This is a movie about a ‘ladies specialist’, a master tailor who has apparently set a record by stitching a ‘lehenga choli’ in 31 minutes flat. He is so intuitive that he doesn’t even need a tape measure. He just asks a woman to stand in front of him and to slowly pirouette 360 degrees. Then he makes a mental note of her figure and stitches both pieces of the garment from memory. He adds a matching ‘dupatta’, and the lady is all set to present herself to an admiring public.
One day, Vicky (Rajkummar Rao), this tailor in the town of Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh, is taking a smoke when he is approached by a light eyed beauty. She wants a dress stitched. He has a frenetic schedule ahead because of the upcoming festival, but she pleads with him to turn the dress material she brings with her into a ‘lehenga’ set by the evening of the next ‘arati’. Considering the season, it is a tough ask, but she holds him tightly by the arm and says: ‘Vicky, Please’.
When he tells his friends the story, adding how he has fallen in love with this nameless woman at first sight, they both tease him with the line ‘Bhicky, Pleaj’, which then becomes the refrain of the movie. The strength of ’Stree’ is in the writing. The spoken word eschews all linguistic influence from ‘Bambaiyya’ Hindi. The characters speak a ’shuddh’ language which becomes contextually quite amusing, especially when it is set in typically Hindi film situations, like an item dance number (Nora Fatehi) that the town’s young bachelors enjoy at a guest house in the forest. This is the location for one of the early abductions executed by the ’Stree’, a local ‘chudail’ (witch), who strips offending men of all their clothing, before lifting them for her personal abuse/enjoyment. The mourners of these gradually disappearing men in Chanderi are left with nothing but jockstraps to weep into.
In self defence, the men start dressing in ‘gaghras’ and ‘cholis’ to avoid capture. The women, as they leave home, advise their terrified menfolk to stay at home for their own protection. Signs are painted all over town begging the ‘chudail’ to procrastinate: ‘O Stree, kal ao, yahaan koi mard nahin hai (O Stree, come tomorrow, there are no men here). It is a hilarious take-off on the conditioning of women in small towns, with some contemporary references thrown in for good measure by the erudite book store owner, Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi), who makes learned references to the history of women in the town, and their suffering (they once committed ‘Jauhar’ at the Chanderi Fort, when Babur laid siege to it in 1528).
‘Stree’ is a funny ghost story with good acting all around, particularly the dry humour generated by Tripathi with his deadpan delivery style. There is also a rather erotic scene when the nameless woman (Shraddha Kapoor) asks Vicky to take her measurements, despite his exact mental calibration of it. In the absence of a tape, Vicky, ‘the ladies specialist’, uses the length of his palm as a measure, starting from her feet, and moving upwards, with his eyes shut tight.
‘Stree’ is an entertaining film for the most part. It is true that towards the latter half, there are some unnecessary elongations of very obvious scenes, and a few unwanted repetitions of the more entertaining gags. Still, just for the clever writing of memorable lines, and for the simple pleasure of watching Rajkummar Rao play a naive and sentimental lover with such natural charm, ‘Stree’ is worth a watch.