By M Kanishka Narang (Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
Stree: An Ode to Women’s Empowerment
Women, especially those in rural India, are the victims of a medieval mindset. Society suspects their character and hounds those daring to challenge the status quo. And when they marry against the wishes of their parents, they are killed as punishment.
As the name suggests and the movie confirms, Stree is an ode to women’s empowerment. However, in trying to be so, it mixes up many issues resulting in a hotchpotch of ideas. It is set in the village of Chanderi, the residents of which believe in a female ghost that appears during the annual 4 day festival. This ghost, named Stree by the occupants is believed to kidnap men every night of the 4 day festival, leaving only his clothes behind. While this may sound absurd, legend has it that the ghost is actually the restless soul of a newlywed bride, killed before she could consummate her marriage with her lover. Naturally, the innocent village folk, especially the men, are terrified. The only way the village protects its men is by writing “O Stree Kal Aana” in Hindi, which means “Stree, come tomorrow”, on the walls of every home. This, the villagers claim, is bound to shoo the ghost away and protect the men folk.
Vicky (Raj Kumar Rao) is the son of a tailor in the village with modern, rational beliefs. He rubbishes any talk of the ghost Stree. However, he is forced to change his stance when he loses one of his friends to the dreadful ghost. And as the village comes to terms with the loss of some of its men to Stree, Shraddha Kapoor (Stree) mysteriously arrives on the scene, fueling suspicion. As she gets friendly with Vicky, the latter’s friends come to believe that she might indeed be the human incarnation of the dreaded ghost. Their anti-Shraddha comments are also laced with jealousy towards Vicky.
After Vicky’s friends realise they were wrong, they, along with Shraddha Kapoor and Rajkumar Rao embark on a mission to rid Chanderi of this annual menace. Vicky is entrusted with the job of leading the hunt for Stree. Although initially reluctant, he comes around and goes all guns blazing.
Pankaj Tripathi, who plays the role of a fraud scholar must be lauded for his comic timing. The star cast, led by Raj Kumar Rao and Shraddha Kapoor also elevate the cinematic experience with their funny dialogues. They engage the audience with witty one-liners. For example, when Stree goes about abducting men, Vicky and his friends joke that she chooses her victims based on their Aadhar cards!
The film is not just funny but also a commentary on current political issues, within the larger canvas of feminism. For instance, when Vicky is told that he was born to a prostitute, he, although shocked initially comes to accept his parentage. After all, prostitutes are human beings too and are so out of compulsion, not choice. Stree also condemns honour killings and how inter-caste marriages cost young couples their lives, merely for defying their elders. Strangely, men are shown as weak and vulnerable, a first of sorts in Bollywood. However sloppy the movie might be, it does succeed in making a powerful statement on women’s rights. Its underlying theme is not so much the Ghost Stree as the terrible conditions that women face in India.