True Review

True Review: Mardaani

True Review: Mardaani

by Niharika Puri August 23 2014, 9:25 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 58 secs

Critics rating: 2.5 STARS*

Written by: Gopi Puthran
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Tahir Raj Bhasin

Direction: Pradeep Sarkar

Produced: Aditya Chopra

Genre: Thriller

Duration:  2 Hrs. 33 Mins

From the director of women-centric dramas comes a thriller with Rani Mukerji in the lead after a significant gap of time. Their latest venture Mardaani after Lagaa Chunari Mein Daag may have good visual appeal but is still set on shaky grounds.

Senior Inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy (Mukerji) is a Crime Branch toughie, who stands toe-to-toe with her male colleagues and is loved by her family (her niece calls her ‘maushi’, never mind the cultural incongruity of a Marashtrian term and a Bengali surname).

She is fond of Pyaari, a street urchin who lives in a rehabilitation home but for some reason still sells rose bouquets at traffic signals. Pyaari falls prey to the human trafficking trade and Shivani takes it upon herself to get her out of it. Her faceless enemy is an unnamed voice at the other end that she calls ‘Junior’ or ‘the 12th Man in the Under-19 Team’ because he sounds young. And our main villain (Tahir Raj Bhasin, fantastic) is so.

When not devouring fast food offerings, plotting or playing what seems like a zombie first-person shooter, there are some nods to the Breaking Bad fandom. Walter White’s picture hangs on the wall behind him. The lad insists towards the end that Shivani call him ‘Walt’ after his favourite television character. This inclusion may puzzle the non-viewer and seem thoroughly unnecessary to the show’s fans.

The storyline, though promising, and especially brisk in the second half, are dotted with jerky moments. Mardaani opens with pointless banter between Shivani and her fellow officers as they discuss keeping a caged rat in the car. Said rat is taken with them during a mission and released into a brothel room so that a prostitute comes rushing out and the suspect, her client, is nabbed. What prevented them from breaking open the door? Or adapting the more polite approach of knocking? What clinches the scene is Shivani’s punchline. When the goon is being led away by her team, she tells the now-modest sex worker, “Choohon ko ghar mein panaah dene se plague pheltaa hai.”

Another scene has her confronting a small, politically motivated mob which is vandalising a local joint. Instead of an effective, powerful scene where a lady officer resists the strong-arm tactics of the lot, we get a silly, upbeat background score that belongs in a Salman Khan film as she slaps the leader of the group into submission. Indeed, a great scene marred by a poor soundtrack. This film would have benefited by turning the background music down a few notches and doing away with a sort of ‘croaking frog’ effect every time ‘Walt’ is in a scene.

For all her tough cop act, Shivani does make a Captain Obvious comment while investigating Pyaari disappearance: “Yeh case bahut tedhaa lag raha hai.” No doubt. Also, the police have strange notions on what constitutes torture. A sequence actually involves feeding jalebi to a captive and not allowing him to sleep, so that he can spill the beans. It sounds bizarre but the reasoning behind this and the process itself is not shown on the screen.

The private parties for the debauched are depicted as stylish events where there seem to be more firangs than Indian call girls lingering in the background in a scene. Other than a rape scene, prostitution undergoes a more coy depiction as an escort service.

A raid sequence has a character showing little discretion when a low profile was needed. Waving a gun around at night is a surefire way of blowing your cover.

The climax (mild spoiler till the end of this para) takes a ridiculous turn when revenge is exacted. A key raid has only one person on the field with backup 20-25 minutes, despite the officers knowing the exact location of the baddies. A no holds barred beatdown between the forces of good and evil comes across as contrived. (End mild spoiler)

The film ends with sobering statistics: 1.2 million children are annually trafficked. 40,000 are kidnapped within India itself. The country is the hub of the flesh trade.

Despite the best of intentions and a story that must have looked great on paper, Mardaani suffers on account of some awkward moments and a heroine who ought to have been in top form for a physically demanding role. However, it is worth a watch for Tahir Raj Bhasin, Mona Ambegaonkar’s cameo and for being one of the better films to release this year.

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