The ghost in Amar Kaushik’s horror comedy “Stree” (The Woman) is unusual in many ways. For one thing, she knows a thing or two about consent, capturing only those who answer her call and staying away from those who ask her to.
Haunting is not her full-time job: she comes to the village of Chanderi only for the first four days of a major 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 not to venture out alone at night. The film’s protagonist, Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), however, has no time for what he considers superstitious nonsense.
As the best tailor in town, he makes clothes by the dozen and his father proudly declares that his son was born to sew. But Vicky is convinced that his purpose in life is more than just sitting at a sewing machine. He is in love with the mysterious woman (Shraddha Kapoor) who visits him during this time, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. But as more apparitions occur, Vicky’s friends Bittu (Aparshakti Khurana) and Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) join forces to try to unravel the mystery behind the ghost and find out what it wants.
What works in “Stree” is that it doesn’t forget that it is first and foremost a comedy, without the horror overshadowing the laughs. It even tries to address some relevant issues – about women drinking, the state of emergency in the 1970s, and women’s emancipation – but it’s all in the form of jokes, and it’s up to the audience to decide 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 too serious, and the light-hearted tone makes “Stree” easy to watch. Even when the plot threatens to falter, the actors hold it together and deliver jokes with aplomb. The dialogues, written by Sumit Arora, are full of ironic lines that pick up on local flavor, making them more believable and real.
What sets the film apart from the usual, however, are the performances. Rao is in top form and displays perfect comic timing. This is an actor who makes the rest of the cast look good, simply because of his range and skill. Not that the cast of this film needs it. Tripathi and Khurana are equally competent in comedy, and even Shraddha Kapoor seems perfectly cast as the enigmatic love interest in Vicky’s life.