Stree Review (No Spoilers): Young Men Are Dumb and Funny

What a fun movie!  I don’t totally love it as much as I totally love A Gentleman, but it is in the same family of humor.  So I am going to take this moment, once again, to plug A Gentleman.  If you like this movie, you will like that one!  Oh, and you probably will like this movie.  It is very likable.

Years ago, I heard someone quote a statistic that young men between 16 and 25 were more likely to die of snakebite, and lightning strike.  Which brings a picture of some poor teenager being bitten by a snake at the same moment he is struck by lightning.  But no, it doesn’t mean the same young man between 16 and 25 has both things happen to him (although I suppose that could be true).  What it means is that young men are far more likely to randomly die.

Why is this?  Well, it’s because young men are stupid.  If there is a storm coming up, your 18 year old boy is the one who is going to go out on a boat anyway, be stuck in the middle of the lake, and end up struck by lightning.  If there is a snake, it is the group of male college students who are going to dare each other to touch it.  And thus, death.

Image result for stree poster

(Stupid!  That is what this poster is telling you, young men are stupid.  Not heroic, not handsome, not any of those things, just dumb)

Women die as well of course.  But less because they are being foolish, more because they are being too cautious.  Too careful to run away from the abusive husband, be impolite to the attacker, and so on and so forth.

In a standard horror movie, the woman lies there and screams and screams, sometimes runs a little bit, and then is killed.  This movie flips it around, asks “what is it that young men do that gets them killed?”  Well, what they do is be stupid.  And being stupid is funny to watch.  There is a thin line between tragedy and comedy, and this film dances all over it.

With strong assistance from the cast.  Rajkummar manages to age himself down, turning into an innocent inexperienced young man, strongly related to his character in Fanney Khan, in Bareilly Ki Barfi.  He has perfected his dopey smile and stuttering eager voice.  Pankaj Tripathi is, as expected, perfection in his role as the slightly over important voice of wisdom.  But the real surprise were the solid performances by the two supporting players Aparshakti Khurana (Ayushmann’s little brother, he played the cousin in Dangal) and Abhishek Banarjee in his first major film role.  They match Rajkummar step for step in the perfect creation of a group of dangerously dumb young men, not bad young men, not purposefully harmful, just really really dumb.  And Shraddha isn’t bad!  She has the same warm natural aura onscreen that she has always had.  Her dialogue delivery and expressions are still the same familiar vanilla, but the role doesn’t necessarily require more than that, might almost have been wasted on another actress.

The writing, not just the overall narrative but the dialogue line by line, is perfect.  And the songs are perfect as well, the kind of bouncy infectious stuff that young men from a small town would listen too.  And the costuming is perfect, the pseudo cool clothing.  And the set design, down to details like how the tailor shop is set up for maximum efficiency.

The one thing that was slightly not as good as it could be was the direction.  Overall it was fine, there were just a few moments here and there when I was taken out of the film by a faulty eye line match or a shot-reverse shot that didn’t quite match.  That would be the one area where I would say A Gentleman is ahead, not tied.  I don’t remember those awkward moment in that.  I guess a sign of Raj & DK directing, instead of just producing and writing.

(How did this movie flop????  It’s SO GOOD!!!)

But that is a small part of the film, most of it is perfection.  And perfect comedy is a rare thing.  The best kind of comedy is the one that challenges us a little bit, that gives you that gasping laughter partly out of the shock of realizing it is true.  We laugh when Rajkummar chases a cat in order to pluck two hairs for his lady love partly because he is moving in a funny way and making a funny face, but also because we realize the truth that young men really will do anything without questioning it if a pretty girl asks them.

The best kind of horror movie is also one that challenges you by turning injustice into horror.  In America we have the “ancient Native American burial ground” trope, or the “abused child ignored by society” trope.  Or the many many variations on the history of slavery.  Or, of course, the simple “sex=brutal death” equation.  The audience is afraid of this horror, rising up out of our collective past, because we recognize on some deep level that we deserve it.  A flavoring of guilt is mixed in with the fear, making it that much more potent.

This film manages to mix horror and comedy, by mixing the guilt and the humor.  Young men can do stupid stupid hilarious things when driven by lust.  And they can also do stupid stupid terrible things when driven by lust.  One creates comedy, the other horror.  This film has both.

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18 thoughts on “Stree Review (No Spoilers): Young Men Are Dumb and Funny

  1. For me at least, the trailer of A Gentleman was so good that the actual movie didn’t match up to it.

    I’m glad Aparshakti Khurana is getting more opportunities! I liked him in both Dangal and Badrinath Ki Dulhania.

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    • He was very good in this. And I like the new character type of the silly young man (hero’s friend or whatever) comic role. We have so many comic middle-aged man and I am getting a bit tired of it! Let’s laugh at the young men a little bit too.

      On Sat, Sep 1, 2018 at 11:27 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Your statistics reminds me of my grandpa’s favorite curses. “May he get hit by a lightning and bitten by a snake at the same time.” Rajkummar Rao excels in playing everyman.I kept getting Pritam Vidrohi flashbacks from the trailer too.He takes extra care with the accents -each of his characters has a different accent.I’m glad Shraddha has decided to stick with what she does best instead of aiming for roles beyond her capacity.

    Aparshakti Khurana is hilarious.I’d love to see him and Ayushman in a movie together someday.You might take a look at his video from Filtercopy -If Google was a Delhi boy. It’s in English and he’s got the mannerisms of a Delhi boy pat.

