“Mardaani 2.”… An excellent Rani Mukerji anchors a solid (if unsurprising) masala-flavoured genre thriller

Posted on December 18, 2019

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The fact that the star is a woman adds extra punch to the machoness of the title. A woman — even one as small of build as Rani Mukerji’s Shivani Shivaji Roy IPS — can do everything a man does. She can carry off slo-mo walks…

Spoilers ahead…

Mardaani 2, written and directed by Gopi Puthran, pushes all the right buttons. Like Simmba, it uses rape to build a larger-than-life, masala-flavoured narrative in order to make you root for the star’s mission, and yes, also to showcase a star — but the fact that the star is a woman adds extra punch to the machoness of the title. A woman — even one as small of build as Rani Mukerji’s Shivani Shivaji Roy IPS — can do everything a man does. She can carry off slo-mo walks. She can carry off action scenes, whether on the ground or under water. She can pull off vigilante justice, and on Diwali day — which is associated with (the male god) Rama’s vanquishing of Ravana, or (another male god) Krishna’s vanquishing of Narakasura.

From her first shot, Shivani establishes her no-nonsense authority. She walks into a crime scene and the non-stop camera movement (it’s a long tracking shot) tells us that she does not like wasting time. (Neither does the film, which runs a mere 105 minutes.) Shivani ticks off a (male) journalist and a (male) colleague — but when she sees the victim’s body, she sheds a tear. Flesh from the cheek has been bitten off. There’s vulvar rupture. Later, during the autopsy, the (female) doctor tells Shivani, with a clenched face, “Please just get that bastard.” Heck, I was practically yelling the same thing.

The bastard turns out to be a teenager named Sunny. He’s an interesting conflation of colourful masala-movie villainy and Hollywood’s chilling serial killer tropes — and Vishal Jethwa harnesses both styles superbly. The twist is that Sunny realises, very early on, that Shivani is after him. He breaks into her home and puts on her lipstick. He wears a sari during a killing. Shivani calls Sunny a “new-age criminal”, who wants fame more than money. The worst fate for him is being ignored. But the film doesn’t push this angle very convincingly. Sure, Sunny talks to the camera from time to time, as though recording his thoughts and deeds for posterity, but he seems more interested in playing a cat-and-mouse game with Shivani — and this is what gives Mardaani 2 its juice.

What the film lacks in freshness, it makes up for with technique — this is a superb exercise in craft. The tight screenplay (there’s a ticking-clock deadline factor, too) and atmospheric direction keep upping the tension, and the male/female dichotomies are expertly deployed. Almost all men are chauvinist pigs. (This is not a movie you go to for nuance.) Sunny talks about his “appetite” and how it is not easily satisfied. A news anchor who calls Shivani on his show only seeks sensationalism. Shivani’s male colleague cannot bear the thought of taking orders from a woman. (Shivani manipulates him well.) And even her superior — who looks like a classy man who should really know better — advises her that successful and capable women will fare better with a side of humility.

As a pure genre film, Mardaani 2 delivers. It helps that Rani Mukerji is a superb actor — she invests so much into every gesture. But what’s most fascinating is that it shows masala narratives needn’t have all the elements we associate with masala movies. Except in a short scene involving Shivani’s family (that too, over the phone), almost all “emotion” (or “sentiment”, if you want to call it that) is manufactured within the premise of the get-that-bastard narrative. In these films, usually, we get wolf-whistle “hero” moments. Here, we get a bunch of gentler “heroine” moments. Shivani gives her (female) deputy the evening off because it’s her first Diwali after marriage. On TV, Shivani talks about how every day is an agni pariksha for women. It’s true. You grow older. You are no longer in demand as a heroine. You have to try and get author-backed projects made for you (and even then, it helps if your husband is a producer). I walked out feeling the film is just as much about Rani as Shivani.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi