Even as Anurag Kashyap polarised his fans over the weekend with his latest release Manmarziyaan, Rajkummar Rao’s Stree squirmed its way over the 100-crore mark. Directed by Amar Kaushik, written and co-produced by the famous duo of Raj & DK, the film dealing with the small-town India’s fabled ‘witch’ managed to weave in as much humour as potent political commentary in a post #MeToo era.
Apart from Stree, the only other film that comes to being touted as a similar underdog is Luv Ranjan’s Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. But while Ranjan’s film was like a tutorial in misogyny, Stree mined consistent laughs and managed to be progressive and subtly political. In a day and age, where you have a Bhansali who sacrifices nuance to make the highest-grossing film of the year, Stree managed to be subversive, topical and yet very light on its feet.
Consider this, the film has no A-list star. Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Shraddha Kapoor are all well-known actors, but none of them have the rabid fan-following like a Varun Dhawan or for that matter, even a Tiger Shroff. Rao has become the actor’s actor in recent years, but most of his films while critically-acclaimed have not turned out to be money-spinners. Apart from the odd Bareilly Ki Barfi, where Rao shone in a supporting part. To put things in perspective, Rao’s last hit (where he was a leading man) was Kangana Ranaut’s Queen in 2014. Tripathi has been a part of many 100-crore films like Singham Returns, Dilwale and Fukrey series, but this will be one of the first films that relies on him as a principal, saleable face.
Stree alternates between the familiar, low-brow comedy of mainstream Bollywood and interesting metaphors and subversion. One image that sticks with its audience long after they’ve exited the cinemas is that of a ‘possessed boy’ asleep on a cot, with his hands tied to the nearby window grill. Does it remind you of another recent Hindi film? Prosit Roy’s Pari visualised something similar, where it was Anushka Sharma who needed to be ‘tamed’. The film also provides a progressive outlook on the way society looks at sex workers, normalising it in a scene that is hilarious and pensive in equal proportions.
The standards of mainstream Bollywood are low, and thus it is understandable if someone alleges Stree for getting more than its fair share of applause. It is nowhere close to being a perfect film, but in a film industry where experiments rarely succeed – Stree‘s 100-crore box office run is a massive indicator for how tastes are slowly evolving for the Indian audience. It is also a gift to see actors like Rao and Tripathi showing off their many talents to the general masses.
In a year, where films with female protagonists (like Raazi and Veere Di Wedding) have broken the glass ceiling, it is perhaps fitting that a film called Stree is the latest addition to this glorious list.