‘Inspired by true events’ reads a super at the beginning of Pradeep Sarkar’s dramatic thriller that tackles the issue of child trafficking and prostitution. What the Rani Mukherji showcase achieved, albeit inadvertently, is to set the bar of expectations so low that Mardaani actually ends up surprising you.
Rani Mukherji is not a Dabangg cop or a Singham, who wears shades for style, bashes up bad guys with a flourish or repeats catchphrases. She plays Shivani Shivaji Roy, a middle class upright cop in the Mumbai Crime Branch who decides to take on a child trafficker and drug lord after he kidnaps a street child she loved. She risks the lives of her husband (Jisshu Sengupta) and niece as she turns into one-woman army obsessed with finding ‘Walt’, so named after the lead character from Breaking Bad (really!).
A Hindu college dropout, Tahir Raj Bhasin (Walt) masticates each line of dialogue before delivering it. There is also an overuse of shooting him in shadows (cinematography by Artur Zurawski) in order to build his malevolence. And he is indeed a delectable bad guy, driven by money and power. Mukherji balances out Bhasin’s occasional overplaying. You are willing to overlook the excess lipstick and carefully positioned bangs framing her forehead as minor aberrations to an otherwise matter-of-fact and controlled performance that reminds us of the actor that was before she did ghastly films like ‘Aiyaa’.
Till the interval you are engaged with the fast pace and graphs of the key characters, but in the second half of an under two-hour long film, the Gopi Puthran’s script leans on gratuitous violence and scenes of exploitation which distracts the actual cat and mouse game, and succumbs to preachy speeches that leave you groaning. There are mentions of candlelight vigils, the Lok Pal bill, encounters, complacency and public outrage, keywords that pop out at you like headlines from newspapers. Throughout the emotional nerve remains untouched.
Mukherji also gets one fight scene as she peels off her jacket and pummels into a baddie. Suspension of disbelief is the strap-line of ‘Mardaani’. For example, how do you explain a woman cop from Mumbai going undercover and driving an auto confidently and unnoticed around Delhi?
Of the supporting cast, Anil George (Miss Lovely), is bang-on as Walt’s partner Vakil.
Sarkar creates a convincing gritty and realistic milieu, even if it concludes with a questionable solution to the issue of crimes against women.