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Supernatural, spooky and strange

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Director Amar Kaushik on the mysterious mishaps on a horror-comedy set, how location is everything, and the fun of adapting stories for the screen

It is odd to refer to Amar Kaushik as a debutant director. His short film Aaba (2017) was the only Indian film at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, and even bagged a special jury prize – and that’s only one of numerous other awards the film received. But Kaushik is here to chat about his first feature – the upcoming horror-comedy Stree.

Starring Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in lead roles, the film is about a spirit that preys on men in the small town of Chanderi. Despite being a sceptic, Kaushik offers an eerie story – complete with sound effects and widened eyes – of the film’s shoot the Madhya Pradesh town. “There was one place where people had told us not to shoot,” he shares, “and in one night, something or the other became a problem! The camera’s focus kept going out, one guy started vomiting, one light blew a fuse, and the man handling the Steadicam started getting a backache and said he couldn’t do it.”

The plot thickens

While Kaushik was upset by their seeming “bad luck”, he wonders if it had something to do with the chilling tales the film was based on. The horror-comedy borrows from legends from across India and is written by filmmaker-duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. Based on tales like the Kannada Nale Ba myth or the Telugu Stree repu ra legend – both believed by locals who write the phrases on their door (meaning “come tomorrow”) to guard themselves from a malevolent female spirit that is said to hunt men – Kaushik says that he especially enjoys working on scripts written by others. “You take their story, and add your experience to it – maybe it’ll turn out even better [than originally envisioned]” he says.

The director has a knack for working with others’ stories. As a child growing up in Arunachal Pradesh, Kaushik shares how films were a big part of his life. “Submerging yourself in this world was incredibly exciting,” he says, but adds that the experience was often interrupted by power outages. “We had a videocassette recorder, so I’d play the film. It would take about a week to get through it – because it would play for 20 minutes and then the lights would go out.” He fondly remembers trying to watch Rekha’s revenge thriller Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) this way. “She fell into the waters [and the power went], so I didn’t know if the crocodiles killed her or not!” he says laughing. So he kept himself occupied by telling others fictional tales about the film.

Even Aaba set in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, was based on a story his mother shared with him. The film is about a young girl dealing with the imminent death of her ailing grandfather. With his radically different Bollywood venture, the director shares that the Stree’s premise is more a humorous take on how women are expected to stay indoors after dark than the idea of death – despite it being a horror film.

Geography matters

Aaba was set near where he grew up, but Kaushik singled out Chanderi for his feature debut because of a drive he had taken about 15 years ago. A resident of Kanpur at that time, Kaushik would often take long drives, and on one such instance, he reached Chanderi at night. “I just felt really scared,” he says, unable to explain why. But once the sun rose the next day, Kaushik shares that he felt differently, “It was such a lovely town! So really, [the setting] seemed tailor-made for Stree.”

For the director, his films need to be deeply rooted in the location they are set in. “Locations matter a lot,” he stresses. He has been a part of the film industry for ten years as an assistant and associate director for filmmakers including Raj Kumar Gupta and Onir, and shares that he was often in charge of scouting for locations. “I use the sounds from those places because I want to transport you there,” he says. The last film he worked on was with Majid Majidi on Beyond the Clouds (2017). Kaushik says he has come full-circle with Majidi, saying with a smile, “The first international film I had seen was Majidi’s Children of Heaven (1997).”

It turns out that the director has some acting credits to his name. Listed as “stud” for three films he has worked on, Kaushik laughs and shares that it’s a running joke on set. “Even in [Stree] they are putting me as ‘stud’ somewhere. [You’ll see me] in passing,” he chuckles.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 12:07:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/supernatural-spooky-and-strange/article24811827.ece

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