Stree movie review: Raj Kummar Rao & Co are a hoot, Shraddha Kapoor is nicely intimidating in an unusual horror flick
Stree is like a blind date that turns out well - a tryst with the unexpected, a thought-provoking laughathon, and one of the most unusual films of the year so far.
castRaj Kummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana, Abhishek Banerjee And Atul Srivastava
In the town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, there is a popular myth about a female ghost known as Stree who haunts the community and abducts men, leaving nothing but their clothes behind. She is not as rigid as you might think though - if you write "Oh Stree kal aana (oh woman return tomorrow)" on the boundary wall of your home, she actually complies, and returns the next day, only to be confused once again by the persistent instruction.
This literate, obedient, stupid spook and the equally dimwitted townsfolk are the subject of director Amar Kaushik's Stree written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (credited as Raj and DK) who have so far directed the brilliant yet unassuming, highly under-recognised Shor In The City (2011) and the wacko zombie comedy Go Goa Gone (2013) with Saif Ali Khan, among other films. If you have seen Shor and GGG you might understand why and how the crazy idea for Stree might have come to Raj and DK. These gentlemen are clearly not interested in the straight and wide path. Ergo: when they do horror, don't go expecting Bhoot. So if GGG was nutty and over the top, with Stree they have managed to be nutty, hilarious, ridiculous, scary to the point of being terrifying in places, feminist, secular and political in various ways, wistful, and just all-round rollicking fun. Did I say hilarious? Ya well, let me say it again.
Kaushik has scored big with the writing served to him, and just as well with the casting, which is as close to perfection as it can get. Raj Kummar Rao is outstanding as Vicky, the young tailor who scoffs at his community's belief in paranormal mumbo jumbo until he becomes convinced that he is Stree's object of desire. The man we see here is born to do comedy. I had to pinch my arm to remind myself that he is the same actor who played the lead in Shahid, Citylights and Newton. If Rao is not one of Indian cinema's most versatile talents, then New Delhi is the capital of France. His crackling dialogue delivery is matched moment for moment by Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee's career-making performances as his cowardly buddies, and Pankaj Tripathi's genius in his role as the local know-it-all. While these four keep the fire in the film blazing with their flawless comic timing, Shraddha Kapoor is suitably intimidatingly nice, sweet and intriguing as the woman they feel harbours a secret.
While I spent much of Stree giggling uncontrollably, there were moments when I thought the proceedings on screen would give me a heart attack. That is an unusual combination to achieve, and Kaushik deserves all kudos for it.
The primary reason why Stree is so effective though is that it does not caricature the people of Chanderi - they are as real and foolish and prejudiced and good as most human beings are, and could well be you or me with less sophistication. Thankfully, sound designers Shajith Koyeri and Savitha Nambrath are smartly sparing in the use of those ear-splitting screechy sounds that crowd Bollywood horror flicks. Instead they largely pack Stree's audioscape with ominous, understated minutiae which are a crucial contributor to the mind games Kaushik plays with the audience. One twist in the film's closing moments feels superfluous and one conversation during which a significant point is being made feels a tad bit self-conscious about its messaging, but so much that is said and done in Stree hits the nail on the head and smashes it right through the wood, that I don't feel inclined to be finnicky here. That said, a film that mocks gender bias and ridicules misogyny so pointedly could have done without the blatant objectification of a woman (with no equivalent objectification of a man) in the kind of song and dance routine that Bollywood calls "item number". Hopefully Messrs Raj, Krish and Kaushik will think about that when they make their next film together, because it is the only bow to convention in this otherwise outrightly unconventional film.
Stree is like a blind date that turns out well - a tryst with the unexpected filled with exciting surprises. It is a thought-provoking laughathon-cum-spookathon, and one of the most unusual Bollywood films of the year so far.
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