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Karan Johar, Guneet Monga Kapoor, Nikhil Nagesh Bhat on Toronto Film ‘Kill’: ‘Even ‘John Wick’ Gives You Some Respite, This Is Relentless’

Toronto Film Festival Midnight Madness world premiere “Kill” is a confluence of three stellar Indian talents.

Producer Guneet Monga Kapoor is an Oscar winner for “The Elephant Whisperers”; fellow producer and filmmaker Karan Johar is a Bollywood A-lister who has just delivered massive hit “Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani”; and director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat is known for Netflix film “Long Live Brij Mohan” and Prime Video series “Rasbhari.”

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“Kill” belongs to the extreme action genre, a rarity in Indian cinema. Set entirely on an express train to New Delhi, the film follows Indian army commandos Amrit and Viresh, who are on a mission to rescue Amrit’s girlfriend Tulika. She is betrothed to someone else against her wishes. Matters go awry when more than 40 bandits (known as dacoits in India) belonging to an extended family board the train with a view to looting and kidnapping. Amrit and Viresh try to protect Tulika and her family. Visceral, gut-wrenching and pulse-pounding action ensues within the close confines of the train and the pair also have to contend with the psychotic bandit Fani.

Bhat hails from Maharashtra, western India, and was brought up in the eastern state of Bihar. During his student days, Bhat undertook frequent 40-hour train journeys across the breadth of the country in the 1990s, including on trains where some of the coaches were targeted by bandits, and that was the genesis of the film. “It was a revelation that they all came from one family. Invariably, this would be the case, and this remained with me,” Bhat told Variety.

The idea came to fruition during COVID-19 lockdowns. “I was experiencing claustrophobia and insecurity. And somehow this started coming to me that it should be a soldier, it should be a commando. It should be an extreme action film, because that’s where the novelty of the film is, because it’s a closed setup — it’s just in one train, it’s just three-four coaches. The dacoits are in a train and the train won’t stop. They want to loot and they don’t want to let the passengers get off. But after a point of time, they want to get down but they can’t get down. So the hunter becomes the hunted,” Bhat said.

The film marks a change of direction for Johar’s Dharma Prods., hitherto known for successful romances or family melodramas. “The concept of this adrenaline-rushing, extremely violent, non-stop genre film based on a moving train, to maintain action for one hour, 40 minutes-plus and do that with an emotional energy, I thought would be a challenge for everyone,” Johar told Variety. “I literally, pun intended, hopped on for the ride. And I was like, ‘Listen, this is something that no one’s expecting from us.’ But, there’s a lot of credibility in the unusual. I’ve always wanted to do this kind of genre film, but I just never had the talent pool until now.”

The talent pool includes actors Lakshya, making his debut in the lead role of Amrit, Tanya Maniktala (“A Suitable Boy”) as Tulika and dancer and actor Raghav Juyal (“Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan”) as Fani. “Kill” also benefits from veteran action choreographers Oh Se-yeong (the train-set “Snowpiercer”) and Parvez Shaikh (“Brahmastra Part One: Shiva”), who previously collaborated on Bollywood action film “War.” Bhat instructed them that the film needed to go several steps above just martial arts as Indian commandos are trained in 12 different manual combat techniques. The challenge excited the pair and they executed the various action set-pieces in “Kill.” “It’s very much choreographed, it’s almost like a tango, how they work together,” Bhat said.

“Kill” is a reunion for Dharma and Monga Kapoor’s Sikhya Entertainment a decade after the much acclaimed “The Lunchbox.” “It is our first time doing this kind of extreme action and Karan was like, ‘just go full out, we’ve committed to this, stand true to that.’ You’re so excited to have that studio and that faith in trying new things in India,” Monga Kapoor told Variety.

Given the relentless nature of the action in “Kill,” comparisons with the John Wick franchise are inevitable. “I wouldn’t want to compare one to the other. I do know one thing, though, I say this with all modesty, I don’t think India’s actually seen a film like this at all. While it’s constricted in a train, the kind of unabashedly, emotional violence that this film has, I would say, in fact, it is the most violent film ever made in India,” Johar said. “Even John Wick still gives you some respite. This one is much more relentless.”

Plans are on to develop “Kill” as a franchise. “That was always the idea that once this lands well, and we’re nervous and excited for our premiere in Toronto, and then the onward reception post that, yes, the plans are definitely that,” Monga Kapoor said.

“We really want this film to connect with its core audience, for us to build a franchise together. I can see a ‘Kill 2’ already coming our way. It’s putting the lead protagonist in these dire circumstances and always maintaining the genre aspect of the film — never go into another zone. That’s what will be supremely exciting about this kind of franchise,” Johar said.

“Kill” is produced by Achin Jain and Monga Kapoor for Sikhya Entertainment and Apoorva Mehta and Johar for Dharma Productions.

WME Independent is handling global sales. Bhat is represented by Tulsea.

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