Con­sent-wali chu­dail

Mid Day - - OPINION - Meenakshi Shedde Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Con­sul­tant to the Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val, award-win­ning critic, cu­ra­tor to fes­ti­vals world­wide and jour­nal­ist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

I CAN­NOT stand hor­ror films. Yet, I found Amar Kaushik’s hor­ror-com­edy Stree an ab­so­lute hoot. I kept laugh­ing out loud through­out.

In Chan­deri, in Mad­hya Pradesh, lives a ladies’ tai­lor Vicky (Ra­jkum­mar Rao), who can ac­cu­rately gauge ladies’ mea­sure­ments with just a glance, and his two bud­dies Bittu and Jana. A mys­te­ri­ous, pretty outof-towner (Shrad­dha Kapoor) sud­denly turns up, ask­ing Vicky to make her a lehenga ur­gently — and Vicky melts. Mean­while, there’s a chu­dail, a fe­male ghost, haunt­ing the town dur­ing the four days of its an­nual re­li­gious fair. Sim­ply called Stree, she’s a ghost with de­sires, who hyp­no­tises men: soon they van­ish, and only their clothes are found the next day. A fe­male ghost with sex­ual de­sires, who abducts men, and cheer­fully leaves Ex­hibit A be­hind? That’s cer­tainly a first for Bol­ly­wood.

Vicky’s friends have doubts, whether his new girl­friend, who has no name, whom no one has seen, could be… ulp? So, Vicky he­si­tantly asks her, “Aap Stree ho kya? Bas, aise hi pooch raha hoon, GK ke liye.”

The hor­ror-com­edy genre is a tricky com­bi­na­tion to pull off, but Kaushik suc­ceeds with verve. To top it all, it is an ex­plic­itly fem­i­nist film. A situation in which the town’s men are ter­ri­fied of a fe­male ghost who de­sires men, yields pure gold, as it flips stereo­types: women tell their men­folk to stay “surak­shit,” bolted at home, not to ven­ture out late, or talk to strangers. A 21-gun salute for this.

So, our trio hatches a plan to trap Stree, guided by Pankaj Tri­pathi as Ru­dra Bhaiya, the town gyani, and Vi­jay Raaz as Shas­triji, a writer. Tri­pathi ob­serves that Stree is a “naye Bharat ki chu­dail” who doesn’t do zabar­dasti like men, but be­lieves in con­sent: she calls out men’s names, and waits till they look into her eyes, be­fore ab­duct­ing them.

There’s plenty of scary scenes with loud mu­sic and jump cuts. The cli­max is a bit mud­dled, in­volv­ing chopped cho­tis and mes­sag­ing about women want­ing re­spect, but over­all, Kaushik pulls off the film with elan.

Re­mark­ably, this de­li­cious genre-bend­ing fem­i­nist film is Kaushik’s de­but fea­ture. It could not be fur­ther re­moved from his pre­vi­ous short, Aaba, about a young girl in Arunachal Pradesh and her dy­ing grand­fa­ther, that won Best Short in the Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val’s chil­dren’s sec­tion in 2017.

Rao is ter­rific and car­ries the film; and Tri­pathi is bril­liantly dead­pan, but iron­i­cally for a fem­i­nist film, Kapoor has lit­tle to do. Stree’s mar­vel­lous story and screen­play are writ­ten by Raj Nidi­moru and Kr­ishna DK, with comic di­a­logue by Su­mit Arora. ‘Raj and DK’ are also co-pro­duc­ers, with Di­nesh Vi­jan. Pity they ruin it by in­clud­ing a heav­ing item num­ber. It is the duo’s ninth film, and their fil­mog­ra­phy in­cludes the zom­bie com­edy Go Goa Gone. You get the feel­ing the crew had a blast mak­ing the film — and that’s in­fec­tious.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION/UDAY MO­HITE

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