Nushrratt Bharuccha: There are no retakes for fear
The actor and team on the method and messaging of Chhorii, a horror film on Amazon Prime Video
For three days, a lone, anxious woman must face unspeakable terrors in a secluded home. I’m talking, of course, of Chhorii, not the Princess Diana movie you may have caught two weeks ago. In Vishal Furia’s film, a pregnant woman, Sakshi, played by Nushrratt Bharuccha, escapes to rural Haryana with her husband. Their hosts, though initially cordial, start baring their teeth. Sakshi is trapped in a squat house surrounded by sugarcane fields. The whole place teems with visions: scampering children, a woman in veil, a radio. We’re shown bellies with stab wounds on them. Remade from a Marathi film, Chhorii is grim and graphic, though incredibly heavy-handed with its allegories.
“I enjoy horror a lot,” shares Nushrratt, who is returning to the genre after 2014’s Darr @ the Mall. “It’s one of those guilty pleasure things I have to indulge in. On Chhorii, I was like an eager child wanting to do more and explore more. It helped that I and the director were in sync and had a similar vision for the film.”
A spooky moment finds her character haunted by clanging bells. Nushrratt says she wasn’t aware of the contraptions on set. As a result, her reaction flew more promptly and naturally. “There are no retakes for fear,” she says.
The original film, Lapachhapi (2017), was in Marathi. Vishal, who co-wrote and directed both versions, was inspired by reports of female infanticide and ritual sacrifice across the country. The Hindi film relocates to Haryana, a state notorious for its skewed sex ratio—according to the recent National Family Health Survey-5 (2020-2021), though, Haryana has seen an uptick in sex ratio at birth for infant girls.
“The social evil (of female infanticide) is universal,” Vishal says of his decision to change the setting and diction. “It exists not just in India but in multiple countries outside. So there’s a lot the new film has to do for its messaging to reach the correct audience.”
This is reflected in the fleshing out of the antagonists—an old rural couple portrayed by Mita Vashisht and Rajesh Jais. Mita, especially, had a tough gig, not just speaking rough, rustic Haryanvi but also matching up to Usha Naik’s terrifying original performance. The role was great fun for Mita, who is from Maharashtra but has worked extensively across the North.
“In Haryanvi there’s a saying, ‘ke deekhe se..’, which means what she appears on the outside she is not,” Mita says. “I was excited to play someone who’s in a strange way a mystery. You don’t know what she’s about.”
While their characters represent opposing ideas of India, Mita and Nushrratt bonded easily on set. On different vantage points of their careers, the actors had much to share.
“We’ve sat and discussed life and what it's like to be a woman in this industry,” Nushrratt recalls. “Things that were setbacks to her, things that almost happened for her and then didn’t…”
“A lot of questions Nushrratt is asking herself are things I’ve dealt with long ago,” Mita adds. “Maybe, because of age or experience, I feel protective of her.”
Chhorii joins a wave of recent Hindi films utilizing horror to highlight social ills. Vishal, though, shuns the tag of ‘feminist horror’, saying the film just happens to be about a female protagonist escaping patriarchal traditions. “If I call it a feminist film then probably some audiences might not want to watch it,” he says. “It’s a horror film that has something to say. The message is organically weaved into the story. By the end, we want it to have an impact without being preachy about it.”
“We just want people to open up their minds,” Nushrratt adds.
Chhorii is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.