Soni movie: Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Saloni Batra, Mohit Chauhan, Vikas Shukla
Soni movie director: Ivan Ayr
Soni movie rating: Two and a half stars
Soni is a tale not usually told in Indian cinema, even in its indie-edgy avatar. Spirited females have short-lived arcs, and are usually weakened by word or deed in order to make the man look better. Ivan Ayr’s debut feature stands out by making its lead protagonists women who lead by example.
Kalpana (Batra) is the senior of the two, both pay-grade wise and socially. Soni (Ohlyan) is younger, hot-headed, and much less able to control her feelings. This is her weak spot, and we see her struggling with this just as much as a man in her position would, but you do wonder would if the man be demoted just as she is (from the field to a desk-bound job), or would he be given a third or a fourth chance?
The setting is Delhi, and we see many cities, just as it is. The Delhi which Soni has to negotiate, as a decoy to lure anti-social elements (the brutal rape in December 2012 is a sharp reminder of just how unsafe the Capital is), as well as someone who lives alone in her middle-class colony, the man (Shukla) in her life now on the margins. It’s not just about buying groceries for one; it’s also dealing with the casual sexism women have to, even if they are cops.
Kalpana is a resident of a plush house, who lives with a supportive spouse (Chauhan) who is also clearly a senior cop, and his mother. What’s truly interesting is the gender relations at play even here: the husband sees no problem in lecturing Kalpana about a problem at her workplace; her ma-in-law wants her to produce kids as a good bahu ought. She may be a senior, tough policewoman; but she is also a woman.
What is not as convincing is some of the detailing of the relationship between the two women, even though that is the fulcrum of the movie: the ease with which Kalpana and Soni interact with each other wouldn’t really happen in real life. Cops maintain hierarchies just as much as people in other professions, and being conscious of rank and class is very much a part of their operating procedure: in real life, a senior cop like Kalpana may not find herself in the same spaces as the junior Soni.
But still, despite the stilted patches, there’s a lot to be said for a film in which women are centre-stage, and do what they have to, without being forced into falling into stereotypes. Both Ohlyan and Batra are very good, inhabiting their characters and filling them with real flavour. And Soni is a worthy addition to the new stories being told in India.