Stee movie cast: Rajkummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Aparshakti Khurrana, Abhishek Banerjee, Pankaj Tripathi, Vijay Raaz
Stree movie director: Amar Kaushik
Stree movie rating: Two and a half stars
A grown, desirous woman is a threat to mankind, emphasis on ‘man’.
For centuries, women have been pilloried and victimised on the basis of these putrid beliefs. Oh, the horror. Rein her in, tamp down her sexual desires, tie her up, burn her at the stake, put a knife through her scheming heart.
It is fully appropriate that these toxic notions are sent up in a horror-comedy, written by Raj and DK. Stree’s premise is a cracker, leaving you grinning in the dark. But the execution comes off a tad clunky: subversion in a film willing to embrace its silliness can be very effective, but it can get diluted if your messaging is mixed.
In the town of Chanderi (MP, suddenly on the map after Padman), there lives a likely lad called Vicky (Rao), blessed by a keen eye and kind heart. That doesn’t stop him from preening, and falling for a mysterious girl’s (Kapoor) charms. When she says come, he follows, casting aside fears of the ‘stree’ who haunts the town, hunting lone men. There’s a ‘bhootni’ about, beware.
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Predictably, Vicky is pronounced as Bicky, because Bollywood small town-ness is still denoted by an inability to differentiate between a V and a B. Neither the possessor of the name nor his two good pals, Bittu (Khurrana) and Dana (Banerjee) have any trouble with sophistication; they hang around, slinging jibes about love at first sight, doing ‘frandship’ with ladies of the night, and finally, confronting the ‘stree’.
There’s some fun to be had, especially in the shape of town ‘gyaanis’, played by the superbly droll Tripathi and the always entertaining Raaz, and we get to witness a lot of mumbo jumbo about women with bloody ‘ulte paair’ and how the power of a female evil spirit resides in her ‘choti’. And that’s where the problem lies: if a film really wants to undermine these superstitious beliefs, it has to be able to treat these tropes with clear scorn. Stree, in many places, is muddled, not being able to make up its mind whether it wants us to cower or chortle, especially when it slips into Four Easy Ways To Tame A Bhootni And Deal With Misogyny mode.
But still, Stree is enjoyable for the most part. I particularly liked its cheerfully hare-brained spirit, which the director manages to sustain. Kapoor’s part is a bit risible, but she has some breathy moments with Rao. The three fellows feel like real friends, not just brought together by a casting director, and both Khurrana, who is sprouting from everywhere these days, and Banerjee do a good job of looking scared and foolish at the same time. Rao, whose Bicky seems like an extension of his Bareilly Ki Barfi avatar, carries the film: as a ‘ladies tailor’ whose eye is enough to take the measure of the woman in front of him, gently, he is terrific.
Any film which has a woman stepping out at night with her man inside the house, for ‘his own safety’, well, clap clap. Yes, the scene is there to be played for laughs, and we dutifully go haha, but it is a thought. So is ‘love conquers all’ and a ‘stree’ as savior. Woman on top? Oh yes.
About time Bollywood gave us a feminist ghost.