How ‘Kill’ Slices Bollywood Open

How Kill Slices Bollywood Open
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The writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat bristles whenever someone labels his claustrophobic action film “Kill” as Bollywood. In “Kill” (in theaters), the characters rarely break out in song and there are few colorful sets — just the mundane cars of a train on which the bulk of the movie takes place.


According to Bhat, in fact, “Kill” was inspired by a real-life train robbery he experienced in 1995. That memory is respun here into a story involving a lean commando named Amrit (Lakshya), who is working to save his girlfriend, Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), from a team of working-class bandits led by the spiteful Fani (Raghav Juyal). Amrit’s gory, swinging, kicking barrage through tight train corridors — propelled by a muscular exterior yet an emotional vulnerability — is an action extravaganza accomplished through sharp technical execution.

In a Zoom interview, Bhat spoke about crafting fight sequences in tight spaces and his love of James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you shape the fighting styles here?


It comes from the story itself. Amrit is highly trained in commando warfare, which is a kind of martial arts. They’re fighting these goons, who are robbers, who do not have any kind of training. They’re street fighters. And we trained like that. We purposely made sure that it looks very raw and visceral, and it looks uncoordinated because the film is very emotional. I wanted every action sequence to be preceded by some kind of emotional upheaval or turmoil. It could not be one set piece of action after the other. It’s being driven by the characters and their relationships, which are being tested throughout this journey.


Were there specific action films that influenced you?

“Atomic Blonde.” I’m a huge fan of that film. But to be honest, because of its emotional shades, I don’t solely look at this as an action film. The biggest inspiration for this film was James Cameron’s “Aliens.” It’s a story where this alien is trying to protect its young ones and Ripley’s trying to protect the kid. Because the story has been told from Ripley’s point of view, the alien is the antagonist. But if you see it from the alien’s point of view, it is just trying to survive. That was huge. It completely redefined my thought process, especially for this film.

Were you actively working against Bollywood conventions?


The first half of the film has almost a defensive kind of action. It’s not something that is visceral. Only in the second half does that reaction change because of [Amrit’s] mental health and his emotional state. I wanted to be away from the Bollywood kind of action because I don’t conform to that kind of style. It’s not what I would ever want to communicate or ever want to do because the moment that kind of action happens, the believability of the story goes for a toss.

How did you build these claustrophobic train sets?


When we started to build a set, the only thing I knew was that I wanted the set to be absolutely adaptive. So I wanted each and every wall to move and to be flexible. We worked on it for almost nine months. First, we created a miniature set. Then we made a set of around 10 feet with wood. Finally, we made a set with two coach cars. There were hydraulics, pulleys, and people pushing and pulling walls. The set was almost like “Transformers” — it could just collapse and come back together at the same time when my camera was moving.

The set was cramped. There was no place for lights to be put in. So, we used the service lights for the set. My director of photography [Rafey Mehmood] constructed a panel on the roof through which an overhead dolly could capture everything. Because the action is close combat and it’s such a personal story, my lensing changed [to] wide-angle lenses because I had to capture each emotion and each body movement. The set was so cramped only one department could work at any one point. That took a lot of time.

The moments of grieving here by men are rare for an action film. Could you explain what inspired that?

With the young people, we have tried to give them a lot of emotional vulnerability because I feel like in today’s generation, we as men, we are very emotionally sensitive. This is an intimate story about personal loss, whose emotions come in the form of rage and guilt and grief. Because the idea that people like Amrit, people with lots of muscles, are very hard on the outside and don’t communicate — that’s not the reality. With the antagonists, I wanted people to feel for them too. As the [bandits] start losing people, they start crying and they feel the same kind of emotion the protagonists were feeling in the first half of the film. In that way, I wanted the audience to rethink who to root for.

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