cuts.
LAKSHYA: For that, I think all the credit goes to the director for writing such a scene and making him more human. I feel I totally relate because earlier, if you would have seen, there was one sequence where, of course, as you rightly mentioned, he’s a human, after all. He’s a commander, it’s not like he’s a god or he’s some Superman or some Batman who can’t be defeated. So I think the more human he is, the more relatable he can be with common people because no matter how strong you are, there will be somebody who’s going to be stronger than you.
And that person is in the movie.
LAKSHYA: And that person is in the movie. So I think that was some brilliant writing and some brilliant thought that the director brought in the script. That’s all him.
Every time I speak to directors I always talk about editing because it’s the most important thing. It’s where it all comes together. Talk a little bit about what you learned from friends and family screenings that ended up impacting the finished film.
BHAT: So my editor is a brilliant editor. The process is that once I’ve finished the shoot, I will not enter the edit room until the first edit’s done because I feel the editor is a filmmaker on his own. So I want him to have his take, have a go on the film from his side, and see what he can bring in. To be honest, there was a huge change that he brought in. Earlier, we were entering the train pretty late. He just threw things out, and we entered the train precisely in the sixth minute. So, that’s what he has done.
When we showed it to our friends and families and when we were taking reactions from them, there were a lot of reactions coming in. But, like what I was saying earlier, this is the first extreme action genre film coming out of India. So, there are few people who understand this kind of a genre, so we were told lots of times, and there were suggestions, that we should increase the love story, we should have more love story so that we will feel more for the for the boy, for the girl, but we actually stuck on the fact that, “No, it’s a genre film. We need to keep genre its importance.”
I can’t imagine what was it like actually showing the film because, again, I don’t know how many genre films go to India. What was it like showing it to people who maybe hadn’t seen genre films that much, who were watching something with as much blood and action for the first time?
BHAT: So most of the people who watched it, they were shocked. They were shocked, and they were pleasantly shocked. They were surprised. We were thinking that maybe the girls would not like it, and it was a surprise. They were screaming, they were shrieking, and they wanted to watch more, and they wanted to watch more blood. One of my friends said, “It’s a date film. It’s a date film. I want to go watch this film with my boyfriend because I want to hold his hand and I want him to protect me while watching this film.” So, it’s a very different reaction. I was expecting a completely different reaction, but when I showed the film to her and two more friends of hers, oh my goodness, they were just ecstatic.
JUYAL: I would go with my girlfriend to watch this film because I’m really scared of these types of films. I’m scared. I want to go with my girlfriend, you know?
LAKSHYA: I remember this very vivid reaction that I got from a friend of mine who saw the film. She said, “There were times when I didn’t want to watch the film, but it was so tempting and so catchy that I was watching it with one eye closed and one eye open.” It’s a guilty pleasure for her. So that’s the kind of reaction that we got from the film. Of course, it’s a little uncomfortable to watch the amount of blood that we have shed in the film, and it’s all him [Bhat]. This man, he loves blood – to another level. There was a sequence I remember in the film—the fire extinguisher thing—and the leftover of that…
We don’t want to be specific, but yes, there is a fire extinguisher in the movie that is used to…inflict things.
LAKSHYA: Yeah, it’s all him. There was this moment when he came on the sets, and he saw the blood. He touched the blood, and he held it like that. He’s like, “It doesn’t seem thick enough. Make it thicker.” And I’m just looking at him. I said, “Oh god, he’s my director. [Laughs] There is a streak of violence in him. I should be very careful of him from now on.”
BHAT: So there is a reason to it. Actually, there’s a serious reason to it. I feel blood is a symbol of ambition, greed, and sacrifice. So in the film, there is somebody’s ambition and greed, and then there is a sacrifice. – a lot of people are getting sacrificed because of that ambition and greed. So, as you go towards the end of the film, you’ll see that the blood has increased, the flow of blood has increased. It’s actually a very conscious decision to keep increasing the blood until the end of the film.
You guys are part of TIFF Midnight Madness. What does it mean for all three of you to be a part of this film festival, premiering here in a section of the festival that means a lot to a lot of people?
BHAT: Oh, it was overwhelming. Even right now, the feeling is still sinking in. It’s just a great honor to be here. This is the first time we’ve come here. This is the first time my film has come to Toronto. For the first time I’m in Canada. And when we started making the film, we had no idea that our world premiere is gonna happen for real and at Midnight Madness, which is the place to be for a genre film. So I’m very, very happy, very excited and it couldn’t have been better, actually. Couldn’t have been better.
