Synopsis – A story of a ghost who abducts brides on their first nights.
My Take – Upon release back in 2018, Stree, not only stormed the box office but admittedly also gave a new lease of life to the horror comedy genre in Hindi cinema, which over the years has seen more failures than success. Though the Amar Kaushik directorial had its share of flaws, apart from its ample humor and scares, it’s feminist commentary on the age-old fear of strong women, especially in India’s small towns, is what won the film accolades from all over.
Now, three years later, keeping in line with current trend of building universes, producer Dinesh Vijan, returns with leading man of Stree, Rajkummar Rao, for yet another small town tale of female empowerment through the prism of comedy-laced horror. A film which also marks the return of Hindi films on the big screen after a year of lock down and significantly curtailed theater occupancy due to post-pandemic social distancing rules.
Unfortunately, the end result is a disappointment, despite being helmed by Hardik Mehta, who directed last year’s critically acclaimed Kamyaab, and co-wrote Amazon‘s excellent web series, Pataal Lok.
Sure, while the film is most funny, with reins of humor in the hands of the ever dependable Rao and Varun Sharma, however, the horror element and the social layering, which Stree executed so wonderfully, are considerably underplayed, hereby completely missing the much intended impact. Simply put, the second installment in the Maddock horror universe isn’t as sharp as its predecessor. While logic isn’t exactly expected from such kind of films, what the film also lacks is the quintessential entertainment factor to turn into an above average watch.
Sadly, by being a misstep, the film not only undoes the goodwill earned by Stree, but also inadvertently puts more pressure on the upcoming installments, like the Varun Dhawan – Kriti Sanon starring werewolf film, Bhediya, which is rumored to being followed up by a Stree sequel and prequel.
Set in the fictional small town of Baagadpur, the story follows Bhawra Pandey (Rajkummar Rao) and Kattanni Qureshi (Varun Sharma), two crime journalists working for a small newspaper owned by Gujiya Shakeel (Manav Vij). However, Shakeel is also the owner of a more profitable business which involves bride kidnapping, an accepted custom in the town, where the unsuspecting girls are scooped up, taken straight to the ceremony and married off to the clients. With the supposed season in full swing, falling short of able men, Shakeel orders Bhawra and Kattanni to carry out a kidnapping of a girl named Roohi (Janhvi Kapoor), from a nearby town, on their own accord.
But when the intended marriage gets postponed a week, Bhawra and Kattanni are forced to keep her a hostage in an abandoned property in the jungle. Though at first, Roohi seems to be a simple, coy girl, but both soon realize that the former has a ghostly side to her, a witch named Afza. To complicate things, while Bhawra falls in love with Roohi, Kattanni is adamant about his strong feels for Afza. The duo’s crazy attempts to find a solution to their bizarre problem leads them into comic yet spooky situations as they encounter some peculiar situations.
Yes, the plot is as absurd and convoluted as it sounds, and it doesn’t help that it is backed by an inconsistent screenplay that doesn’t help the film at all. Although writers Mrighdeep Singh Lamba (director of Fukrey and Fukrey Returns) and Gautam Mehra try really hard to give the audience an eerily rib-tickling experience, their attempts at doing so barely manages to strike a chord, as within a few minutes into the film, the plot’s trajectory takes a plunge and seldom manages to make a retrieval, leaving us with one cringe-inducing sequence after the next.
Without mincing words, the film is also pretty dull for long stretches, with a very uneven screenplay, which also has more than its share of confounding moments and plot points that would prove hard to follow even for the most attentive of viewers.
Most importantly, there’s nothing funny about the bride kidnapping! Every time the film decides to bring it up, it makes you cringe. Why would a film in this day and age want to give space to this supposed tradition that should have been buried decades ago?
The film just spends too much of its opening in setting up one such kidnap, for the benefit of introducing Tim (Alexx O’Nell), a Hindi speaking foreign reporter, so as to re-introduce him as an important player in the final act of the film.
Sure, some parts of the film are genuinely funny, with the scenes where Kattani romances Afza, being the high points of the film. The screenplay cleverly debunks a few myths around witches and the terror around them by successfully juxtaposing it with comedy.
But the concept of Mudiya Pairi, a witch who possesses brides if there to-be husbands are caught sleeping on their wedding day, is never fully developed. We are just offered absurd short info like her sole desire of getting married. Though director Hardik Mehta conveniently uses a couple of jump scares and stock sounds to prove that this one is indeed a horror fare but its listless screenplay gives him no material to work on.
While the film’s storyline leads to nowhere, its climax is sure to leave you wondering about your decision of sitting through 134 minutes. There was potential to this idea: a woman is never just one thing, or another. She has as much right to be many entities, as anyone else. Though it undeniably had an impressive underlining message of ‘women empowerment’ to shell out, the film just takes so long to get to its point, walking us through a long and convoluted plot along the way, that the subversive intent is completely lost.
Performance wise, both Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma are in form with enough banter to back them up. From their hilarious English pronunciation to iconic film references made by them throughout the film, Rajkummar and Varun‘s effortlessness brings the otherwise dead film back to life. While she is never given the opportunity to do much, Janhvi Kapoor successfully manages to live up to their on-screen aura to some extent. In supporting roles, Sarita Joshi, Alexx O’Nell and Manav Vij are also effective. On the whole film, ‘Roohi‘ does not offer enough thrills or shrills, and is letdown by its incoherent plot and writing.
Directed – Hardik Mehta
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 134 minutes