Film preview

Equal parts horror and comedy: Shraddha Kapoor and director Amar Kaushik on ‘Stree’

Also starring Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi, the film will be released on August 31.

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 Scroll.in. “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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Aashiqui 2 (2013).
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.