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#UKAsianReview: ‘Mardaani’ – A Confusion of Nature?

It’s a confusion of nature.

The term ‘Mardaani’ (masculinity) is predominantly annexed with men or more specifically with a muscular body and physical aggression. 

In a fictional movie this reality becomes malleable but remains solid, don’t miss the sarcastic title.

The world is shaped by the filmmaker to reveal an order beyond a pre-determined chronology but one which is both natural and synthetic. 

As ‘Mardaani’ begins, a not-so-slim cop is seen running down a rusty road in Mumbai in hot pursuit of a criminal.
The very next moment the cop makes a call to check if the niece back home is doing her homework. 

The only difference being, this plainly non-conformist cop is Inspector Shivani Shivaji Rao, a lady police officer, who goes about imposing cruelty on criminals with the same alacrity her male counterparts have displayed in recent movies such as the ‘Singham’ or ‘Dabangg’ series.

Moments like these make the character of Shivani a flesh and blood one and director Pradeep Sarkar shows there is actually no thin line separating the He from the She.

Rani Mukherji’s Inspector Rao is very much in touch with her masculine side, be it in the way she carries off her khaki outfits or her vocabulary but she does retain her feminine grace.

Director Pradeep Sarkar, known for making films on social issues, makes sure that his latest venture, isn’t misread just with reference to the title.  The film transcends accepted social norms about configurations and physical attributes, yet remains true to the character at the same time.

Inspector Roy is one of the top officers attached to the Mumbai Crime Branch.  She lives with her husband Dr. Bikram Roy (Jishu Sengupta) and her little niece Meera.

She has a settled family life and is a doting aunt. 

However, she does have another side: that of an earnest and often cruel policewoman who doesn’t think twice before handing out a good thumping to criminals.

Shivani is roped in to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, appropriately-named Pyari, and the search for her leads the good inspector to unearth a sex-trafficking racket, part of India’s widespread and horrific trade in abducted children.

A cat and mouse game ensues and Shivani eventually tracks the villain ‘Walt’ to Delhi.  Walt is played to perfection by Tahir Bashin: a truly ‘modern’ villain with an addiction to video games and not the brooding, tough-guy baddies in most Bollywood films.

He even likes to call himself Walt because he’s a huge fan of Breaking Bad!

Sarkar’s motivation in bringing that connection is not immediately apparent, not least because Walter White is far more Shakespearean than the Indian version whose conscience is non-existent.

The nasty tussle that ensues between inspector Rao and Walt reveals the true state of the world’s largest democracy.  Sarkar addresses the scourge of girl-trafficking well but the seemingly endless stream of gruesome scenes of abuse and violence makes it all a bit voyeuristic.

The film slows down in the second half and takes on all the hallmarks of a typical Bollywood commercial flick.  The other characters except for Mukherjee and Bashin are too dramatic for a realistic plot. 

The real point of the film is the loathing and admiration between the two central characters.  Shivani loathes Walt and is hell-bent on killing him.  The cunning Walt admires Shivani’s intelligence.

They both know the tricks of the trade and that is why the film has some rare moments when the mystery builds up lending credibility to the plot.

The treatment of the crime world with one song which at the same time captures the heart of the city is fitting for the film, but then again we had a similar experience in Talash.

All said and done, the film looks like another Sarkar effort to prove that a woman can very well be a man. An old and much tried and tested formula in Bollywood actually, but yes a bigger need in today’s time which shows how justice can be brought out by a ‘no-tender’ gender other than male.

There’s no effort to glamorize Mukherji who is largely convincing as a tough copper, equally comfortable chasing after bad guys or using a choice cuss word.

The film is authentic in parts although many of the action scenes are too clear-cut and intense to be an imitation of real life. 

‘Mardaani’ is still quite conservative in that it objectifies the female who in turn needs to be objectified in order to stand out, which is India’s great sad reality,that alone can be read as the covert message of the film.

Finally, Mardaani (though heavily inspired from ‘Taken’) emerges as the most appropriate film on female emancipation in the sordid history of recent Bollywood cinema.  Unlike the dubious Kahaani, here, the search and kill operation is undertaken By a woman For a woman, and not for some estranged father or murdered husband.

Everything about the film, from its ironic, self-derogatory title to the gang-bashing by the sex-trafficked victims, is a Slap on the patriarch’s ‘book on women’.

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