Popular Hindi cinema’s primary purpose is to entertain its audience. All agendas, motives aside, if the audience comes out of the theatre feeling something, anything, the battle is won. And if that entertainment has a message that could act as a catalyst for the betterment of our ever-changing society, it gets extra points for effort.
We have seen many of these agenda driven vehicles. Selling nationalism in the guise of a film has become a popular trope but we would like to believe that there is still a part of the audience that can see through these ‘films’. These projects are marketed with the unsaid ‘if you are patriotic you will watch and applaud’ approach and with the current climate, these usually work.
With films selling themselves as agenda vehicles, we are glad Stree, the horror comedy, chose to conceal the message of the film before the release. They could have easily promoted it as a ‘feminist film’ where even the antagonist understands consent but they chose to promise laughs and delivered on various accounts.
As a genre, horror comedy isn’t too polished in Hindi cinema and it needn’t be since most of our horror films end up being unintentionally funny. Who would have thought that a comic caper could give us something to think about but that is something we got with this Amar Kaushik directorial.
In the film, Stree is a chudail who looks like she was created in the Ramsay era but acts like a woman of the 21st century. She demands respect and values consent. She is educated and has a regard for other people’s personal space. As Pankaj Tripathi’s character put it correctly in the film, she is the chudail of new India. But she serves a bigger purpose here. She ignites a role reversal in the small town of Chanderi and while it is quite hilarious to watch men in sarees asking their wives to protect them, it reflects on how our patriarchal society has treated the women folk for eons. This isn’t news for us but taking a lesson on respect and consent from a filmy chudail, is certainly refreshing.
The town of Chanderi in this film still understands ‘friendship’ with an innuendo and the ladies of the night are treated as a threat to the social fabric and while the terror of Stree swallows this town, we see Chanderi getting liberated from its age-old practices. The ghost here is not the chudail who haunts the alleys but the mentality that is seeped deep within.
Stree is an example of the kind of film that subtly aims to target social problems without creating a hullabaloo about it. It wants to be an agent of change without shouting it from the rooftops. Stree aims to imagine a utopian world where women, despite their choices, are respected and that is something to think about.