The ghost in Amar Kaushik’s horror comedy “Stree” (The Woman) is unusual in many ways. For one, she understands consent, capturing only those who answer her call and keeps away from those who ask her to.
Haunting isn’t her full-time job – she only descends on the village of Chanderi for the first four days of an important nine-day festival and preys exclusively on men. But such is the legend of the “Stree” that every house has an inscription that says “O Stree Kal Aana (Dear Stree, Come Tomorrow)” and men are warned against venturing out alone at night. The film’s protagonist Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), however, has no time for what he thinks is superstitious nonsense.
Being the town’s best tailor, he churns out clothes by the dozens and his father proudly declares that his son was born to sew. Vicky, though, is convinced that his purpose in life is more than just sitting with a sewing machine. He is enamoured by the mysterious woman (Shraddha Kapoor) who visits him during this time of year, appearing seemingly out of nowhere. But when more hauntings take places, Vicky’s friends Bittu (Aparshakti Khurana) and Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) team up to try and unravel the mystery behind the ghost and what it wants.
What works for “Stree” is that it doesn’t forget that it is first a comedy, never letting the scares overshadow the laughs. It even attempts to make some pertinent points - about women who drink, the state of emergency in the 1970s and women emancipation - but they are all in the guise of jokes, and it depends on the audience if they want to ascribe a more serious tone to the film and its story.
As far as Kaushik and his cast are concerned, nothing is to be taken too seriously, and the light-hearted tone makes “Stree” an easy watch. Even when the plot threatens to teeter, the cast pull it back, delivering punchlines with aplomb. The dialogue, by Sumit Arora, is full of wry lines that draw on local flavor, making it all the more believable and real.
What takes the film a notch above the usual fare, though, are the performances. Rao is in top form, exhibiting perfect comic timing. Here is an actor who makes the rest of the cast look good merely by the dint of his range and skill. Not that the cast in this film need it. Tripathi and Khurana are equally proficient at comedy, and even Shraddha Kapoor seems perfectly cast as the enigmatic love interest in Vicky’s life.
“Stree” is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a while.