No one can accuse Indian National Award-winning actor Rajkummar Rao of not mixing things up in his career. After playing a militant in director Hansal Mehta’s Omerta, the actor will be seen as a simpleton tailor who gets nervous in the company of a woman in the horror comedy Stree.
Directed by Amar Kaushik and written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK of Go Goa Gone fame, the black comedy borrows generously from Indian folklore about an unhappy bridal ghost who sets out to seek revenge. Stree is set in Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh and explores a genre that’s rarely be seen in Hindi cinema.
But horror comedies being a virgin territory in Bollywood was a major gravitation pull for both actor Rao and director Amar Kaushik, who makes his debut with Stree.
“I didn’t want this film to be a slapstick comedy or a spoof and I told the actors not to go over-the-top when it comes to comedy or be too subtle,” said Kaushik.
He believes his battle was half done when he managed to find haunted mansions during his location scouting.
“There was this fort which is believed to be haunted... And I remember when I went there at night, it was so scary. One of our technicians during the shoot fell from a height, he believed he was pushed by someone and that was spooky. But we continued to shoot there because I wanted everything to be real,” said Kaushik.
There’s very little reference point for this horror comedy genre in Bollywood, unlike Hollywood which has a string of such genre-bending films. But the team of Stree, starring Shraddha Kapoor as the ghost bride, isn’t worried.
Dinesh Vijan, who has backed films such as the hit Varun Dhawan-starrer Badlapur, was confident about its appeal.
“This genre has tremendous scope if the horror is genuinely scary and the humour works. Stree is a recipe for a wholistic cinematic experience. We are so proud of this film,” said Vijan.
Gulf News tabloid! caught up with Rao to know more about the film and his acting process
Horror comedy is a tricky terrain. Why did you choose to be a part of Stree and play Vicky?
I chose to be a part of Stree because of the script. The moment I read the whole script, I felt excited about the story. It is a unique combination of horror and comedy and not many have tried this genre before in Hindi cinema. I like doing things that are slightly different and unconventional. The story itself was funny and the scary bits were genuinely spooky. They were not your regular scares. It was set in a believable world. So, I just thought it will be fun to be a part of the process.
Go Goa Gone was a zombie/slacker comedy that I enjoyed… But it drew polarising reactions.
I loved Go Goa Gone. There’s a mass cult following for that film. The writers Raj [Nidimoru] and [Krishna] DK, behind Go Goa Gone and Stree, are such quirky writers. They think out of the box. Their films like Shor In The City are wonderful. They are extremely funny in real life too and they put that humour in their films. We get along well in real life time. I have known them since their first film and I felt this immense connect with them.
This film is set in Chanderi. Incidentally, another film Sui Dhaaga starring Varun Dhawan is also set in Chanderi. Is that a trend that we should be aware of?
Sui Dhaaga is not based in Chanderi, although they shot there. Our story was shot there and is based in Chanderi. We were the first people to shoot there. It’s an amazing place and it has so much of history attached to it. The people are wonderful, helpful and co-operative. Those lanes, narrow and colourful shown in our trailer, will take you back in time.
You play a tailor in this film. What was the legwork like?
When I took on the role, I wanted to train along with a tailor to understand how the whole tailoring part works. It’s not easy to be one. Trust me, when you sit on that chair, the way you have to use your feet requires a lot of co-ordination. One wrong timing or misstep, all you have done with your cloth goes for a toss and you need to start the whole process again. I like to know from point A to Z about tailoring. I wanted to know everything about the machine and how to stich, how to put the thread through that tiny needle and it was so much fun learning it all.
So you couldn’t help yourself from immersing into your latest role…
I want to be known as somebody who can play different characters. This is my job and my job is to play any role with conviction. I feel happy that I was able to play a variety of characters in my acting career. Whatever role I get, I try to make it different from one another.
Before Stree, we saw you play a terrorist in Omerta. How difficult was it to mentally switch from playing a terrorist to a tailor?
After Omerta, I needed some time to get over it. But fortunately, I was working on Omerta, one and half years ago. Stree was a film we shot five months back and getting into the character was easy because I was promoting my last release, Fanney Khan, before I got into Stree.
There was no baggage of other characters in my mind. So, I channelised all my efforts into this film. While it can be tough to mentally switch from one character to another as we take on projects, I just do one film at a time. Once that film is done, I take a break because I can’t just immediately begin work on a new film. You have to rejuvenate yourself.
Are you a fan of the horror genre?
I love the thrill of watching horror films. But Stree is not a pure horror film. It will make you scared for a couple of scenes, but it will make you laugh more. The comedy in Stree is genuine. It’s about a spirit who’s unhappy. There’s an underlying message to it all. Usually, they say that girls shouldn’t step out on their own. But in our story, it’s the men who are not safe and are not supposed to step out on their own. They have to be accompanied by a girl when they step out at night. There’s a whole role reversal of sorts happening here.
Your previous release Fanney Khan with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anil Kapoor didn’t have many takers. Did its failure make you reconsider your acting choices?
No, it didn’t. I have immense respect for Aishwarya and Anil sir. I like the story of Fanney Khan and I was looking forward to acting with them. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity. I know the film didn’t do well, but that’s OK. It happens with everyone but you have to move on. It didn’t affect me and I am not in depression. That’s the fun of cinema. You don’t know which film will work and which won’t.
And not every good film makes money. All I can do is do my bit well. In Fanney Khan, I could take charge of my character. That’s all I can do… With Stree, I can guarantee you that it’s a genre that will make you feel scared and make you laugh the next moment. It will be a roller-coaster of emotions. There’s love, friendship and entertainment. It’s a fun film and it’s cool. There’s also a bit of Indian folklore in it. Remember as a kid when you were told not to turn back if someone calls your name as you are walking outside at night? You will be reminded of all of that when you watch Stree.
Don’t miss it!
Stree is out in the UAE on August 30.