“Oh stree, kal aana”. Translated as, “Oh woman, come tomorrow”, this is the line written on the walls of every house in the sleepy town of Chanderi during the holy Puja season. Written using an ink made out of bat’s blood, the line is believed to keep away the evil ‘Stree’ who preys on men. As far as myths go, the vengeful woman is out to fulfill her wish to celebrate the ‘suhaag raat’ – something that she couldn’t with the man of her dreams. Based on folklore and some spooky incidents in Karnataka, India, director Amar Kaushik weaves a humorous universe where the genders are reversed.

Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) is a ladies’ tailor. He doesn’t believe in feeling up his clients on the pretext of taking measurements. The math is right there in his head. Even upon request by the woman he likes, Vicky is reluctant to touch her. Part clumsy but equally efficient with his work which directly caters to women, Vicky forms the anchor in Stree. Needless to add that Rao has great fun playing the part which comes quite easily to him. The tension intensifies with the entry of a mysterious woman (Shraddha Kapoor) into Vicky’s life whose appearance coincides with the yearly hunt carried out by the mythical stree. The rest of the film is spent unraveling her whereabouts and also finding a way to rescue the victims – one of whom happens to be Vicky’s friend, Jana.

Quite intriguing on the story front, it is easily Raj and DK’s writing that edges out every other department in Stree. The phenomenon in itself has high curiosity value and the Amar Chitra Katha-like flavour helps in holding the premise firmly on its backbone. The writing sees very few zigzags and needless twists. Knowing that the crux is that of eerie sightings and the likes, the writers could have complicated it further by giving confusing (often lacklustre) character sketches to a few which, thankfully, doesn’t happen. The writers do falter occasionally when the story meanders to flashbacks and peripheral characters – all of which are neither vital to the plot nor exciting by any measures. Also to be noted is how the debutant director Amar Kaushik makes full of use of the atmosphere that Chanderi offers. The forts, the spooky lanes, the temple – the town has a lot to offer in terms of resources. Kaushik’s understanding of his canvas is evident and his shot-taking style is largely impressive and steers clear of newbie vibes.

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Treated more like a horror feature (and rightfully so), Stree uses the sound department to the optimum. Certain shots are repetitive (for instance, the recurring bit of a mysterious hand appearing from behind) and are oh-so-typical of films in the said genre. We also get a series of songs that, clearly, have been injected to give the film a commercial heft. In the process, they contribute to diluting the mood and it also doesn’t help that the musical numbers (Sachin-Jigar) as standalone numbers aren’t worthy of any merit. The funny portions are treated in an organic fashion, registering the characters as intrinsic, rooted members of the social fabric they grew up in. Even in the women empowerment bit that the film touches upon, Stree doesn’t believe in excess exposition. The film is also a take on women through the eyes of a group of men who are used to their privileges. Yes, there is the presence of a mysterious woman whose tryst with the entire ordeal is a little baffling. Then again, it is that element of spook associated with her that gives the film a solid footing till the last frame. The course of the story, after a point, turns predictable but Kaushik’s ability to pack his key sequences with a notable tightness helps in maintaining the momentum through these parts. For a story that is refreshing, quirky, and a wee bit bizarre, Stree ends on a rather satisfying note. The only fear that is left by the end of this flavourful comic horror film is the possibility of a sequel, which is a surefire recipe to rip the film and its characters of all their innate freshness and edgy charm.

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Stree is now streaming on Netflix.