Stree movie review: Rajkummar Rao’s horror comedy needs more laughs
Director: Amar Kaushik
Cast: Shraddha Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Aparshakti Khurrana, Pankaj Tripathi
So naive are the people of Chanderi, they believe the moon — called Chanda Mama in fairytales — is literally their uncle. So says a book of village lore hidden inside a copy of the Kamasutra in the local library. Many of its pages have been folded into paper-boats, but the book matters because Chanderi is under attack from a female spirit. Sighted on the four nights of the annual puja, she abducts only the menfolk while leaving their clothes behind. Beware, boys who walk home alone at night.
Stree, directed by Amar Kaushik, is a comedy about a lovelorn tailor who falls for a girl who may or may not be the ‘Stree’ the town fears. She visits the town annually on the days of the festival, never enters the temple, and, perhaps most damningly, doesn’t own a mobile phone. Could young Viki, a tailor so accurate he can measure women with his eyes, have found himself a potential girlfriend? Or is this girl who wants him to make her lehenga the kind of bhoot who likes her clothes bespoke?
Based loosely on an urban legend from Bangalore, this is a potentially hilarious setup. The cast is solid with Rajkummar Rao as Viki, flanked by Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee as his two buddies, but despite the gusto with which the actors play off each other, Stree never quite brings down the house. The dialogues don’t do justice to the absurd situations, and the lines are often underwritten — though this is less evident when greats like Pankaj Tripathi and Vijay Raaz show up. The laughs are inconsistent, and the plotting feels sloppy and rushed. The ideas are fine, but the writing needed work.
Rao is likeable as ever, especially when rattling off types of blouses, though this is too eager a performance to be entirely convincing. Rao’s lovable lisping loser is a character we have seen before and there isn’t much novelty to be found here, though there are a few moments when the actor conjures up something striking — like when he urgently contorts his face in a desperate imitation of Shah Rukh Khan because he’s been asked, bizarrely enough, to look at a ghost with love. His body language around a sewing machine is also right on the money.
It is Shraddha Kapoor, surprisingly enough, who brings a certain charm to her initially inscrutable character, but once the film gives her more to do, she struggles in comparison to the fine actors who surround her. Khurana is wonderful as a guy who sells readymade clothing and believes in only filling fifty bucks worth of petrol in his bike at a time, while much of the show is stolen by Banerjee, a gangly actor with a zany and unpredictable energy. Tripathi is a fine choice to play that horror-movie cliché — the wise man who knows all and guides the heroes to their destiny — simply because he can render any line irresistible, but it is disappointing to watch him spell out the basics of the local legend to young men who have grown up in that town and should know better.
Also watch: Rajkummar Rao, Aparshakti Khurana & Abhishek Banerjee
Then again, Stree is all about men who should know better. Kaushik’s film gives us not only a pleasant/terrified town, but a place that is both sexually repressed as well as sexually keen: old men have birds-and-bees conversations with their sons, grown men aren’t allowed to watch lovemaking scenes in the movies, and yet the word ‘friendship’ implies a relationship between young men and local prostitutes. The ideas, as I said, are there.
I wish the first half of Stree made me laugh more often, and I wish the second half — which is outrageously quirky — was plotted more cleverly. The film hurtles toward a messy climax that feels like a cop-out, because of cheesy predictability but more because the red herrings used in the film may have led to more satisfactory outcomes. There is a character, for example, who seems to be speaking to a dead woman on the phone through the film… but nothing is made of this.
Watch Stree trailer:
In a bright gag, Vijay Raaz plays a writer who lives “inside The Emergency.” He’s in hiding, wondering if The Emergency has been lifted. People reassure him that we are in better times now, but he (wisely) does not believe. At one point, someone says blind faith is dangerous, and that one should “be anything but not a bhakt,” a follower. These are fine touches to a madcap comedy, but they jar with the film and feel like lip service. Still, it is heartening that the ghost does not assault her prey without consent. She is the feminine after all, and she wants respect. #StreeToo.
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