For their contribution to the Welcome to the Blumhouse collection of films, brothers Rajeev Dassani and Elan Dassani explore the horrors of modern dating and familial expectations in Evil Eye. The story, written by Madhuri Shekar, introduces us to confirmed bachelorette Pallavi (Sunita Mani), who lives in New Orleans, but still remains close with her family back in India, especially her mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury), who she chats with regularly on the phone. One day, Pallavi ends up meeting the man of her dreams (Omar Maskati), but something doesn’t sit right with Usha, leaving the matriarch concerned that her daughter is in danger, and she has to do everything she can so that her daughter doesn’t end up meeting a cruel fate.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with both Rajeev and Elan about their experiences working on Evil Eye, and they discussed the importance of being able to explore the Indian culture with this story, collaborating with their excellent cast, and the difficulties they faced in making a film that primarily relies on back-and-forth phone conversations between Evil Eye’s two main characters.
Evil Eye begins streaming today, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.
Great to speak with you today, guys, and congrats on the film. Was this something that you brought to Blumhouse? Or was this something that Blumhouse brought to you? I'm just curious how the stars aligned for you on Evil Eye.
Rajeev Dassani: Actually, we were approached by Blumhouse and then Amazon about the project. They were basically looking for a director. They already had a script written by the writer, Madhuri Shekar. But they were looking for a director to take on it. And so, we read the script, and we absolutely loved it. We had never read something that mixed our cultural heritage of Indian mythology, and the way we grew up, and being set up on arranged marriage dates by our parents, that kind of thing, mixed with the idea of reincarnation and with the supernatural. We just thought it was a wonderful mix, and we just really badly wanted to do it. We came on and we pitched on it, and I think a lot of our pitch had to do with how to take this play that was all phone calls, and make it cinematic and bring a visual flare to it.
I'm glad you mentioned that, because that is something that is very hard to pull off, and I think it works well here. A lot of that has to do with the performances in this movie, of course. So, how did you both initially tackle that disconnect and was it a challenge to find a way to bring that connection together between these characters?
Elan Dassani: It's interesting with a movie that's all phone calls. Normally, in a scene, the characters can see each other. They can look across, and they're playing off each other. But, in a phone call they can only hear each other. It's only the audience who is seeing their face. And so, what's nice is that you can play this disconnect where a character is saying one thing, but it's clear on their face that they're thinking something else.
Also, I think that it was fun to play with the locations and with the blocking, because India has such a different tone, color, and feel. And then there’s the New Orleans part. We wanted to separate these worlds and show that they're in two completely different worlds; not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. I have to give a lot of credit to Sunita. She was the one who first said to us, "Guys, this film is about public private. This film is about what you see and what you can't see. What the audience sees, and what the character sees." Which we just thought was so smart, and such a clever a way to put it. But our cinematographer, Yaron [Levy], he also worked with us very closely on this, too.
Can you talk about putting together this cast for Evil Eye? I'm a big fan of Sunita's, but I also thought Sarita was just wonderful in this as well. I was totally invested in them both from start to finish.
Elan Dassani: Thank you so much. Yeah, we were absolutely thrilled with our cast. We knew going in that the cast was very critical to this film, and if we cast the wrong people, it really wouldn't work.
Rajeev Dassani: It's an acting heavy film, and it's a chemistry heavy film. Some films aren't like that, but this one definitely is a heavy dramatic, comedic, and everything.
Elan Dassani: You mentioned Sunita, and she was someone who we loved in both GLOW and Mr. Robot.
Rajeev Dassani: And frankly, we fought for her for this role because of her combination of having a comedic background, but also her dramatic background, too.
Elan Dassani: It really helps.
Rajeev Dassani: There were instincts that she had that just made scene-by-scene things better. And her improv background was amazing. So, we were on board with her from the start. And then Sarita, she is a legend. She is this incredible actress with this massive history that we adore. She was someone that we went out for immediately because, typically this character, the Indian matriarch is a side character. She's just usually the overbearing mom, But in this, her character has this dense backstory.
We just loved this idea of characters who are typically the side characters becoming front and center. Bernard White was very similar. He has this comedic background from Silicon Valley. Also, he's done a lot of serious roles as well, and he has this depth and soul to him. But like Sarita, he never forgets to kind of bring the levity to the scene. And the fact that he can do both was a real key.
Elan Dassani: And also with Omar [Maskati], who played Sandeep, part of what we were looking for was a guy who Sunita’s character would just fall in love with. He's the nicest guy in the world. And then when things take a turn–
Rajeev Dassani: You really believe it.
Evil Eye does a really great job of exploring these longstanding traditions from India and pitting those against these modern societal ideals. Here in the States, I don't feel we see these types of stories very often. Was it interesting for you guys to take these things that are part of your culture and explore them for this film?
Rajeev Dassani: This is something that we've dealt with ever since we were kids. We were born here in the U.S., but our parents always rode this line where they would say, "Well, maybe you should consider marrying an Indian girl." And then we would go along and then push back, and go along and push back. And it's that push and pull, I think, that is a very common feature between these generational families, between the first generation Indian-Americans, and the parents who were born in India. It's trying to find that balance that I think was part of what we recognized in the script, and what we saw in our lives, and why we felt we wanted to bring some of this. And, I also think that a lot of times this is portrayed stereotypically.
Elan Dassani: That's not really how it is normally. Usually, there's much more of a balance. I think a reason why these types of stories tend to resonate, not just with Indians, or with other first-generation immigrant families, is that the reality is all families have this push and pull. All kids have expectations from their parents. They might not be the same expectations, but I think it's interesting to watch that through the lens of another culture.
I think most people will relate to the idea of a mom who wants the best for their kid, a mom who kind of thinks they might know better than their child. I think this is a very kind of universal experience. And so, I feel when you're authentic to something, the authentic becomes universal. Something that we've really learned is that if you try and be too general, it matters to nobody. If you're specific, it matters to everybody.
Check here to catch up on our previous coverage of the Welcome to the Blumhouse movies that are now streaming on Amazon Prime Video!
[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.]