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Mardaani review: Watchable, despite the faux feminism!

Movie:
Mardaani
Director:
Pradeep Sarkar
Cast:
Rani Mukerji, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Sanjay Taneja
Avg user rating:

To appreciate the film, you must first forgive its title. Even if it's inspired by the famous words written for Rani Laxmibai, it seems like it's egging women to "be like men" to overcome crisis, and that adjective is a compliment to our central protagonist Shivani (Rani Mukerji), a Crime Branch cop. But it's actually talking about a more 'yin-yang within each person' perspective (I hope).

Shivani, a daredevil cop with a sense of humour, makes for an immediately arresting character. That she's also kind-hearted is demonstrated in her taking care of a street child Pyaari. Shivani and her niece are all set to celebrate Pyaari's birthday, when she suddenly goes missing.

Shivani frantically tries to piece together the clues she finds after Pyaari's disappearance, and stumbles on a highly organized drug and child trafficking syndicate.

It's a brave subject for a commercial film, and Yash Raj Films ought to be given due credit for moving away from their rom-com mainstay.

But the story's execution by director Pradeep Sarkar doesn't cut it. Some of the scenes are way too graphic and border on the exploitative - the one where a man rips apart a child's clothes, showing their bare backs (do we really need to see all that on screen?), several shots of the girls in inappropriate clothes and make-up, and a man raping an underage girl (with a white flower in the foreground, sigh).

The film is also way too simplistic, especially in the quickly-resolved finale. Strangely, throughout the film, there is no mention of exploitation of little boys that makes up a huge part of child sex trafficking. Guess the exploitation of little boys isn't as sensational.

There are glaring errors, like the cops don't question/arrest the Child Shelter's attendants who clearly seem to be involved in the nexus. And you wonder how the cops were unaware of such a big crime nexus till now.

The film is very dark under its own veneer. You balk in disbelief as these children are presented for sale in posh parties, their details shown to clients on iPads. The girls after being raped brutally are presented a cup-cake by their captors as a ritualistic celebration. The "normalcy" of the villain's home, where he casually asks him mom what's for lunch is also nerve-wracking. And while the villains make their multi-crore deals, Shivani and her team inch closer to nailing them.

The film becomes suspenseful in the second half as we figure out the people involved and their modus operandi. That the film doesn't make it clear is a bit unfair, barring some random statements like, "Isse Hong Kong waale lot mein daal do."

The suave central villain, a 20-something lad, who Shivani calls 'Junior' during their cryptic phone conversations, frightens even his own people with his brutality. They make for an odd, and equally interesting, hero-villain pair.

The dialogue is full of crackling lines that encapsulate humour, irony and angst. The scene where one of the people involved in girl trafficking says "mata rani ki kasam" is deeply ironic. The phone conversations between Shivani and the villain are full of acerbic exchanges, that keep the viewer involved. Shivani's lines have an edge, whether it's her anger-fueled words, or her plea to the police to get more "emotional" about such cases.

And to do justice to these lines is Rani Mukerji who is back with a power-packed, heartfelt performance. The camera gives us flashes of her evocative eyes full of anger and determination, as she closes in on yet another clue. Her act as the larger-than-life Shivani is so convincing and earnest, not only does she make you emotionally invested in her character and the story, she also inspires you.

As the villain, Tahir Raj Bhasin is superb. Anil George and Mona Ambegaonkar are impressive.

Now this is a film that pretends to be innately feminist but just about scrapes the surface. This faux feminism, despite a central female protagonist, was also seen in Sarkar's Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. For example, the film rightly questions why we use the insulting "maa-behen" cuss words, but has the characters go ahead and do exactly that! But then you have a film about a gritty female cop whose title is Mardaani. It defeats the purpose somewhat.

If we look past these blunders, we have an interesting film with an inspiring hero, a menacing villain that you personally want to thrash, and a story that touches your heart. All this, and Rani Mukerji! More reasons to watch, than not!

Rating: 3 stars

 

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