“I couldn’t help but wonder why Stree axed its own brilliance with a few tackiness,” writes Neha Sureka.
As a thumb-rule, if any film stirs one strong emotion in the audience, it hits home. But Stree (Amar Kaushik, 2018) is that rare breed which instills not just one, but two emotions with perfect balance. Those emotions are of humour and fear. Both are as contrasting as they can be, yet capable enough to create a riot and bring tears to the eyes. So was my state of mind, as I sat through the edge of my seat chuckling and squealing, both at the same time.
To me this is what makes the film unique. Stree’s men are very well casted, sketched and their performances are par excellence. Adding to the cherry is a rendition of a very authentic look and feel of a Madhya Pradesh village, villagers, and the dialect.
As uncanny as it may sound, it reminds me of ‘Bhool Bhoolaiya’ in a similar sense of genre. Bhool Bhulaiya though had other shades of emotions too. Whereas in Stree every facet, be it relationships, bromance, romance, loss, death, secrets, or revelations, everything is expressed-strictly within the realm of comedy and horror only.
Bhool Bhulaiya followed a very standard process of identifying the symptoms , it’s diagnosis, treatment with a conclusive end when dealing with the paranormal activity. But Stree is greedy and gets preachy about the paranormal activity persisting in the environment, the village Chanderi to be precise.
The female ghost, ‘Stree' here is a symbolic representation of feminist outrage against the men and their untoward treatment towards women at large. Essentially meant to reflect upon what women desists, what they value, what they seek for and what they expect from men.
Had it been a subtle message, it would have maintained the entertainment-quotient of the film. But it is stretched and the whole process of preaching the message to the villagers and to the audience is very unconvincing and unappealing.
The Village’s know-it-all gyaani ‘Rudra' and the victim's friends decode the ghost and the women in general, only to prevent themselves, the village men and bring back their captured friend. They deploy tacts over and above the existing ones, only to outsmart the ghost at her own game.
For instance Gyani Rudra decoded that "Stree is educated, follows rules, seeks permission before abducting her victims and appreciates love and respect” and thus found a tact to circumvent Stree from entering the houses in the village. “Stree, Tum kal aana” when written in front of the house would prevent her from entering, since she could decipher the message correctly, follow its rule yet not feel offended as she is requested to come the next day. Had it been “Stree Tum MAT aana”, it would have itched her respect..
If ever, the message gets written off, Stree takes it as a welcome opportunity to enter in the house and abduct a vulnerable man and sleaze him of his prestigious clothes and takes him away. Villagers had learnt the lesson the hard way and used to follow it diligently.
When the villagers became too smart for her, she sends back an abducted man under her influence to clandestinely rub-off these writings on the wall and open the doors for her. So much for her ideologies and her rules. It only seemed a game of Tit-for Tat.
Another unconvincing scene was when Stree releases our hero from her hold coz she supposedly found love and respect in his eyes. Damn! What, I as audience could see in his eyes was only Fear and desperation to get out of her clutches.
Having said, I could definitely see a longing for him in her eyes making her look vulnerable. How is that for feminism.
To add to the dampener, their is another woman, shown in alliance with the men. Despite her mysterious ways, the men tend to trust her towards the end. But what her real motives were, remained un-fathomable till the end.
- Was she another ghost competing with Stree?
- Was she an alliance with Stree, another symbolic feminist ghost taking the mantle forward?
I hear a sequel is on the way to solve this mystery.
However, the entertainment-quotient keeps the movie tight and engaging throughout and a regular audience sentiment would keep it in a high rating.
I couldn’t help but wonder why Stree axed its own brilliance with a few tackiness. Especially the one which came at the end. After Stree’s death/end, she is shown to appear again, the next year around her usual time of Navratras, at her temporary abode, high above in a ruin near the village. In her usual prowl avatar, she is all set to venture out for her catch in the night and the moment she is about to float out of the gate, she is taken aback to see her own statue built near the gate with the caption “Stree Raksha Karna”. This gesture is supposedly meant to show that the villagers have understood her, respect her, her strength and women’s strength in general.
But to me it looked like the ultimate Tack deployed by the villagers to pre-empt her attacks further-on. Like those God’s picture-tiles pasted on the boundary walls to pre-empt spits and urination by the passer-bys.
Neha Sureka is a Bengaluru-based poet, writer, and blogger. She blogs at nehadaydreams.blogspot.com.