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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Stree, Review: Ironing ‘bored’

Stree, Review: Ironing ‘bored’

What do you call a female ghost? For want of a better word, the villagers who are haunted by this entity call it Stree (Hindi for woman). Fair enough. If English film-makers can call a ghost Entity, what is wrong with a Hindi film selecting Stree as its eponymous title? Mind you, this is no ordinary ghost that haunts or possesses the simple village-folk. It kidnaps only men, every year, with precise accuracy, on the same dates, and leaves behind only the men’s clothing as a trail. Which leads us to a moot question: Is she a ghost or a nymphomaniac or both? Who can tell?

They have tried. The makers of the film have tried. Not sure whether they will make any sense, they have included a disclaimer that the story is based on a ridiculous true story. Ridiculous? They actually used the r word? Indeed. What follows below will describe in detail what happens when a bunch of individuals set out to convert a ridiculous village tale into a ghost film. Somewhere, quite early down the line, the word ridiculous gets converted to ludicrous and the audience is left hanging in thin air, just as the ghost who stalks the hapless village folk appears to them in suspended animation.

Transposed from a 1990s sequence of events that supposedly took place in the South-Western Indian state of Karnataka, to Chanderi and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, Stree is the ghost of an angry woman who stalks men during an annual festive period. It calls out the names of its victims thrice, when they are alone, and when they turn to look back the third time, it sweeps them away, leaving their clothes behind.

An expert ladies tailor in Chanderi, Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) falls head over heels in love with a mysterious girl (Shraddha Kapoor), who appears suddenly during the festival and asks him to stitch her clothes urgently, in time for the prayers. Her frequent disappearing acts make his friends suspicious and they start believing that she could be the Stree who is haunting the city. After one of Vicky's friend Janaa (Abhishek Banerjee) disappears, Vicky attempts to find out more about this myth. He comes across a book in the library of a self-proclaimed researcher and expert, an alcoholic by the name of Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi), who has studied the myth very carefully, but the book that will unravel the mystery has 14 crucial pages missing.

Vicky notices a picture in the book and realises that he knows that place. He visits that place with Rudra and his friend Bittu (Aparchita Khurrana), to find out more about Stree’s story. Stree attacks Vicky but is driven away by the mysterious girl (Shraddha Kapoor), who suddenly appears. On their way back, Vicky's lost friend Janaa is found walking naked, and behaves abnormally upon returning home. The four of them trace the author of the book, Shastrijee, in an attempt to find out more about Stree. He tells them that there is a savior who can put an end to Stree’s rule of terror, and his description matches…guess who… Vicky!

Based on the screenplay of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K, Stree’s Hindi dialogue comes from the pen of Sumit Arora. Loopholes galore dot the screenplay. To protect themselves from the ghost, the village folk paint a sign on their external wall, saying O Stree, Come Tomorrow. And strangely, the ghost does not prey upon men in such houses, taking the ‘come tomorrow’ refrain literally and sparing the inmates ‘today’, every day. A literate ghost who can read Hindi and does as told? You’re telling me! Horror of horrors, our hero Vicky urinates on the wall of a house in which they are having a party and the word ‘tomorrow’ is particularly targetted. With needle-sharp precision, Vicky erases the word ‘tomorrow’ and that marks the end of the trail, or rather beginning of the trail, of the host and the ghost. Only his clothes are spared. Logically so, because what would a ‘she’ ghost do with ‘he’ clothes?

A list of the bloomers and bloopers registered under debutant director Amar Kaushik’s direction would take about as much space as the script of the film, so I shall let the keyboard rest on that count. Instead, here’s a gem! Rudra, in an attempt to be funny, I guess, picks up a clothes iron when he hears someone say the word “stree”. Now the iron that is used to press clothes is called istree in Hindi, and that was an attempt at being punny. By this time you are so bored that you would like to counter the istree pun with one of your own--ironing ‘bored’. Nightie and fall, tailoring and clothing terms, are blended by Vicky to say "nightfall", referring to nocturnal emissions. Of course, he corrects himself. Rudra has a piece of dialogue wherein he condemns modern day ‘lub’ (love), chastising those who fall in lub at first sight and then end doing sub (everything)!

Since the horror is so contrived, the makers rely on comedy and double entendre. A prostitute refuses to have sex with a client because he does not have the ‘goods’ (condom) on. In any case, which sane man would call one prostitute to a party where two dozen men are drinking and swinging? Since she is not paid, she lands up at Vicky’s house the next morning, asking him to pay, as his friend disappeared. But, he insists, nothing happened. We were halfway through, counters the lady of the night, and Vicky shells out the moolah.

Much is made of the dialect and delivery, and some pure, bookish Hindi, that is expected to be funny. To metro audiences not familiar with the language, these would be odd and elicit some chuckles, but there is nothing funny about the lingo per se. Any more about the narrative and spoilers will spoil…spill over, so let’s now see who did what role, and how.

Rajkummar Rao (Shahid, Newton, Bareilly ki Barfi) has to face an embarrassing situation where his lady love asks him whether he has a speech impairment. In reality, he does speak with some problem in his speech. Nevertheless, he is a good actor, and it must be the bucks, not the script, that made him sign on the dotted line for Stree. If what the producer claims is true—and I have no reason to doubt him—Rao learnt tailoring for twenty days to do justice to the craft. Shraddha Kapoor (Teen Patti, Aashiqui 2, Rock On 2) does well in an incomplete and ill-defined role.

Pankaj Tripathi (Gangs of Wasseypur, Newton, Masaan) as Rudra shows a rare talent for comedy, although his dialogue delivery remains the same in every film. Aparshakti Khurrana (Dangal, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya, Happy Phir Bhaag Jayegi) and Abhishek Banerjee (Rock On 2, Secret Superstar, raid) as the two bum-chums are a handful. Vijay Raaz (Ek Aadat, Bin Bulaye Baaraati, Always Sometimes) as Shastri raazes…raises a few genuine laughs.

Aakash Dabhade has a small role as Narendra. Atul Shrivastava, a popular face on TV, plays Vicky's father, in characteristic style. The ghostly, ghastly apparition is embodied by the rather ironically named Flora/Asha (Hope) Saini (MSG: The Messenger, Dhanak, Guddu ki Gun). There are two special appearances in item song numbers: Nora Fatehi in ‘Kamariya’ and Kriti Sanon in ‘Aao kabhee havelee pey’.

Besides being literate, it is felt by the villagers that notwithstanding her kidnappings, the ghost is stupid. Be that as it may, audiences are not.

Rating: * ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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