Stree (2018)

Stree

Amar Kaushik’s Stree starts with the intriguing message that the story is based on a ‘ridiculous true phenomenon’, apparently referencing a folk-tale from Karnataka, but which really could be any one of a number of similar stories world-wide. The film is billed as a horror comedy, and manages to be both funny and scary, which is an excellent achievement in a genre that generally manages one or the other, but rarely both. The story takes place in the wonderfully atmospheric town of Chanderi, making Stree worth watching just for the architecture alone, but in addition, Rajkummar Rao is excellent, Pankaj Tripathi and the rest of the support cast are brilliant, and the blend of social commentary, dark humour and ghostly appearances makes for an unusual but entertaining film.

The basic premise of the story is the annual haunting of Chanderi by a female ghost that preys on the men of the town. For the first four nights of Navratri, Stree calls to any men she sees alone at night stealing them away and leaving behind nothing but their clothes. The best part about this is that she calls their name three times, and if they turn around, she takes that as consent. Naturally then, all the men have to do to be safe is not turn around – but somehow they seem unable to manage this. I love the idea of a female ghost that looks for consent, particularly in Hindi cinema where the men don’t usually give women the same consideration, which is of course the whole point.  But also, and more subtly, there is the message that the men are so desperate for love that they can be easily seduced by the ghost despite knowing the consequences.

Protection from Stree can also be gained by writing a message outside the house asking Stree to come back the following night. Surprisingly the literate Stree obeys, keeping the menfolk safe from her clutches as she continues to follow the directive and return the next night until her time is up. The presence of Stree means that the tables are turned and in this story it’s the men who are terrified and unable to go out alone at night. Some even resort to dressing as women to be able to venture outdoors at night safely, while the rest huddle behind their womenfolk in fear. The film has a lot of these ‘role reversals’ that shine the spotlight on the treatment of women in India. There is even an item song with Nora Fatehi gyrating away in front of a crowd of young men, but at the end she is politely escorted away by bodyguards, totally in control of the situation, while one of the men ends up as Stree’s first victim.

Against the backdrop of the ghost, the film follows Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), a ladies tailor who can gauge his clienteles’ measurements with just a glance, and his romance with an mysterious woman. Despite his obvious talent, Vicky feels that he is destined for bigger and better things, but while he’s waiting for them to happen, he spends his time in Chanderi stitching clothes and hanging out with his friends Bittu (Aparshakti Khurana) and Jana (Abhishek Banerjee). At the start of Navratri, Vicky meets an enigmatic female visitor (Shraddha Kapoor) who has come to the town for the festival, and who commissions Vicky to make an outfit for her. Although his friends are sceptical and even suspect the newcomer may be Stree, Vicky is instantly smitten and ends up on a couple of dubious ‘dates’ with the mysterious stranger. At the same time, Stree has started her annual haunting, although Vicky denies her existence until Jana is one of the men taken by the vengeful spectre. Suddenly Vicky has a reason to find out more about the ghost, and he enlists the aid of local bookstore owner Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) and even his mysterious girlfriend to track down Stree and rescue the men she has taken.

Part of what makes the film work so well is the humorous dialogue between the three friends and the mix of jokes, physical comedy and deliberate misdirection. When interspersed with some hair-raising moments as Stree creeps up behind yet another victim, the relief gained makes everything seem even funnier and also serves to exaggerate the horror element even more. The first half in particular is well written to blend story development with comedy and horror, and although the repeated attempts to lay the ghost start to drag a little in the second half, there is still enough that is unexpected to give a few shocks right up to the very end. Rajkummar Rao is in his element and he is brilliantly funny as a small-town tailor who is mostly oblivious to the world around him. His reaction to discovering a pretty girl seems interested in him is entertaining and his slave-like devotion to her every wish is cleverly milked for every last drop of humour. Aparshakti Khurana is also excellent as Vicky’s cynical and more sceptical friend, while Abhishek Banerjee is hilarious as the more gullible and susceptible of the trio. I love the contrast between their friendly banter and the more serious discussions going on around them as Stree makes her reappearance into the town while they seem totally oblivious of the danger.

