Stree is a Biting Irony on Sexism with a Supernatural Twist
Movie Review by Surangama Guha Roy (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Based on the urban folk legend, Nale Ba, Stree is an unconventional horror comedy with a strongly feminist subtext.
Imagine a society where men are afraid to leave their homes at night, and their women folk assure them that all will be well as long as they do not venture out! Much as we love our men, it would be interesting to have them sense, just for once, the same fear and anxiety that women have been suffering for eons.
A quaint little town called Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh is haunted by stree, a female spirit who seeks revenge on the men who had victimized her while she was alive and failed to accord to her the two things that all women, nay all human beings, seek – love and respect. Stree makes her appearance every year during the four nights of the annual Hindu festival, and it is in the course of these four nights that our story unfolds.
Vicky (pronounced Bicky), played to perfection by Rajkummar Rao, is the town wizard when it comes to tailoring! His two buddies, Bittu and Jana, are convinced that his new found ‘friend’, a beautiful young woman who appears and disappears without a trace and summons things such as cat hair and the tail of a lizard from the lovesick Vicky, is in fact, stree. Mayhem is unleashed as two men from the town, including Jana, are abducted by the spirit. Vicky himself starts wondering about his little lady as the whole town finds itself in the grip of a fear psychosis.
The story, narrated in a refreshing new voice, proceeds to make a strong statement about gender rights, the irony hitting the roof when the town wise man declares that the pari-likhi spirit appreciated the concept of consent — she never acted with zabardasti. However, the feminist undertones are cleverly crafted in delightful dialogues and a deftly edited screenplay with a largely unfaltering pace where even the jump scares and thrills leave you smiling like an idiot.
An powerful ensemble cast is a treat to watch. And Stree delivers wonderfully on this front, as it does on several others. Rajkummar Rao has an uncanny ability to weld into his character (a firmly established fact by now), yet never towers over the script itself. Aparshakti Khurrana who has suddenly become a familiar face in Hindi cinema, and Abhishek Banerjee, have the time of their lives playing Bittu and Jana. Banerjee has probably the most difficult role in the film, and pulls through superbly, switching smoothly between endearing, vulnerable and ferocious. Khurrana on the other hand, contributes to the laugh riot, always with a straight face, and always nailing it.
On the subject of straight faces, though, Pankaj Tripathi takes the cake! Cast perfectly as the town expert in all kinds of nonsense, Tripathi takes his own unique brand of droll humor and pushes it to a whole new level. As a result, he dominates every frame he is featured in, and it helps that he is given some of the best dialogues. Atul Srivastav too, as Vicky’s father, gets to add to the madness, and does so admirably. And Shraddha Kapoor is adequate in the least meaty role in the film, as the alluring mystery woman.
The quirky duo Raj and DK’s writing is one major hallmark in a film which could very easily have gone haywire. But the writers make it work, never going over the top, conjuring, and sustaining, an ambience that could give you the chills while making you laugh hysterically every other minute. The sound effects create sufficient spookiness, and the lighting and cinematography all add to the plot’s eerie subject matter.
The film, of course, is not without flaws. For instance, an item number featuring a skimpily clad woman seems misfit in a film that is unapologetic about the message it intends to convey. The only justification for the song sequence could be that it exemplifies the town’s general callousness when it comes to women, thus validating stree’s need to pick a bone with the men. Moreover, for a film where special effects play a pivotal part, the VFX seems a tad amateurish at times. The climax too feels a wee bit contrived, although Rao’s impeccable acting keeps it on its feet (don’t miss the little tribute to SRK tucked in there!), and one of the final plot twists makes no sense at all.
Yet, the nature of the script demands that we keep an open mind. And that we could do easily, seeing that so much about the film works. Horror comedies are not easy to make, since both horror and comedy are tough nuts to crack. And in this, director Amar Kaushik excels, big time!