So when Stree (released in 2019) was billed as a horror-comedy, I was a little skeptical about it. Soon critics and fans alike were raving about it and it became one of those 'sleeper hits'. Recently, thanks to streaming channels, I had the opportunity to watch it and here is my review.
Stree (Woman) has an interesting premise. A small town is haunted by a female ghost who only kidnaps men during the three nights of a festival that is celebrated annually. All the men avoid going out at night and to counter the evil powers of the ghost have the words "O Stree, please come tomorrow" painted on the outside walls of their houses. The words are painted with a "ghost-repelling" mixture. The invitation to 'come tomorrow' is a quirky take on Indian behaviour of welcoming even unwanted guests to their homes. These quirky touches do add an element of refreshing humour. The lead actor (played by Rajkumar Rao) essays the role of a small-town ladies tailor with tremendous panache. In fact, the role seems to be an extension of another character he played in Bareilly Ki Barfi where he was a shop-assistant in a saree shop.
The most interesting thing about this film is how it up-ends the stereotypical associations -- instead of damsels in distress you have men at the mercy of a woman ghost. This instantly cues in humour and there is a situation when the men have to dress up as women to avoid the clutches of this blood thirsty spirit. However, the humour is inconsistent and relies mostly on some snappy dialogue and great acting by the immensely talented cast of characters.
But where the film flounders is the plot development and the loose screenplay. References to patriarchy, status of women in society, all of which find play in the story, could have been more satirical and spoof-ish but end up serving the plot in a convenient and superficial manner. The entire backstory of how the lead character's mother was a fallen woman and hence not acceptable to society is dealt with in a couple of scenes in a most lackadaisical manner. Perhaps the biggest flaw is the lame ending. The story ends on a pretty bizarre note -- the ghost ends up exorcising itself. Seems like the filmmakers were bent on fulfilling their promise of a story "based on a ridiculously true phenomenon".