<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Pradeep Sarkar. Starring Rani Mukerji, Jisshu Sengupta, Tahir Bhasin, Anil George
Gritty and raw, without songs or slapstick, Mardaani is the essence of what a thriller with a female lead should be: exactly like the ones with male leads!
I watched Mardaani with a friend in a packed PVR Phoenix, Mumbai theatre a week after its release. By the end of the film the audience was clapping for Rani Mukerji. (On a side note, it was disturbing that the barebones staff at PVR Phoenix had not stopped insensible parents with 4-year-old children from watching this ‘A’ rated film on sex trafficking).
Director Pradeep Sarkar has kept Mardaani free from any songs or parallel plot lines or comedic pauses. This is serious material conveyed in an entertaining and exhilarating way.
Chief Inspector (Crime Branch) Shivani Roy (Rani Mukerji) is a no-nonsense cop who with her two trustee sidekicks fights crime and stands up for the common man or rather child. She takes care of a poor girl called Pyari who suddenly disappears from an orphanage. She’s being taken to a sex trafficker to be sold and sent abroad with dozens of other underage girls who are captured on camera and then abducted.
Vakil (Anil George) and Karan (Tahir Bhasin) are the criminal masterminds who aren’t too pleased with Shivani’s surveillance and Karan decides to start talking to Shivani ‘Ma’m’, which solidifies this intriguing enmity that leads to a deadly cat and mouse chase.
The film doesn’t shy away from showing the audience how the abducted girls are treated, from being stripped down, hosed down and asked to shed their towels for body inspections to shot if they aren’t able to ‘perform’. Clearly parents bringing their 4-year-olds have no clue but they don’t seem to be bothered!
Anyway, so Shivani is married and has an orphaned niece she’s adopted. The filmmakers make a point to show us the nameplate outside her house to establish that she is married but never focus on that relationship. Interesting to see that dynamic not clichéd with the dutiful wife cooking and cleaning. Shivani is clearly the man of the house and there’s no attempt to soften her or give her a ‘feminine’ side. And Rani Mukerji plays this with a steely-eyed brilliance.
Tahir Bhasin as the young brat who likes video games and Breaking Bad is both menacing and infantile; a creepy combination.
And the finale of the film has a fight sequence unlike any other movie I’ve seen. How many of our Hindi film actresses would or could convincingly do this? It’s a scene that gives you a voyeuristic pleasure, one where you wish you were the one kicking the bad guy in the gut and telling him that public outrage is more powerful than the police or the government in extracting justice. That’s when the audience cheered.