Amar Kaushik’s directorial debut Stree recreates an urban legend of the early 1990s on the big screen. More than two decades ago, Bengaluru was gripped by rumours about a mysterious woman who would knock on the doors of residents and kill them on the spot. To ward off what they believed was an evil spirit, residents scribbled “Nale Baa” (Come tomorrow) on their doors. Stree transports that premise to the town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh and mixes in other myths to create a horror comedy starring Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao.

The film will be terrifying and funny in equal measure, Kaushik told “The story was brilliant and we knew right away that the treatment had to be comedy,” Kaushik said. “The script demanded the comedy. A woman comes in the night and catches men and leaves. You can say the same story with seriousness or can say it with humour. It was sounding better with humour.”

The movie has been produced by Dinesh Vijan’s Maddock Films and Raj and DK’s D2R Films. Also starring Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee, Stree will be released on August 31.

Stree (2018).

At a press event for Stree in July, Raj Nidimoru, who has written and co-produced the film with frequent collaborator Krishna DK, claimed he had come across a version of the Nale Baa tale in Andhra Pradesh.

“When we [Raj and DK] were in college in Hyderabad a few years back, somebody told us that there was a woman roaming on the hills,” said Nidimoru, who has made, among other films, Go Goa Gone (2013) and A Gentleman (2017). “From a distance, we could see a figure. The fact that we did not believe in it made it funny. That was the starting point of the film.”

The filmmaking duo took the idea to Kaushik, who had worked as an assistant director on the zombie comedy comedy Go Goa Gone. “They [Raj and DK] narrated the brief of the film to me and I really liked it,” Kaushik said. “I wanted to do something different. In your first film you can take risks. Till now we have seen ghosts on top of mountains or bungalows speaking in English. I wanted my ghost to be a desi ghost, which picks up people from the city.”

The challenge was to maintain a balance between horror and quality comedy, Kaushik said. “While there have been horror comedies made in other industries, it usually goes in a slapstick zone,” he said. “But we wanted to give equal importance to humour and horror. People should be terrified with the horror bits and have fun with the humour. That is what I have tried.”

Milegi Milegi from Stree (2018).

The film stars Shraddha Kapoor as a mysterious woman who falls in love with a tailor, played by Rajkummar Rao. The actress was tight-lipped about her character, who has not been named in any of the movie’s promotions so far. “I won’t say if she has a name or not,” Kapoor said. “But I will say that we have to keep the mystery around her. She is a small-town girl and all the boys in the film are transfixed by her.”

Kapoor said she grabbed the chance to do a horror film after starring in several romances, including Aashiqui 2 (2013), Ek Villain (2014) and Ok Jaanu (2017). “It was so unique because it had scares and at the same time it had comedy,” Kapoor said. “I was really glad that somebody offered me a film like this because I did not want people to think that I did only romantic films.”

Kapoor has her plate full this year. In the pipeline are Shree Narayan Singh’s Batti Gul Meter Chalu, an unnamed Saina Nehwal biopic and the Prabhas-starrer Saaho, her Telugu debut. “It is overwhelming but I love it,” she said. “I am jumping from one place to the other.”

After hits like Ek Villain, ABCD 2 (2015) and Baaghi (2016), Kapoor’s recent films, including Half Girlfriend (2017), OK Jaanu (2017) and Haseena Parkar (2018), have received underwhelming responses. Kapoor said she now devotes much more attention to picking a script. “I want to be part of good films and content,” she said. “I am very fortunate to be offered the films that I am offered. I don’t let success or failure affect me that much. I just want to work hard and give my 100% to all my films. That is my focus.”

Aashiqui 2 (2013).