Written by Manisha Lakhe on August 31, 2018
Na Horror Wale Ghar Ki Na Comedy Wale Ghaat Ki
There’s a tale of Chander town of a ‘chudail’ (witch) called ‘Stree’ (woman) who shows up during the four days of the local temple festival and preys on men, taking them and leaving only their clothes behind. A young lad Vicky who’s the local tailor and his two friends get embroiled in the witchy tale and begin suspecting a beautiful visitor who shows up only during the festival. Small town rumors and witty one liners make this horror tale funny, but you come away with a niggling dissatisfaction. Should they have downplayed the humor and raised the horror quotient a bit more? So many possibilities…
Rajkummar Rao is Vicky, the gifted tailor who can measure women just by looking at them. He is in demand. Especially during the temple festival which lasts for four nights, when the women need new clothes. But his town hides a secret: a chudail (witch) called ‘Stree’ (woman) visits their town at the time of the festival. If homes have a message scrawled on their walls, ‘Stree, come back tomorrow’ the homes are safe. But if she finds men alone, she whisks them away, leaving only the clothes behind.
The small town of Chander is brilliantly captured. They do overdo the little touches of small-townness (like the signboard on Vicky’s tailoring shop which says, ‘Azaad Auraton ki Azaad dukaan’ which translates to something like ‘Free women wear this freedom clothing’, and they have a sewing machine enshrined in the shop, garlanded as Indians do to pictures of dead family elders), but the little town is very picturesque, even in its horror.
The horror is terrific. There are bigger possibilities than the filmmakers care to explore. Vicky’s friend Jana (played brilliantly by Abhishek Banerjee) is a boon to horror films. He expresses fear when walking home alone so amazingly, it was fun to watch some newbies in the theater jump out of their skins when he comes face to face with Stree. Aparshakti Khurana as Bittu is wonderful foil to both Vicky and Jana, as the friend who always has ideas about what to do.
But the genius is casting Pankaj Tripathi as Rudra, the man who owns a bookstore, a man so educated he has degrees in every subject you can dream of is the best decision the filmmakers could make. He is so brilliant, he even makes the outrageous claims like: Stree knows everything about all men in town because she has the Aadhar link to all their cards. (Aadhar is like a social security card), and the villagers buy it too. His claim to fame? He has done ‘in depth research’ on the topics of ‘Stree’ and other ‘chudails’ and has books and material enough to see us through the film.
The writing is good, and you see brilliance sometimes. For example, when Jana brags about how deep his thoughts can be, Bittu calls him ‘Pacific Ocean’… The film crackles with one liners and if you understand Hindi the joy is doubled. The trouble comes when they want to add the elements of horror into a script that is more comedy than scary. Shraddha Kapoor shows up and Vicky falls in love with her, but it’s a gaping hole in the script logic when they cannot explain her behaviour or Vicky’s quiet acceptance of her demand for mutton. Village festivals, are observed by everyone as holy, and not even the rowdiest of crowds of young men would not want to incur the wrath of the gods or even ‘Stree’ by inviting a dancing girl, who conveniently walks off when the song is over.
So the film swings from fun to tedious and then piques your interest in the horror and lets it fizzle out, making the whole experience like finding that your expensive coffee is only froth and no brew.
(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)