JUYAL: I’m really overwhelmed, as sir said. It’s such a prestigious film festival and such a wonderful segment, Midnight Madness. This is my first international film festival as an actor, and people are not giving me time for the feelings to sink in because sometimes there’s interviews and all. When I go back home to India, I’ll sit, I’ll meditate, I’ll put a candle on, and I’ll just keep thinking about it, what happened to me. I’m really so happy and proud of myself, and I think sir is also proud of me.
BHAT: Oh yes, of course.
LAKSHYA: I feel it’s too good to be true, to be honest with you. It’s too good to be true. When I got the news from my producer, she broke the news to me saying that, “The film has made it to TIFF.” I said, “Okay.” That was the only reaction I had because I thought, “It’s too good.” I mean, it’s impossible. It’s my debut film. It’s my first film. It’s massive. And I just put the phone down, and I told a friend of mine, “My film is going to the Toronto Film Festival.” He said, “What? Are you serious? Do you know what that means?” I said, “I know what it means, but I think probably something will happen or the other.”
Everything came through yesterday when I was watching the film. The way people reacted. Oh god, it was something that I’ve never felt in my life. I had somebody sitting on my left, I had somebody sitting on my right, there was a guy sitting right behind me – the way they reacted, “One more time! One more time! Go for it one more time! We want part two!” That reaction made it all so real for me. It was so overwhelming, as he said. I just wanted 10 seconds to just cry, come back and just sit, which I never got. I’m grateful. I’m immensely blessed. I’m immensely lucky to be here, to be sitting in front of you, and doing this interview. It’s a feeling that I probably will never feel again. I want to retain it. I want to feel it every minute of my life.
JUYAL: I was not able to believe that we are getting a standing ovation after the film, when the film ended, and most of them were foreigners. They were not Indian, they don’t know us well, but still, they were standing for us and clapping.
LAKSHYA: They loved the film. They didn’t know us. Nobody knew us there, they just loved the film.
What’s funny is I watched the film the day before the premiere, and as I was watching it and as it ended, I said, “Oh my god, I wish I could be in the theater to watch this with the Midnight Madness crowd,” because I could have told you that was going to happen. But it’s past my bedtime, I couldn’t do it.
LAKSHYA: It was crazy.
BHAT: There needs to be a special mention for the producers. Like I was saying, this is the first of its kind coming from India, and the kind of conviction and support which they have provided to the film, it’s immense. I’m truly grateful to them. These are not tested waters. This is a first of its kind. And like your first question, when you said, “Was it difficult?” It was not difficult. They were fully sold on the fact that we need to come out with this. It’s high time, and I’m really, really grateful to Karan, Apoorva [Mehta], Guneet, and Achin [Jain] that they actually made this happen. Really.
JUYAL: They trusted us.
BHAT: Yeah, they trusted us. To put in this kind of belief in a film like this when there is no precedent, it’s just immense.
I don’t want to be specific with what happens in the movie—who lives, who dies, all that stuff—but I am curious, with the reaction from this plus your experience making the movie, do you have an appetite for making another genre film?
BHAT: Yes. I’ve tasted the blood.
[Laughs] And it tastes like candy.
BHAT: Oh, it tastes sweet! The blood we used was sweet.
Is it one of these things where you are already in your mind thinking about, “What am I gonna do next?” And are the producers so happy that they’re like, “What can we do now?”
BHAT: Yes. We are already thinking about a sequel. We want to make it a franchise of films, so very soon, we will be working on…
LAKSHYA: Part 2.
Everyone involved who financed the movie has to be incredibly happy. They know what they have. Do genre films typically play well in India like Raid. Did that do well?
BHAT: John Wick [Chapter 4] was playing for four weeks and was going houseful. [John Wick] 1, 2, 3, and 4, all four have done phenomenally well in India, which itself means that genre films are working…Sisu was running for three weeks, just by word of mouth.
JUYAL: People like to watch all of this. They love to watch action.
LAKSHYA: It’s accessible to everybody now – Netflix, Amazon. So people are watching everything. If you make a good film and you put it out there, I mean, people are gonna watch it anyway.
BHAT: I have a theory to that. During COVID, a lot of people were at home and they got exposed to– A person who is sitting in remotest of towns must have seen films coming from Korea and Germany and France and Japan. Now they’re very much exposed to international cinema.
That’s a good point.
BHAT: So, the films that were made before COVID and were released after COVID, they didn’t do that well because the audience had moved on. They’re much more aware now, and they’re more adaptive. The audience is very intelligent. They’re not fools.
Kill premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Special thanks to MARBL Restaurant for hosting Collider as well as the additional sponsors Sommsation, a top wine experience brand and online shop and Molson Coors’ Blue Moon Belgian White as the beer of choice at the Cinema Center. Additionally, Moët Hennessy featuring Belvedere Vodka featured cocktails and Tres Generaciones Tequila.