Movie Name: Mardaani
Cast: Rani Mukerji
Director: Gopi Puthran
Rani Mukerji‘s Mardaani 2 could not have come at a better time. But then, a good time for a revenge drama where the cops are chasing a serial rapist and a murderer is a bad time for the rest of the country.
Gopi Puthran weaves a gripping tale and he doesn’t loosen the grip through the whole of the 1-hour-45-minute run time of the film. And that right there is Mardaani 2’s biggest win. The tight screenplay leaves room for our Hindi film heroine’s stray hair because she is not just a pretty Bollywood face, but has no space for one stray scene, emotion, line or expression.
As Gopi Puthran moves from the writer’s position in Mardaani (2014) to the director’s chair in Mardaani 2, Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani) and the story move from Mumbai to Kota, Rajasthan. Kota here plays a significant role, but contrary to the protests that mushroomed claiming the film is trying to malign the image Kota has, the city remains a symbol. It represents a mindset; a mindset we women have struggled with far too long – the battle of staying within our ‘aukaat.’
Kota Police, therefore, struggles to take orders from a woman – Shivani, while Sunny (Vishal Jethwa), the prime antagonist, struggles to accept ‘No’ for an answer. And it is this inability of his that escalates and sets the ball rolling.
“When a woman is talented and successful, then society expects that in exchange for being allowed to go so far, she must be willing to conduct herself with humility and an unassuming demeanour,” Shivani Shivaji Roy’s boss tells her one day.
Shivani fills in the spaces he leaves blank: “…and if she does not, then in big cities she is called a bitch and in small towns a nakchadi kutiya.”
As uncommon as its depiction of villainy is Mardaani‘s portrayal of an independent woman (barring the irritating, problematic title). In the past decade, as it has moved away from the cliche of the heroine as a coy, ideally home-bound virgin, Bollywood has come up with another stereotype: Hindi film writers and directors have tended to reductively equate female independence with smoking, drinking, a vocabulary packed with abuse and even obnoxiousness towards those around them, often making these the woman’s defining characteristics. Look no further than Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan in 2018 starring Taapsee Pannu. Shivani in Mardaani 2 may or may not have habits that her doctor would object to (she did in the first film directed by Pradeep Sarkar, but Gopi Puthren does not feel the need to point to them at all) and her vocabulary, while certainly not antiseptic, is not her identifying feature. What defines her are her brilliance, bravery and dedication to her job.
A heroine and a bad guy unusual for Hindi cinema, cracking suspense, understated messaging that is woven into the characterization, top-notch performances by Mukerji and Vishal Jethwa who plays Sunny, and Puthren’s no-frills storytelling style all add up to making Mardaani 2 a hugely entertaining, highly intelligent, polished thriller. In terms of cinematic quality, 2019 has been one of the worst years for Bollywood in a very long time. Mardaani 2 is a timely reminder of how good this industry can be when it chooses not to be weighed down by prejudice, market-driven compulsions, and lazy formulae.
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