With Stree raking in fabulous numbers at the box office, Bhakti Mehta spoke to dialogue writer Sumit Aroraa about his experience of writing this horror-comedy.
On The Brief
One thing we were always very clear about was to never make it a spoof. The concept of a small-town being plagued by a ghost called ‘Stree’ who compels the men to stay inside their homes during those four days of puja is so unique that if we had taken it even a little lightly, it could have easily become a spoof. There was a fine line that we had to tread to not make it that. We didn’t have any reference for this kind of film in Hindi. So, Raj and DK, who wrote the screenplay, told me that it should not be a spoof. I was very careful that we had to do a satire and not a spoof. We wanted to have fun with it but did not want to make it slapstick.
On The Characters
The characters are actually struggling in the film, dealing with this scary mess. It looks very silly and stupid to us but it is situational. Unke liye toh life aur death ka maamla hai. The characters were never actually cracking jokes. There was never a point where something comical was happening. It was a comedy where the characters were in a jam and the audience was having fun watching them in those situations.
On The Challenges
Then there are times when you don’t write the dialogue beforehand, or even if you do, it can be changed according to the reactions of the actors on the set or locations. Sometimes, a moment is created on the set and then we think of the best thing the character could say. Around 95 per cent of the dialogue is determined by the script but there is that 5 per cent which is scripted by the spontaneity on the set.
Raj and DK deserve full credit for the screenplay which was so well-written that the premise and theme of it being satirical was already set. The situation of men being scared and hiding in their houses is in itself a satire. So it was easier to use sarcasm in many places because it flowed with the narrative.
On Sensitive Scenes
I am very clear that my writing cannot be sleazy. The scene with Rajkummar Rao and his father, Atul Shrivastava, had the potential of showing a father wanting to have a mature conversation with his son, which actually needs to happen in our country. And because I also had to keep the small-town setting in mind, I struggled with that scene the most. And then one day I found this word ‘oorja’, to express the unbound energy of youth. I took that word and played with it, made that whole scene revolve around this word and it flowed beautifully. From the word oorja, we went on to the whole swayam ki seva karo and all that. I thought it was a very nice way to deal with the situation without it being sleazy.
On The Director
I have known Amar Kaushik for 10-12 years and we are great friends. I think that spills over into what you see on screen. Both of us have come from small towns, so our thinking is in sync there. We understand the small-town milieu that you see in Chanderi. When I was writing the dialogue, Amar understood the flavour of it and hence I was given the freedom to delve into a certain kind of small-town lingo and the same kind of Hindi with the same kind of humour.
He had given me a single-line brief, saying I should make this story my own. He didn’t stop me from using words like nimnlikhit or gehraai mein jaake aaklan karna. There are people who don’t like using these words in dialogue because the urban audience will not understand them. But he never once told me not to use them. Full credit to Amar for giving me the freedom to write what I wanted to and then translating it so well on screen.
On The Response
The collections are amazing. We always knew that we had a good film but we didn’t expect these massive numbers. But, for me, as clichéd as it sounds, it is the audience’s response that matters the most. So many people have loved the film and messaged me. Several friends of mine and others have told me that they are going to watch it for the second time. That is the ultimate response, especially in a time when people have been saying that it is difficult to get people out of the house and into cinemas. It was said that digital platforms have kept people away from theatres, so when you see them going to theatres, it makes you very happy.
I am writing the dialogue for The Family Man, which is Raj and DK’s next film. They are directing and producing it. I have also worked on a Netflix show, which I think will be out in February-March, 2019. I am writing a script for a big production house but I cannot reveal the details just yet.