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    • Thanks for the video! Loved it. And also explained how he was so good and comfortable onscreen with only two films behind him. I assume he has been doing a fair amount of youtube videos, comic shows, and so on, just to keep his hand in.

      On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 3:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I really enjoyed this movie! The three male leads were hilarious and the writing was super sharp. The way the party scene played out had so many layers in terms of skewering men for being ridiculous. I also liked how they used Rajkummar’s ability to take a woman’s measurements without a tape to establish that he’s the only one who can see clearly enough to be the hero…sort of because even through to the end he’s still kind of an idiot.

    Shraddha was a definite weak spot. She aimed for mysterious and landed on blank instead. There were so many opportunities for her character to subtly hint at having contempt, lust, anger or other emotions but there was nothing there and I think the movie suffered for it at the end.

    The special effects were so bad. I was willing to go along with it but really, so very bad.

    There were only five people besides me in the theater, boo! That was very disappointing.

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    • I liked how Rajkummar was super talented in general. Maybe not in the usual “heroic” ways, but there was something special about him in his own little way, a reason Shraddha picked him to help her. And yes, that party scene was perfect! It could so easily have turned into either a song that invites the audience to objectify the woman too, or that has a hint of danger as we worry about the men doing something to her, but instead it invited the audience to laugh at the boys who are objectifying her, and it showed that they were harmless in their objectification, more scared of her than she was of them. The rest of the film had plenty of examples for how that scared desire can turn bad, but there were also moments that showed it as simply a phase of life young men go through and then grow out of.

      On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 9:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • People are stupid. That’s mean, what I meant to say is that people are perhaps not as critical and thoughtful as they could be when reacting to popular culture.

          Item songs in particular seem to be all tarred with the same brush and they really aren’t all the same. This song feels like it is honestly looking at what it means to be a dancer from her side (doing her job well and then leaving without really interacting), and from the side of the customers (being a little scared and a little nervous and a little uncomfortable, but also aroused). But then there are others that are glorifying the female form, but in a way that is for a female audience, empowering. And others that are just plain sexy, not objectifying, but honestly healthily sexy. And then there is the group that are objectifying, but that’s just one small part of the whole and no one seems to want to bother to separate those out from the rest when they make their complaints.

          What do you think, post topic? At least a songs post with examples?

          On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 10:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • BTW, Stree looks like it’s not only a hit but a cultural phenomenon. I tweeted about it and got a bunch of young male followers, which fascinates me. The movie has captured something about young male masculinity that is really resonating with them. I am dying to see the box office numbers but it looks like it’s already made back more than its budget. Seems like a lot of repeat business too.

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          • Interesting. There’s been a little spat of sleeper hits aimed at young men, Sonu Ki Titu Ke Sweety and this and Fukrey. all low budget, all without stars, all featuring plots and jokes and so on that poke fun at the standards of Indian society in a knowing way.

            On Mon, Sep 3, 2018 at 1:08 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Suggestions for why A Gentleman flopped –

    When was the last time a Bollywood movie set entirely in the usa did well? kank, mnik, New York? All almost a decade ago. The fascination with US NRI life is passe now. Successful BW films seem to include a distinctly Indian milieu now, even if set in a big city. Exception to this is only Salman Khan films.

    When was the last time a movie lead only by glamour icons did well? Glamour icons = actors known primarily for being aspirationally good looking, not for acting prowess, maybe (or maybe not) for some dancing skills. 2000s had a spate of these, like Jism 1 or Race 1 or Dhoom 1. Today’s actors might be beautiful but are known for their acting, or at least are trying to include “acting” as part of their brand, even if their range is limited (sonam, shraddha). So unless it’s a Salman Khan film, or related to him (let’s see how Loveratri does), the glamour icons led movie is passe.

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    • I love A Gentleman dearly, but part of what I love about it is the very very specific jokes related to the American NRI experience. In the same way this movie had specific jokes about India small towns. Maybe it is that the NRI audience is getting that “this is my life” experience from American made stuff now? And they go to Indian films for the Indian experience? Going back to my feeling about Bajirao, it did better overseas than the movies actual set in the overseas world because it is selling the fantasy to people now a generation remove from the reality.

      I don’t know why the Indian audience is less interested in the overseas fantasies. Any ideas? Does it feel to you like Indians-in-India are more focused on local dreams now? Or somehow are turned off by the overseas life?

      On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 10:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. “In the early 2000s, during my growing up years in Hyderabad, I remember seeing buildings in the quaint lanes of the old city being scribed with the words, ‘Oh Stree, Repu Raa’ (Oh woman, Come tomorrow). Basing their plot on this hilariously ridiculous incident, Raj and DK, who gave us India’s first Zombie comedy – Go Goa Gone, create an ill-woven yet entertaining story.
    The movie is set in Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, where every year during the ‘Chaar Raato ki Puja’, a notorious ghost is rumored to pick up men, leaving only their clothes behind. To keep this ghost, Stree, at bay, the folks in this small town adorn the walls of their homes with the words ‘Oh Stree Kal Aana’ (Oh Woman, Come tomorrow).”
    Not my words. Source: https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-review-of-Stree-2018-Movie/answer/Anurag-Rao-4
    Yeah, growing up in Hyderabad during early 2000s when your friends would talk about the mysterious “Stree” in hushed tones is such an unexpectedly fun call back to my middle school years!

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    • Oh how neat! I was very impressed by how the film found something that felt real, a simple phrase people wrote without knowing why. Turns out, that’s because it is real!

      On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 11:51 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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