“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. … “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982
Stree is about a female spirit that kills men. Many of the men dress as women (saris, bangles) to escape the spirit’s wrath, and endure the laughter of others. The song over the credits includes the main male characters in women’s clothing, looking upset as everyone laughs. And most of the men who “died” in the movie come back to life. So ultimately, men, as is often the case, only endured laughter, not death.
Oh, they suffer a bit at first. Even without the saris, they take on a woman’s role: men cannot go out alone at night. If they hear someone call out their name, they shouldn’t turn around. They will be overcome with lustful feelings and must not act on those feelings. The dead are praised for being “good boys,” and they are good boys because they are virgins.
However, one must note that this problem must be solved when it effects men. How many women still can’t go out alone at night? Who is fighting to end that quickly?
Stree hunts the men once a year during the festival. Our hero, Vicky (Rajkummar Rao) and his friends are now old enough to be among the hunted, and they decide to take action, with the help of an older (male) academic, Rudra (Pankaj Tripathi) and a young woman with no name (Shraddha Kapoor). Buffy the Vampire Slayer is hardly the only piece of media with a Chosen One and their gang, but that is definitely the immediate comparison.
I liked Buffy, though, so.
Thanks to Rudra, the academic, the heroes learn that before she was a vengeful spirit, Stree was a courtesan in the town. She fell in love with a man, and he fell in love with her. They planned to marry, but were attack by jealous men in the town and both killed. Stree now looks for her lost love.
The story is actually moving and tragic. As most horror movies do, Stree comments a lot on sexuality. That she is a courtesan is treated as a fact, and the gang is sorry to hear her story. Thanks to a prophecy (and some silence from his father), Vicky realizes his own mother might have been a courtesan of sorts. She was still a person, and he is not any less for being her son.
But “stree” simply means “female.” The spirit is never given a name. I thought that would be the climax of the movie: learning her name, or giving her one, would ease her wrath. And in fact, none of the women have names: Shraddha Kapoor’s character is literally listed in the credits as “Girl with No Name,” Vicky’s mother doesn’t have a name, nor do any of the other women. Oh, there is a sex worker early in the film who may have been named; I can’t remember if the other character’s said “X is here” or “X’s girlfriend is here.”
The Girl with No Name is called a “witch” on the Wikipedia page. I don’t think she is referred to that way within the film; she comes across as Buffy the Vampire Slayer type, or possibly a white witch. Someone fighting for good. She explains how she trained for years to be able to fight the Stree; of course that’s the movie I want to see. Anyway. That she has no name is an important plot point, as it seems like she might be Stree. However, given that no other female characters are named, her lack of name is disappointing.
The movie ends on a sequel hook, though, where we learn the Girl with No Name wanted Stree’s power. Perhaps she is a (bad) witch after all. If there is a sequel, I really hope it’s about her.
Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. The characters are sympathetic. There are a few good scares, and some blood but no gore. The music is great. If Stree is still in the theaters as you read this, check it out!