When it comes to the more spooky elements of the story, Shraddha Kapoor does a good job of shrouding her character in mystery without overdoing the ‘silent stranger’ vibe. Although she doesn’t have too much to do other than appear mysterious, her character does keep you guessing, particularly since writers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. throw in some lovely red herrings (or are they?) along the way. I really enjoyed their previous film Shor in the City, which had a blend of action, violence and comedy, but Stree is a gentler watch that adds more social commentary into the mix. Part of the novelty of the film comes from the tweaking of stereotypical gender roles and the subtle but definite insistence on women’s rights (including the right of a prostitute to insist on the use of a condom) throughout the screenplay.  Although much of the film is very dark, Amalendu Chaudhary makes excellent use of the old buildings as a backdrop, while maintaining a suspenseful atmosphere even during the daylight scenes. Director Amar Kaushil does a good job of keeping everything together with only the odd misstep towards the end of the film.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a good entertainer and the digs at patriarchal society add an extra dimension to the story. Worth watching for clever dialogue, plenty of laughs, a few good scares and excellent performances from the cast. 4 stars.

Stree

Advertisements

Go Goa Gone

Go_Goa_Gone_poster

I like a good caper, I like zombie movies and I don’t mind copious swearing. So Go Goa Gone should have been tailor made for me. Sadly, after a promising start – featuring Chiru in Golimar! I cheered! – the film fell away into rote dialogues and predictable predicaments.  Raj and DK had a great idea but the execution didn’t quite do it for me.

Luv (Vir Das) and Hardik (Kunal Khemu) are dope smoking slackers, nominally employed but really living off their good friend Bunny (Anand Tiwari). Luv breaks up with his girlfriend Priyanka and Hardik decides that all he needs is another woman to cure his woes. So off to Goa they head, freeloading on Bunny’s business trip. Luv meets Luna (Pooja Gupta) who invites him to a rave on a deserted island. Following much recreational drug use, the boys wake up the next day to discover the party goers have become zombies with a taste for blood. The boys rescue Luna, run into Boris (Saif Ali Khan) the mafia dude who ran the party and they all hustle to get to safety.

go-goa-gone-luv-and-hardik

The first section of the film sets up the characters of Luv, Hardik and Bunny. Although different personalities on the surface, they’re all whiny boys who don’t take responsibility for much and have little clue. Luv is the more appealing as he seems to have a faint notion of how to be decent and Vir Das generally nails the right balance of silly and serious. Hardik (imagine the puns) is more self-centred and less inclined to bestir himself to make an effort. Kunal Khemu plays most scenes just for laughs, sometimes to great effect. Bunny is the good boy who wouldn’t mind being bad but lacks opportunity. The dialogue is mostly one liners, some hilarious some not, and insults. If you find calling someone ‘fucker’ over and over really funny, this is your movie.

go-goa-gone-pooja-gupta

Pooja Gupta is very good as the smart and sensible Luna. She deals with the undead and the unceasingly horny with the same air of faint dismay, and generally runs away from trouble not at it so I approved of her. She is a very pretty girl but despite spending most of the film in micro shorts and a strappy top, she isn’t just eye candy. I loved her scenes with the boys as they each thought they were sharing a moment with her and she shut them down ruthlessly.

go-goa-gone_Saif

Boris is a caricature. In fact, I think Saif took his character references from Bob Christo. With a bad wig, fake tatts, a dodgy accent that he maintains even after admitting he isn’t Russian, he is a charismatic presence without being in the least bit real.

go-goa-gone-the-good-guys

I think Boris is also indicative of the confusion within this film about whether it is a comedy or a horror or both. The gore is very gory so that was a bit darker than needed with the comedy and the horror element isn’t scary enough. The zombiefication occurred after the rave goers took a specific $5000 pill which fried their brains, but then was transmitted by bite. So there’s no logic in the threat, and it’s a really bad business model if you kill your clients after one dose. They were just shuffling zombies of varying acting ability. But there are some moments of the quirky genius I expected from the team that delivered 99 and Shor in the City. Hardik lures a zombie girl away in a brilliant filmi song inspired romp around trees and through the woods, his facial expressions totally at odds with the music and body language. They take a boat called the Tatinic to the island, the Russians subtitles are in a specific font. There are lots of details to enjoy.

There is an overt anti-smoking and anti-drug message that is about as subtle as a zombie bite. One of the warnings struck me more as an effort to placate Goan authorities for yet again portraying Goa as a place overrun with crime and drug addled ‘zombies’ than anything else. A further warning at the end was heavy handed and careless. I felt the second half just lost momentum as it needed to ramp up.

go-goa-gone-zombies

It’s a very stylish film (except for a few zombie ravers who looked a bit like accountants), and the Sachin-Jigar soundtrack works well with the sharply edited visuals. Some subtitles are out of synch with the dialogue, which surprised me in a project that otherwise had good production values.

