Stree is a strange mix. On the one hand there are established names like Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao and on the other, the film occasionally veers towards the horror flicks of the nineties. Think of a cross between any Ramsey Brothers’ film and Rajkummar Rao’s own Bareilly Ki Barfi.
You take a minute to figure this film out. Starting off with a ghost attack, the film is surprisingly funny. There is Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) who believes he deserves much better than what life has offered him so far. He finds a ray of validation from a rather mysterious woman (Shraddha Kapoor) who openly flirts with him but comes up with strange requests. Vicky is too enamoured to be bothered by the requests this girl makes of him.
Right from the scene where Shraddha Kapoor makes her entry, she is a suspect. From the ominous background score to her reluctance to provide even the basic details about herself, the writers deliberately set her up as the “spirit”. That serves as a hook to keep the audience waiting to find out more – how does it make sense to reveal the suspect so soon in the film? And if she is not Stree, who is she? Added to the mix is the town wise guy Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) who has a mini library of sorts on all things occult. Though the character is peripheral to the story, it helps the film immeasurably in making it funnier.
The film has been smartly written. There are enough things happening in the story to keep it interesting. Vicky bragging to his friends about his new romantic achievements, his father’s attempted conversation about sex after suspecting that Vicky is paying for action of the romantic type and Rudra’s obedient love for Sama, a relationship never clarified but possibly his wife or lover. Trouble arises when the film cannot decide whether it wants to use the kernel of a ghost for laughs or for horror. There are scenes that look straight out of a B-grade horror film. A deserted street in the middle of the night, lights going out and a grotesque looking creature attacking with a frightening shriek fit right in with such films.
The film has many positives. Casting is superb. Rajkummar Rao is spot on as a small town man with a swagger but who starts stammering when speaking to a beautiful girl. Vicky’s banter with his friends (Aparshakti Khurrana and Abhishek Banerjee) is as real as it gets. Pankaj Tripathi owns the scenes completely when he is on screen, leaving you wanting more of him in the story. Shraddha Kapoor has to look pretty and mysterious which she does effortlessly. Dialogues are another strength of the film. Even seemingly minor lines are funny. Even a simple line by Rudra, “Aapko nahin. Aap theek hain” to an old crumbling man who wanted the pamphlet on how to survive an attack by Stree is chuckle worthy.
The ending seems manipulative. It appears that after setting up Shraddha Kapoor as a mysterious character, there writers didn’t know how to handle her. The twist in the ending is forced. There’s no thread about it all through the story so this addition feels contrived. Superb acting and funny dialogues make Stree an entertaining watch.