Vijay Jayapal’s Nirvana Inn: Adil Hussain takes film along a spooky path

It is not a horror film with chills and scares but the film manages to effectively build an atmosphere of angst and dread. There are no dramatic ugly twists and turns.

Nirvana Inn is not a simple narrative woven around a man swathed in guilt after he survives a suicide attempt.

Five years ago, a young co-pilot deliberately crashed a low-cost German airline plane into the French Alps, instantly killing all the 150 people on board. Official investigations later had revealed that the pilot had been reportedly depressed and decided to commit suicide taking all the hapless passengers, including a group of young students, along with him.

“I was horrified and petrified but equally fascinated by this man, who had committed this horrible act of suicide, but, in the process he had also killed so many others along with him. What was on his mind and what had driven him to do this?” asks Vijay Jayapal, Chennai-based writer-director of a Hindi Indie film, Nirvana Inn, a psychological horror drama.

It was this disturbing question that set him off on a journey to make his sophomore film, which had premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last year, and recently released on a digital pay-per-view platform, Cinemapreneur for a limited span of 99 hours, on Friday, December 11.

Reality merges with the supernatural

Nirvana Inn is not a simple narrative woven around a man swathed in guilt after he survives a suicide attempt. Instead, the protagonist played by the accomplished actor, Adil Hussain, a master of his craft, takes the film along a slow, spooky path as his fragile mind plays eerie games on him. It is not a horror film with chills and scares but the film manages to effectively build an atmosphere of angst and dread. There are no dramatic ugly twists and turns, instead the film set in the calming green and brown mountain scape of Manali unravels at a pace, which is ostensibly in step with the gradual, downward spiral of the mind of the main character.

Hussain plays a boatman, Jogi, who is fleeing a tragic incident from his past and arrives to take up a job as a manager of a secluded resort, Nirvana Inn. But, the demons inside him relentlessly rear their heads and even disturb the others in the resort like its long-time resident, Leela, essayed by actor Sandhya Mridul (Saathiya and Page 3).

Reality merges with the supernatural as the mysterious Menaka (Rajashri Deshpande of Sacred Games and Sexy Durga fame) flits in and out. She is the quintessential temptress with no soul or is she an atma seeking revenge? The lighting and camera angles inside Jogi’s room in Nirvana Inn add to the cryptic feel of the film, while the music (on which the director claims to have toiled for over four months and was created with ‘new weird instruments’ sourced from Puducherry by his music composer) is like an elegy enhancing the chaos and churn all around – the why and what unfolds with time.

Vijay Jayapal and Adil Hussain.

The happy-go-lucky Leela is sucked into this maelstrom caused by this strange Shymalan’s Sixth Sense circle, where dead people roam around as guests at the resort. Or, is Leela possessed by the devil? As an exorcist tries to coax the ‘being’ out of her, Leela in a psychic state is sprawled on the ground in her room with books and DVDs scattered around her. It is not by chance that Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining (based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name) is one of the titles among them, deliberately placed there by the director Jayapal, who is a big fan of the film.

In a telephone conversation, Jayapal admits, “In a way, Nirvana Inn is a tribute to The Shining. I have been inspired by that film but I don’t want to mislead the audience, my film is different. Nirvana Inn is a psychological drama with elements of eeriness and horror in it.”

“If there is mystery, you are not meant to question but just feel it. The moment you start rationalising, you lose the fun,” adds Jayapal.

Post-production grant from Asian Cinema Fund

Coincidentally, this is what American director Christopher Nolan recently said about his mind-bending, science fiction thriller, The Tenet, which is currently running in theatres and baffling audiences, in an interview with Twinkle Khanna.

Getting Hussain to play the lead was half the battle won, and winning a post-production grant from the Asian Cinema Fund, a funding initiative of the Busan International Film Festival, had helped him to complete the film, Jayapal reveals in the course of the conversation. “I was lucky to get the grant and I was able to do my film’s grading and final sound mixing in an international studio in Korea,” says Jayapal.

In fact, he had completed his shooting in Manali, Assam and Chennai and had been struggling to work on his post-production. “It is always tough to get funds to make an Indie film and the situation has worsened now. My producers are passionate about making good cinema but how long can they invest if there are no returns,” asks Jayapal, who points out that niche Indie films do not easily make money and end up tapping foreign film festivals for grants.

A still from Nirvana Inn.

However, with the entry of OTT channels such as Netflix and Amazon, Indie films have a chance to recover their budgets, admits Jayapal. For example, it had taken him three years but he managed to get back the money he had invested in his first Tamil film, Revelations, which was critically acclaimed in international film festivals. Releasing Nirvana Inn in an “unconventional” manner on a digital pay-per-view channel is not very viable, he says, since the model works on a revenue sharing basis. But the director was restless to release his new venture, which had been wrapped up last year.

‘Be scared, be very scared’

“Nirvana Inn had toured many foreign festivals, and I was keen to release it in theatres. But the pandemic became a stumbling block and we opted for a limited release. But, talks are on for an extended release on OTT subscription platforms like MUBI or Netflix,” he reveals.

At first, Nirvana Inn was slated to be Tamil and Malayalam bilingual but turned into a Hindi film after Hussain, who was very impressed with his earlier outing Revelations, signed up for the film. Interestingly, Jayapal, who had worked in the corporate world as a HR manager for seven years in Chennai, before chucking it up to become a filmmaker, is self-taught in the craft of cinema.

“Internet is my film-school,” he admits, without rancour. Actor Sandhya Mridul says about the director, “Vijay brings a simple real personal approach to his films; a normalcy in the handling of relationships between characters and a palpable emotional thread occasionally which is interesting especially in the genre of horror, it’s more uncomfortable and then terrifying. For me, this role was easy and then not. I was terrified myself at the end of it. So, be scared, be very scared.”

Jayapal, however leaves it entirely to the audience to interpret Nirvana Inn in any way they want. Just check in and check it out.