I laughed at some lines, but didn’t find this terribly funny especially in the second half. It’s a kind of Delhi Belly of the Living Dead, and neither as fun or frightening as it could have been. Worth a look, but not the zom-com I hoped for.

Shor In The City

Shor in the City didn’t get a cinematic release in Melbourne, which was very disappointing to those of us who had been following updates on twitter. Good reviews, an interesting cast line up and compelling trailer meant that I got the DVD as soon as it was released, and watched it almost straight away. It’s a film that would look great on the big screen, with some beautiful shots of Mumbai and the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, but the storyline and excellent performances make it a very worthwhile DVD watch as well.

The film takes place over  Ganesh Chaturthi  and follows three stories which are not interlinked, although there is one character who is involved in all three. Interestingly the opening credits state that all the events in the film are inspired from newspaper articles, which at times made me wonder exactly what does get reported in Mumbai. It’s a slice of life in the city and seems to be a very realistic serving.

The first story centre around Tilak (Tusshar Kapoor) and his two friends Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) and Mandook (Pitobash). While Tilak runs a business illegally copying and publishing books to sell at traffic intersections, his two friends seem to be mainly engaged in petty theft and other small crime. Tilak is also recently married and the relationship with his new wife Sapna is one of the standouts of the film. Their initial awkwardness around each other and the slow development of their relationship is very well portrayed. I would have to say that this is probably the best performance by Tusshar Kapoor that I have seen – I can’t remember much about him in other films, but he really impressed me here. Radhika Apte is excellent as Sapna and the chemistry between the two is develops realistically as their relationship evolves. This is the second time I’ve seen Radhika Apte (she was in Onir’s excellent I Am) and she shows her versatility here with a completely different but equally compelling performance.

 

 

 

 

The film follows the lives of the three friends as they kidnap a writer to steal his latest manuscript, try to get rid of some guns and a bomb that they have stolen and finally get involved in a bank robbery. Nikhil Dwivedi is totally crazy as Mandook and while he portrays the type of person that you would hope never to meet in real life, on-screen he is funny and infuriating in equal measures. Ramesh is somewhat overshadowed by the force that is Mandook, but the relationship between the three feels very natural and true to life. Whether it is riding around on a motorbike taking surreptitious pictures of girls or hanging out in a bar taking pictures of themselves writer/ directors Raj Nidimoru, Krishna D K and writer Sita Menon really seem to have got these three right.

 

 

 

 

The second story revolves around Abhay, an NRI from the USA who has come to Mumbai to set up a small business. His shock and incredulousness at the number and extent of the bribes he has to pay is understandable, but things take a much darker turn when a couple of extortionists – Premal (Zakir Hussain) and his boss Hemraj (Suresh Dubey) – turn up demanding he pay protection money. They threaten him and his new model girlfriend Sharmili (Preeti Desai) and his helplessness is compounded when he cannot get the answers he wants from the police. Sendhil Ramamurthy looks out of place enough to be perfect for this role. He is an American actor who has appeared in a number of TV shows, but I hadn’t ever seen him before so he fitted the part well for me. His attempts at Hindi before lapsing back into frustrated English are just brilliant and remind me so much of my attempts to communicate in India! The last part of his story is a little less believable but it’s still an engrossing watch.

 

 

 

 

I liked the contrasts in Abhay’s story. Firstly the contrast  between his work life; trying to set up a business, dealing with IT issues, dealing with his employees and the extortionists and then his more Western style life clubbing and shopping with his girlfriend. Again the story is very realistic and there is a moment where Sharmili spots a poster of herself and her reaction of – look there’s me! – is spot on. Then the contrasts between the noise of Ganesh Visarjan and the quiet of Abhay’s apartment, and of his initial excitement at being in Mumbai gradually changing as the realities of his situation kick in. But what really impressed me here was a scene where Abhay’s employee speaks to his wife on the phone about eating dinner with his boss just before Hemraj walks in. The detail about his phone conversation makes his employee a very real person and the distain with which he is subsequently treated serves to accentuate the viciousness of the extortionists. This attention to small details occurs throughout the film and I think this is why it feels true to life and works on a number of different levels.

