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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Mardaani 2 review: Shivani Shivaji Roy is a necessary protagonist

Rani Mukerji is clearly the hero. The men around her, a subordinate who badmouths her, a few loyal juniors, a senior who alternately backs her and scolds her, all have familiar beats.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: December 14, 2019 8:43:00 am
Mardaani 2 movie review Mardaani 2 movie review: Rani Mukerji is a familiar presence even as she fills the screen, and is in command right through.

Mardaani 2 movie cast: Rani Mukerji, Vishal Jethwa
Mardaani 2 movie director: Gopi Puthran
Mardaani 2 movie rating: 2.5 stars

Shivani Shivaji Roy is back. In this sequel to the 2014 film, the feisty, fearless policewoman has switched cities, from Mumbai to Kota, nothing else has changed: she is still straight-arrow, fearless, standing up, being counted.

This time around, her antagonist is a 21-year-old baby-faced, hazel-eyed young man. Scratch that. Sunny (Jethwa) is more monster than human, and not about to hide it: he wreaks havoc wherever he goes, leaving a trail of horribly battered and bruised female bodies.

Mardaani 2 brings Rani Mukerji back on screen after a considerable period, and as befits a Yash Raj film, she leads from the front. No surprises there. In a smart move, the ‘villain’ is a new face, and is fashioned as a demented, unhinged guy, who takes pleasure in each heinous act of rape and murder.

Mukerji is clearly the hero. The men around her, a subordinate who badmouths her, a few loyal juniors, a senior who alternately backs her and scolds her, all have familiar beats. Mukerji is also a familiar presence even as she fills the screen, and is in command right through as she works to a script which pushes her to the fore at every given chance.

Jethwa plays the smooth-faced rapist with a smug swagger which mostly works. Where he goes over the top (and there are some moments in which you can see him lower his guard), he falters. As does the film, which veers between creating a Hollywood style bad guy and a desi villain, and bungs in more than one eye-brow raising contrivance to amp up the drama.

The other problem, which is much more in our face, is the hammer-it-in approach when it comes to descriptions of ‘mard’ and ‘aurat’. The tone is strident and the running down of aurat-jaat are many and varied. For a film which has a strong feminist stance, and claims to wave a banner for women and their rights, this is problematic: the climactic comeuppance of the bad guy, which you know will happen right from the first frame, comes right at the end, by which time there has been gory, bloody violence visited upon a bunch of women.

On the brink of a brand new decade, Shivani Shivaji Roy is poised as a necessary protagonist. We need more strong female leads in our movies but they don’t have to be surrounded by misogyny and distasteful dialogues. Why does a film need to be so on-the-nose even in this day and age? Why can’t we take some supportive characters, including men, for granted? Why does this wheel need to be reinvented every time? Is it because the filmmakers don’t trust the audience or do they know that their viewers can handle a redemptive arc for women only after they’ve been brutalized for nearly the whole film? That only after suffering a great deal do they get to hit back?

The best line of the film belongs, of course, to our mardaani, when she talks of hissa, participation and equality for women. Mukerji delivers it straight and true, and even if it is a dialogue singularly crafted for her, you want to applaud.

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