Stree – Somewhere between Silly and Sinister

When I first heard about the movie ‘Stree’, what intrigued me the most (apart from the true incident that the film is apparently based on) was that it was a ‘horror-comedy’. I had never come across this particular genre before, and was therefore quite enthusiastic after watching the trailer, which said the film was based on ‘a ridiculously true phenomenon’. The mystery regarding the woman-cum-witch who used to kidnap men from a village, interspersed with light hearted jokes serving as comic relief seemed to be something worth watching. This uncanny equation of ‘fright plus fun’ was what made me agree to going for this particular movie with a friend.

Apparently, ‘Stree’ is based on a real urban legend that engulfed the city of Bangalore in an icy blanket of fear in the 1990s, long before the city became India’s Silicon Valley. According to the legend, a witch used to roam the streets of the city of Bangalore hunting for her prey. She would knock on the doors at night, and try to lure men by impersonating the voices of the women they loved, like their mother, wife or sister. Hearing the familiar voice, the person would open the door, and ultimately die within the next 24 hours. This legend spread like wildfire, wreaking havoc in the city. The locals then found a solution to get rid of the problem. They started inscribing the words ‘Nale Ba’ on the doors of their houses, or uttering the same from inside to ward off the evil spirit. ‘Nale Ba’ literally means ‘come tomorrow’ in Kannada.On seeing this polite request of coming back the next day, the witch would spare the people for the time being, only to be sent back again the next night. The cycle continued day after day, and thus the people were safe from her clutches. As time went by, the story died out, and so did the witch of Nale Ba. No one knows whether the tale is true or not, but to this day, the words can be found etched on walls in some parts of Bangalore.

The trailer was good, and so was the backstory. Thus I entered the movie hall expecting an entertaining couple of hours, but let’s cut to the chase – I was mildly disappointed. Now before I go on to say why, I would like to clarify that opinions are completely subjective, and I don’t suggest that the movie is a complete waste of time. The film begins on a promising note, and the quaint small town vibe really adds to the charm of the setting, going hand in hand with the tale of the mystery witch. Shraddha Kapoor did justice to her part of being the anonymous girl, who no one knows about except Rajkumar Rao’s ‘Vicky’, who eventually falls for her beauty and is ever available at her beck and call, oblivious to the fact that a witch is on the prowl and there are subtle clues indicating that there is more to the anonymous girl than what meets the eye. The mysterious activities of the ‘stree’ are shown over the course of three nights, and the suspense builds to a climax when one of Vicky’s close friends is abducted by the witch, and he is made to realise that he is in fact courting the culprit herself. This was before the intermission, and the movie had built a somewhat stable plot, punctuated with gimmicks and funny one-liners by the actors, and a stellar performance by Rajkumar Rao, that does manage to induce laughter amidst the chills. For me, the plot started becoming ambiguous after the interval, when the seeming culprit behind these attacks is established as innocent, (atleast for the time being), and begins aiding Vicky and his friends to get rid of the witch. After an entire group of men disappears, there is a final showdown between our heroes and the ‘stree’ when she is finally defeated, as her braid, which is the source of her magic is cut off, rendering her powerless. The men are released and everyone lives happily ever after.

Well, almost. There is this one last scene, which adds to the ambiguity. As the anonymous girl leaves the town, on a bus, she takes out the detached braid of the witch from her bag, and places it on her own hair, indicating that she has attained its powers herself. It has not been explained why she does so, and why she helps Vicky and his friends to defeat the witch if she was indeed one of her kin. The only logical explanation is that she wanted to obtain the braid for herself to attain evil powers. The movie ends with a one year gap, as the ‘stree’ comes back to haunt the town, but instead of asking her to come back the next day, the townspeople erect a statue of the witch with the words ‘O Stree, Raksha karna’ thus requesting her to protect them from evil. This was a powerful scene, as women are portrayed as protectors, as opposed to being the weaker sex, a message which has been dispersed throughout the movie. Apart from the somewhat weak plot, and a mildly ambiguous and disappointing explanation, ‘Stree’ does a good job at clamping down on the patriarchy and age old prejudices of male chauvinism, and this is where the otherwise mundane movie, stands apart from others belonging to this genre.

Picture Credits: twitter.com

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