 

 

 

 

The final story involves Sawan, a talented cricketer who is trying out for the under 22 team. He quickly realises that skill and talent are only going to get him so far, and that to get into the team he will need to bribe the selector. But he doesn’t have the kind of money it takes, and to add to his troubles his girlfriend Sejal (Girija Oak) is being pressured into a marriage by her family and is constantly asking for his help. The scenes between Sawan and Sejal again feel very realistic and their situation a common one. Judging by the number of couples in this scene at any rate!

 

 

 

 

I was very keen to see Sundeep Kishan here since he was excellent in his Telugu debut Prasthanam, and I wasn’t disappointed.   Sundeep is totally believable as Sawan and perfectly fits the role of the aspiring cricketer who knows enough about life to understand the selection bribery, but still wants to believe that the game is above such taints. At one point he says to his friend, ‘Have I been speaking in Telugu?’ which my subtitles rather strangely translate as, ‘What have I been saying all this time?’, but it did make me smile.  I liked the way he practices his game on the roof using a mirror and the natural rapport he has with his sister when she asks him to look after his nephew. His solution to his money crisis is rather drastic, but his attempts to deal with Sejal are the responses I can imagine any young man in his situation making and it’s all very believable.

Sawan’s friend Tipu is the one character who appears in all three threads of the film. He’s a ‘fixer’ who is responsible for organising crowds for demonstrations and riots, buying and selling of various commodities and many other illegal activities. Amit Mistry plays the role with plenty of humour and has a diverse collection of shirts.

The cinematography is excellent and Mumbai itself becomes another character in the film. We see a number of different sides to the city with shots from above and across the water as well as the loud and exuberant street scenes of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The festival acts as an underlying beat and the crowds and noise press heavier and heavier as the film progresses.

 

 

 

 

The music is also excellent and fits well into the narrative. The opening number is suitably loud and brash, and Saibo is a beautifully sweet.  There are no big song and dance scenes which really weren’t necessary here and in fact would have totally derailed the story. The lack of an item number in the night club scene is very appreciatively noted!

The film is a great look at a slice of Mumbai life and the writers are to be congratulated on taking a number of stories and making them all work together so well. Each of the actors seems to fit their character and it’s one of those films where I keep noticing more and more clever detail on repeated viewing. The end is less successful in some respects although the final resolutions over the end credits are brilliant. Watch for some great performances, clever story writing and to find out why karma really is a bitch. 4 ½ stars.

Temple says:

Shor In The City isn’t totally successful in my book, but it is a lot to ask that all the stories succeed equally- and they don’t. Most of the let down is in Sendhil Ramamurthy’s storyline. It’s just too pat. He is the perfect NRI having the perfectly frustrating and confronting return to India, meets the perfect model girlfriend on arrival, lives in the perfect apartment with the perfect luxe lifestyle, suffers the perfect stereotypical rip-off and commits the perfect crime in payback. For me, it lacks the subtlety and emotional hook of the other characters’ stories, and I just didn’t buy it completely. I have to confess, I think he is very decorative but a pretty ordinary actor. I sat through the truly awful “It’s A Wonderful Afterlife” which is a very unfunny ‘comedy’ in which Sendhil played one of the leads so I was predisposed to feeling a tad jaundiced. But I think his character and performance also suffer in the comparison to the other two guys. Sundeep Kishan is perfect casting as Sawan with his mix of confidence and self doubt that made him choose unwisely at times. Sundeep seems very natural and his timing and rapport with the other actors feels really spontaneous. I was amazed by Tusshar Kapoor who was sweet and awkward and fun as Tilak. I’d never rated him much as an actor but this was a really moving performance in a role that has great range but also needs a lot of restraint. His scenes with his brand new wife were beautifully judged, and his excitement about books and reading (baffling to his sidekicks) was totally endearing. I liked the way Sawan and Tilak provided a nice contrast and tension with the good boy maybe going bad, and the bad boy who decides to change directions.

It’s a very pleasing film on a visual level and does convey the manic bustle and also the quiet reflective corners of Mumbai. The use of locations was great and it added a buzz to the scenes out in the streets, as well as the intimate domesticity up on rooftops and balconies as characters looked out on the sprawling city. Ganesh imagery is everywhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tilak is able to move on after catching the benign gaze of the god who removes obstacles. It’s a fast paced film that looks and sounds great. The writing is good, and the story is rarely dull. There is a little too much coincidence and some heavy handed visuals but overall I like it a lot.  3/12 stars.