Among many things Hollywood does better than Hindi Cinema – is its use of self-referencing and self-aware humor. Most big budget comedies, and specifically the Marvel movies, make their films a lot more entertaining than it probably is on paper just by using this form of dialogue writing. In Infinity Wars, Bruce Banner asks at a point : “There is a Spider-Man and an Ant-Man?”. With this kind of acknowledgement, the makers lets the viewers know that they are aware of the ridiculousness of their premise and thus makes you laugh with them, rather than laugh at them.
Stree, branded as a horror-comedy, starts off by a disclaimer with a text on the screen that says “Based on a ridiculous phenomenon”. With this, the film, written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, already makes it stand apart from 99% of the horror movies made in Hindi cinema by acknowledging and embracing the absurd setting of the film. The remaining 1% of the films includes Go Goa Gone, which is incidentally directed by the same duo.
What follows is a truly ridiculous (as promised) sequence of events which just gets funnier with every passing time. The refreshing brand of humor : completely self-aware and full of pop-culture references – is the film’s biggest achievement. When asked to the local librarian (played by the show-stealing Pankaj Tripathi) on how does the “Stree” know everyone’s name in town he says it’s because of the Aadhar cards being linked with her. Our witch is also regarded as “Naye Bharat ki chudail”, since she knows how to read and doesn’t enter houses if a particular note is written outside for her.
These are just glimpses of the humor mined from this absurd premise. The dialogues, written by Sumit Arora, is first grade. It matches to the excellence of other comedies based on small-town setting – namely Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. There are jokes with sexual innuendos as well, but never does it become crass or sexist.
And yet, even if you remove humor from the film, Stree is a brilliant commentary on gender disparity existing in the country. It is, after all, a gender-reversal story where the men are advised not to roam outside late at night (since Stree targets only men for her attacks). And unlike many other Hindi films where the message is shoved down your throat through monologues or repeated lines, this one goes subtle. Only with more thoughts about the film as you leave theater would you realize the hidden subtlety.
This brilliant work of writing is brought to life excellently by our principal characters. The trio of Rajkummar Rao, Aparshakti Khurrana and Abhishek Banerjee flex all their muscles, tune their accents and make every joke land. Shraddha has the least to do, which works best given her limited acting capabilities. Helming them is debutante director Amar Kaushik who brings all the elements together wonderfully.
The horror part of the story is very few as spook is compromised for laughs most of the times. Still, for someone like me who gets freaked out at a pin drop, there were moments of chills.
Of course, Stree isn’t perfect and has certain problems. The plot gets murkier towards the end and you are left with some unanswered questions. You may even find it best at one-time watch and may not have a strong repeat value.
But what the film brings to the table is truly heartening. Stree is to Hindi horror what Deadpool was to Hollywood Superhero movies. It subverts the genre, challenges its stereotypes and gives you an experience never had before.
Hopefully we will see more such self-aware, quirky comedy being made. For that, this one needs to be a huge hit. And for that, you need to catch this film in theaters at the earliest.