Stree Review

Actors Rajkummar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor in a still from “Stree.” The film blends the horror and comedy elements and rises over a script with a flawed and messy ending. (photo provided)

Maddock Films and D2R Films present “Stree”

Produced by: Dinesh Vijan, Raj & DK

Directed by: Amar Kaushik

Written by: Raj & DK, Pawan Sony & Sumit Arora

Music: Sachin-Jigar

Starring: Shraddha Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Aparashakti Khurrana, Abhishek Banerjee, Pankaj Tripathi, Nora Fatehi, Aakash Dabhade, Vijay Raaz, Atul Shrivastava and others

Never did I feel, at least in recent memory, let down by the second half so badly as with this movie. The first half was extraordinary, on level with, if not slightly beyond, “Go Goa Gone” that was written (and also directed) by Raj & DK.

The worst aspect here is that the inanities and absurdities could have been so easily eliminated keeping the same core intact, only with a slightly differently conceived and executed climax. Though this may not affect the box office prospects of this film in an era when audiences take to “Baaghi 2” and “Satyameva Jayate” big time, it will affect its shelf-life and its appeal to people who look on cinema as a way of watching stories that do not compromise on their own logic.

A village, during its four-day puja festival, is haunted by a female spirit that abducts men she calls and entices so that only their clothes are left behind. Based on an apparently true phenomenon, the story talks about the scary legend for which everyone is trying to find antidotes to the “evil spirit.”

But the evil spirit is not all that evil – she never forces herself on men, nor does she pick them up from their homes. A certain way of inveigling them is necessary for her to take them away. The village takes all precautions needed, like keeping men indoors when the sun sets and writing a message in a special ink on every compound wall stating, “Stree, please come tomorrow.”

The “Manish Malhotra” of the village, a young tailor named Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) is known for his speed and magical skills. Into his life walks a lady with a somewhat icy demeanor (Shraddha Kapoor), who never gives out her name and has no mobile phone. “Call me, and I will come,” she tells Vicky when she gives him a ‘Ghaghra’ to stitch, and he makes her just spin round to “get her measurements.”

Needless to add, Vicky is smitten by this girl, who visits the village only during the festival. She never enters the temple though, and on hearing about her, Vicky’s loyal friends Jana (Abhishek Banerjee) and Bittu (Aparashakti Khurrana) have contrasting reactions. Jana is encouraging, while Bittu suspects something fishy.

Every meeting between Vicky and the girl is unique in the way it happens and finally when one more victim is taken away, and Jana himself disappears, Vicky begins to believe what Bittu says – that the girl is Stree herself.

The solution lies with the all-knowing bookshop owner (Pankaj Tripathi), who not only advises the villagers but helps them locate the author (Vijay Raaz) of one of the books on the spirit, an old mystique who claims that in their old-fashioned male chauvinistic village, only one good-hearted man is there who can save them all from Stree. It seems the real woman who has now become the Stree was a victim of the narrow mindset of the village some years ago. So is Vicky’s girl really Stree?

The first person to be congratulated for this entertaining film is Amar Kaushik, whose confidence belies a first-time director. The film is very contemporary in ethos, and the youth (not just in metros) will love the way Kaushik blends the horror and comedy elements and rises over a script with a flawed and messy ending.

That said, Kaushik and the writers handle some important sequences extremely well, like when Vicky expresses his doubts hesitantly to the girl about who she is, or when the friends bicker when searching on lonely roads for Vicky, and even when the know-all bookshop owner interacts with the villagers. The highlight is when Vicky’s father explains to him what is adolescence and sexual awakening. The “suhaag raat’ sequence is also fabulous. A big shout out then to Sumit Arora, who deserves a nomination, if not the award, for the Best Dialogues this year.

The technical side is of high caliber, including the camerawork (Amalendu Chaudhary), the VFX and the background score by Sachin-Jigar, The duo’s songs are quite catchy, especially “Kamariya.”

On the other hand, the script actually gets loopy for the climax and post-climax and the way it delivers the gender equality message. The bus sequence, in the end, makes no sense whatsoever, given the earlier one in which the spirit is tackled. All we can say is that a door has been kept open for “Stree Returns” or whatever, but then that too sounds irrational, given both the possibilities of the open end.

“Stree” is boosted further by the absolutely delightful performances of Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Banerjee, Aparashakti Khurrana and Atul Shrivastava in that strict order. Rao, in particular, is superb in every kind of scene, especially when he rattles off his skills, interacts with his father, falters with his object d’amour and in the “suhaag raat” sequence. Pankaj’s placid and complacent expression has to be seen to be admired. Shraddha Kapoor approaches her character perfectly, and does what is needed.

Rating: ***

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