The lukewarm success of Amar Kaushik’s Stree comes as a pleasant surprise. The genre is brand new in the country, tried once before, in the 2013 Zombie-comedy, Go Goa Gone, assistant directed by Kaushik himself. Let me start by congratulating Kaushik on breaking some real ground in this brand new space. If nothing, Stree is a bold new start. It is an intelligent satire that delivers India’s first feminist specter. This is the review of Stree, the Rajkumar Rao-Shraddha Kapoor starrer that hit the theaters this week.
The Feminist Premise
The premise of the movie is one of the hardest to do right. The revenge of the tortured witch has the potential to be rakish and hashed. Stree was neither.
The intent of the movie was clearly to gender flip the condition women live every day. Let’s look at the ‘absurd’ rules to avoid being evaporated by the haunting spirit:
1. Don’t step out after dark
2. If you must, step out in a pack, never alone
3. Never respond to a stranger’s call, no matter how loving the intonation
In the eerie mistiness of the far-flung Chanderi town, these rules might evoke the sense of ghostly paranoia, but for most Indian women, these are daily reminders. Every man in the shadows is our potential ghoul.
Stree goes on playing this trick on the men, and I wonder whether the cheering audience got the jab in the ribs that they should have. I wonder when the men in the theater laugh out loud at a man telling his wife, “Jaldi ghar aa jaana, mujhe darr lagta hai”, they get the actual irony. Not really, I suspect.
The execution of the premise gets a little clunky in parts. In overt terms, the film depicts Rajkumar Rao as the savior of the people. He overcomes the wrath of the wronged with love and respect. I am undecided whether Kaushik satires the God-complex of men or he is serious about it. Because the idea, that a good man, only mildly assisted by women, will one day save the world from patriarchy, is as presumptuous as patriarchy itself. The entire intent of the movie crumbles to cookie dust of course when the curtain falls, and out comes Shradhha Kapoor swaying her luscious kamar for a hooting male audience. Imagine the irony of using objectification as a tool to sell respect!
The movie works because the cast makes it work. The trio, Rajkumar Rao, Aparshakti Khurrana, and Abhishek Banerjee are a treat to watch. They move from frame to frame with the ease of real langotiya friends. There is not one forced moment between them.
Pankaj Tripathi is becoming to Bollywood, what Radhika Apte is to Netflix – omnipresent. But, I can’t have enough. His dialogues in the movie are probably the best, and he delivers the humor with a deadpan expression and unrushed expertise.
Shraddha Kapoor is the clear weak link, moving from saccharine smiles to tight jaws like a comic strip drawn out of sequence. She speaks little, managing to just survive as the mysterious, otherworldly prop in the narrative. It is unfortunate though, that a movie about the future of the feminine rests squarely on the shoulders of four able men. I think Kaushik did himself a disfavor by deciding to leave the character of the witch unexplored. It shows his lack of understanding of women and reduces his intent to preachy mansplaining.
The story is slightly under-developed. The backstory of the witch is untouched, while a whole segment is spent establishing the hero as the son of a whore. The script-writing and dialogue-writing are near-perfect ensuring that the movie doesn’t lose pace throughout.
The horror scenes, meshed seamlessly with the consistent humor, have the right balance of creep and disbelief. The mockery of India’s horror film style is adorable, kicking up the nostalgia of Chudail ka Honeymoon et al, without becoming a caricature. The light and sound effects, especially in the first half of the movie, are also extremely well executed.
Overall, Stree is an entertaining watch. It is not a feminist masterclass, but it does show an intent to start a conversation, albeit still keeping the discussion limited within the men’s club.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
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