Amar Kaushik, the debutant director of Rajkummar Rao-Shraddha Kapoor’s Stree was very clear that he wanted to start his career with a rare genre – horror comedy. There are many directors who helm rom-coms or action-thrillers, which he considers to be safe. But that isn’t the only reason why Kaushik chose to direct a horror comedy. It’s also because he’s always found ghost stories intriguing and fascinating.
“I vividly remember, many years ago I was told about this challenge: whoever was able to watch Bees Saal Baad (Waheeda Rehman-Biswajeet’s horror film from 1962) alone in a theatre will get a reward,” recalls Kaushik.
Then, a short visit to a “ghost” town called Chanderi further ignited his passion. “I grew up in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). When I was in graduation first year, I was passing by this small town Chanderi. It was around 10 pm and I checked-in into a hotel. It was dark and nobody was seen around outside the hotel. I was terrified. Something about the place stayed with me,” says the director.
“Later,” he continues, “when we started researching shooting locations for Stree, I felt it should be somewhere in Central India. I thought of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and then I suddenly remembered my Chanderi experience. Once I went there for my recce, I was convinced about the location. It was as if every scene was tailor made for the film and I insisted on shooting in the most spooky locations. I deliberately chose those locations, the ones we were warned from frequenting by the local people. I wanted the actors to get really scared during the shoot. I deliberately shot at midnight. That has really worked,” says Kaushik, who claims to have made a “desi” horror film with conviction.
Also read: Rajkummar Rao on Stree co-star Shraddha Kapoor: She was supposed to do my debut film Kai Po Che
“We usually read stories, or watch movies that show an old, isolated, dilapidated haunted house situated in the mountains, or in some secluded spot. But the ghost in my film is very basic. We have used little bit of VFX but otherwise all the action scenes are real. I didn’t want too much of technology. Also, sound in a thriller or horror is quite important but music need not be very loud. Silence can also be effective,” he adds.
Starting his career as an assistant director, Kaushik was a part of the Rajiv Khandelwal-starrer Aamir (2008). Working with accomplished directors in the industry, he was also a part of Sorry Bhai (2008), I Am (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), Go Goa Gone (2013), Fukrey (2013), Ghanchakkar (2013), and Beyond the Clouds (2017). After years of playing second fiddle, he finally made his directorial debut with a short film Aaba (2017), which was the only award winning Indian short film at Berlin International Film Festival, in 2017.
Kaushik considers himself to be lucky to cast Rajkummar and Shraddha Kapoor for his first feature. “Raj and I would often meet during film festivals and when I had to choose an actor for the character Vicky (in Stree) it had to be Raj. When I told him that he was playing a tailor’s part, his immediate reaction was, ‘Okay, send a sewing machine to my house, I will learn tailoring’. For diction, he just needed one month and a teacher. Raj makes your work easy,” says Kaushik, further adding, “I wanted a girl with that small town innocence and Shraddha fitted the brief. The fact is, established actors are realising that new directors are coming up with fresh ideas. There is no pressure on us about our previous or next film. We concentrate on just one project, the one that is in front of us.”
Also read: Shraddha Kapoor on Stree co-stars Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi: ‘Huge fan of their work’
The film’s promotions attracted a lot of attention particularly because of its unique teaser and posters that said: ‘Mard ko dard hoga…Stree aa rahi hai’.
“‘Mard ko dard hoga’ is not just the tag line. In the movie we talk everything related to that. In small towns, girls are told to come home early in the evening. We have changed all of that by saying – ‘Boys, don’t leave the house late night, strees (women) are roaming around, they will take you with them’. In the film, we tell boys to come out wearing a saree and bangles to stay safe,” he explains.