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It’s just been a week since the release of Stree and its writer-producers Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru are already being arm-twisted into plotting its sequel. Stree, starring Rajkummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Aparshakti Khurana, Pankaj Tripathi and Abhishek Bannerjee, is about a wronged woman in the small town of Chanderi who returns as a ghost to abduct men at the dead of night by politely calling out to them. “Because it’s a female ghost she will have more values than a male ghost. She will ask for consent first,” explains Nidimoru. It’s these touches that elevates Stree from an ordinary horror film with strategically placed jump scares. Here Nidimoru explains if it’s fair to call Stree a horror film, it’s open-ended climax and the mistake he won’t repeat in its sequel. 

The film has been promoted as a horror-comedy, but I laughed more than I got frightened. What were you going for while writing it? 

Horror-comedy is a simplified way of labelling it. It was always a unique absurdist comedy about gender reversal that I was going for. It’s really our style of humour – slacker comedy, weird, creating a journey you haven’t had before. We wanted to go back to the original scary stories we have heard as a kid – there’s a bhoot, woh peechhe se bulati hai, and now you’re shit scared to walk on the road. It was based on my small town upbringing where you tell all these scary stories at night. That remained with me forever – I just didn’t have an angle to it. I was looking for a subtext and something to add more relevance. 

What is your takeaway as a producer with the box office success of Stree? There are people in the theatre cheering when Pankaj Tripathi and Vijay Raaz make an entry.  

Isn’t it crazy? I’m so glad we turned producers with this film. Producing for me is really having control over a film and making it the way you want it with no compulsions. You are your own master and that is a big deal.

People are owning Stree and saying this has to do well. When that happens you know it’s the content and the film as a whole unit that is working as opposed to it doing well because you cast this one person. Of course we love to see stars but if there is no space for films where you have a unique voice to put out and it will never get made if you don’t have a specific set of people, it’s kind of unfair.  

Isn’t it crazy? I’m so glad we turned producers with this film. Producing for me is really having control over a film and making it the way you want it with no compulsions. You are your own master and that is a big deal.  

A common criticism about Stree was the unnecessary songs. Also, the presence of an item song in a film about empowerment. 

Yes, I don’t think it was a right decision. What’s happening is a longer answer and I hope I can explain it. See the biggest calling card in the industry seem to be songs – we haven’t discovered another way to call people to the theatres. There are three hit songs playing on the radio and people think which film is this, I want to see it. Songs can be beautiful and sometimes it works out. But in a film where the story is involving you, a song will act as an impediment. 

This ‘kamariya’ song was always a part of the script – we were depicting a small town life where it’s customary to bring entertainers to come and dance during the pujas. But I think we are used to seeing so-called item numbers everywhere and it automatically got labelled as one. There is a bit of a story around it – she’s dancing and she has to go elsewhere – but that’s not enough of an excuse to have that song. There is no two ways about it, we could have done without it. It’s just that some conventions you go with. I’m sure by the next film we will have figured how to fill that spot. 

Another crazy anecdote is that we went to a single screen and I was talking to the theatre owner who was telling me how he hadn’t  seen these many people come in long. The next thing he said is ‘Ek hi gaana daala hai aapne aur doosra jo interval ke baad aata hai, you should have put it pre interval. Dhamaaka macha degi.’

Your previous two films – Happy Ending and A Gentleman – felt like they had compelling concepts that didn’t pan out. Do you look back and study what you did differently this time? 

Introspection helps you grow or else complacency and ego sets in and you think you’re the best filmmaker in the world. Happy Ending and A Gentleman didn’t work – but you have to try. We have never taken a straight path. A Gentleman was a throwback to a 90s action comedy – a popcorn action film where the hero takes on a kung fu guy in a laundry or a Fast and Furious type stunt that goes wrong because it’s Mumbai and you get stuck in traffic. So you know you do take digs at a lot of cliches and at the same time keep it entertaining. Stree could have been as much of a blunder it’s a thin line. You wonder what if this is taken in the wrong way.

Happy Ending was supposed to be a meta film. When it didn’t work, it puts fear into you. Then we’re like let’s go ahead and make Gentleman anyway. And when that doesn’t work you feel like, ‘Oh god, now what do I do? Should I make a biopic now?’ But we went ahead with an absurdist film like Stree. … This time the percentage of people who got it was more because it was dished in a plate that was familiar. It was a story from my childhood so more relatable than a Miami landscape.

What’s your explanation of the film’s end? 

The film really ends with what Stree wanted and then giving her that. So we went from ‘O Stree kal aana’ to ‘O Stree raksha karna’. So they understand what she wants and that’s how the film ends. The explanation at this point shouldn’t be given. As a filmmaker because I would love it for people to interpret it themselves. 

But what was the significance of Shraddha’s character stealing Stree’s hair? Are you hinting she could use that power wrongly?    

She had come with an agenda and she got that. Her intentions seem noble and we hope and pray they are noble. The idea is to keep you intrigued so that we can explore something really cool in the second instalment. We haven’t even written it and I’m still in two minds over which way it could go. There are three options – I’m trying to figure what is more exciting. I have an idea but that’s the plot of the next one.

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