Filmmakers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K., popularly known as Raj & DK, speak to Guardian 20 about the kind of cinema that appeals to them. The creators and producers of Stree, last year’s biggest blockbuster, also talk about the art of writing “fresh” and “absurdly funny” scripts.
Q. As filmmakers and scriptwriters, you have your own unique sensibilities that shape the films you make. But before the success of Stree, did you ever feel the need to conform to the traditional standards according to which a commercial Bollywood film is supposed to be made?
Raj: We have never been pressurised to conform to the standards of any kind of cinema. I don’t think it is in our blood to make films for somebody else’s sake. We are here to make something that we believe in and with our own sensibilities, humour and quirks. I don’t think we have written any story that doesn’t have any of these elements. A couple of films might have not worked at the box office, and some people have also pointed out that these films were too Bollywood-y. They told us that maybe with those films you didn’t do what you believed in. Though we don’t think so, the films might have looked a little more glamorous in terms of the shooting style, scale and maybe because of the actors who were involved. But at the core they were still something that we really wanted to do. Maybe the packaging became a little too Bollywood-y. But that was never our intention.
Q. Stree, in addition to being a huge entertainer, also gave out a strong message on feminism and women’s empowerment. Was that a conscious move?
Raj: We always think that our films have to be entertaining. But entertainment is a word that can be loosely used in various contexts. For us, it is something that is exciting to watch, funny, maybe quirky and thought-provoking too. The theme also has to be fresh. However, we don’t package a message in any of our films.
DK: You have to be responsible for the kind of message you are propagating. We don’t preach but we make sure that the people who walk out of the theatre after watching our films aren’t taking back any wrong message. Stree didn’t have a message on the face of it but inherently it had a positive message.
Q. Your stories are also unpredictable. In Stree, for instance, you are able to combine two very different genres—horror and comedy—to make one feature film. So what is the key to writing a script that is a mixture of two very contrasting genres?
Raj: There are two things that are happening there. One is that it is exciting because you are not making a plain film. You don’t give what is expected. When you mix one genre with another, what results is not a traditional pattern. As creators it becomes pretty exciting for us, because it is something fresh and doesn’t have precedence.
At the same time, it is very tough to pull off something like that. It is easy to resort to an idea that already exists or make a sequel or something. There are quite a few stories we have that are stuck at various levels because if we want to finish them we can finish them, but I don’t think they will be unique enough. For a script to become unique, at times, it might take a few years… When you think about films like Go Goa Gone  and Stree, you will realise that the humour in these films is strange. These are absurdly funny films. It is not regular humour that you are used to. We are committed to that kind of humour.
DK: The toughest job is to actually write the film. What goes on paper can ultimately make or break a film… As a scriptwriter, you have to imagine what will go on the screen and make sure that you are able to hold the audience’s attention.
Q. You usually like to direct your films yourselves. Why so?
Raj: We write to direct and produce. As filmmakers, we are a self-sufficient team and we go for the editing as well. We started off as independent filmmakers and we aim to cover all the aspects ourselves so that we know of the product’s quality as writers, directors, and editors… When we are writing, we don’t think of how the audience will react the entire time. You just pick a mood and a pitch and you just stick to it. You should also be confident that if you are finding something funny, then the audience would too. Also, you don’t have to dish out the same content every time.
Q. But Stree was directed by Amar Kaushik. How involved were you with that film’s creative process?
DK: With Stree, we were involved in many aspects. It was not that we wrote a script and gave it to somebody else to direct it. We were still there for everything and were part of the creative process.
Raj: We began as filmmakers who did it all together. We wrote to direct and we put half of the direction in the writing. So when we write, we both know about what we are going to be shooting. And about producing: since we have been engineers we both understand how to organise and manage a show. Initially, we were also producing films with our own money. So we know where to spend. Producing our film was a part of the package for us.
Q. You are soon going to release the sequels of Go Goa Gone and Stree. Tell us about those.
Raj: Sequels are a strange beast. And we are not much for sequels. What we usually like to do is that we like to make a film and move to another film. But the world is heading another way. We are used to series now. We are binge-watching series and we want to watch one series after another.
Sequels are something that you cannot ignore anymore because they are just like watching another season or episode of something that you really love. We have come to accept that sequels are a necessary thing. But when you do a sequel, the sense of watching something unexpected is slightly gone and you have to give people what they are expecting—the characters and milieu they liked in the first part. But we are still striving to pack in a surprise and when we crack it, we will be happy about the fact that we are making a sequel.
Q. As you said, you were both engineers before venturing into Bollywood in 2003. How did that shift from engineering to filmmaking happen?
DK: We were classmates in engineering college. We had no film background and no connection to cinema. We were not even from Mumbai, to begin with. So we were doing our jobs and then decided that we had to start doing something creative with our lives. And writing appeared to be easy, though we later realised it was not. We decided to have our jobs and we thought that we could write alongside. We got into filmmaking step-by-step and did everything on our own… Our families initially thought, these guys have lost it. But now I hope that they are proud of us.
Raj: Filmmaking and writing really gave us the satisfaction we were craving for. Life was monotonous back then. And that really made me restless and I was sure that I had to do something creatively more satisfying.
I feel that every Indian is a filmmaker at heart, except that not everybody makes an effort in that direction. I think we were the few lucky ones who decided to pursue that interest. So it was a long journey but it has been a great journey.
Q. Any new projects?
Raj: All this while we have only shot feature films. We haven’t even done any TV ad or a short film. We have always been feature film guys, but series and eight-ten episode shows have really excited us of late. So we want to explore another angle we haven’t had the chance to. We are going to do a couple of web series. One is called Family Man with Manoj [Bajpayee], which is going to come out in July-August. The shooting is done for that. For another series, the script is under process. We have another film that we will produce and we are waiting to announce that.