Rating: 2 & 1/2 stars
As with the first film in 2014, the problem begins with the title. A woman who makes a place for herself in a man’s world is called ‘mardaani’ or manly. As if being feminine is somehow inferior.
In a scene from Mardaani 2, written and directed by Gopi Puthran, Kota’s newly arrived DCP Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukerji) is told by her boss, as she faces a transfer, that a woman who is allowed to be successful by society must learn to be humble. The man means to be sympathetic, but obviously does not support a female officer doing a good job; also because seniors in the department have a problem taking orders from a woman. (Ego is a word frequently used).
Right now, it is trendy to make films with women at the centre, and rape is right out of news headlines. That’s the next big problem with the film—making the rapist-murderer Sunny (Vishal Jethwa) a psychopath, and giving him the dignity of a ‘mommy issues’ backstory. In fact, most rapes are committed by ordinary men, who may have a banal reason – like easy opportunity—to attack a woman.
Sunny is a demented misogynist, who believes any woman who dares step out of home should be shown her “aukaat” (rightful place). The girls he brutalizes are shown to be assertive. When he sees that the top cop who makes a statement denigrating him is female, he takes it upon himself to tease her and find ways to humiliate her—like sneaking into her home, stealing her sari and scrawling on the mirror with her lipstick. Shivani, who is tough, smart and intuitive, understands that the man has no fear of being caught, he just needs to show off. Still, for one who is being hunted by the cops, Sunny operates with astonishing ease, moving around without being challenged right inside the police station.
When Shivani is given her transfer orders over the daring murder of a child witness, she has the two-day Diwali holiday to catch the killer, and the support of at least some of her team, who do not resent her for her gender.
An annoyingly condescending TV anchor actually alleges that Shivani is the target of the audacious criminal because she is female—which is true in this case—and in a simplistic speech that belongs to a pre-feminist age, she talks of the troubles that women have to endure (do woman get reserved seats in buses because of menstruation?) while men get away easy. This is all it takes for her biggest opponent in the town’s force to move over to her side.
The film has been designed to give Rani Mukerji an opportunity to dazzle with her performance– which she does—so much so, that the men she is surrounded with have a generic grim, macho look. Most of the other women are Sunny’s terrified victims. Vishal Jethwa has an unremarkable appearance that allows him to blend in anywhere, but also large cat eyes, that he uses to maximum menacing effect. However, In spite of the savagery against women, he comes across as a cartoon villain, just to make Shivani Shivaji Roy look infallible, and hand her a perfectly predictable climax with a weapon that has its share of foreshadowing in the script.
If the character of a female cop in Bollywood has to have power and significance, better scripts need to be written for her—the Mardaani films make it look like she must only fight crimes against women.