Spoiler alert: As a feminist film, it sends bizarre, mixed signals. It's terrific to see a smart, courageous woman SP
Can Mardaani 2 claim to be a feminist film? Let's see what it does. It's great to see Rani Mukerji (fit, in command) playing the shero—Shivani Shivaji Roy, Superintendent of Police (SP), Kota, Rajasthan, fighting crimes against women. The film, directed by Gopi Puthran, is a taut howdunit. Roy has 48 hours to catch a serial rapist and murderer, who is causing misogynist mayhem. The crimes are grisly, even cannibalist, with strangulation marks, weals all over, bruised private parts, even the victim's cheek bitten off, before hanging the body from a rope or dumping it in a pond. A sequel to Pradeep Sarkar's Mardaani, written by Puthran in 2014, this is hardly a whodunit. Puthran does a Hitchcock: both the audience and Roy know who the criminal is early on (you see flashes in the trailer; opening credits speak of juvenile rape offenders and there's only one main juvenile, Sunny, ie Vishal Jethwa, playing a creepy smarta**), so no suspense who.
The film, produced by Aditya Chopra, head of Yash Raj Films and Mukerji's husband, remains taut despite this. The opening credits tell us 2,000 rape crimes are committed by juveniles below 18 years in India every year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. For an entire film centering around a juvenile offender, the film neither explores why the juvenile turns into a psychotic rapist and murderer, nor the legal challenges of convicting one. There's a dheela reference about a family murder in childhood—but we don't know why he was involved, nor how this created a sex-crazed monster. There's an interesting track about Sunny doing it for fame and to taunt Roy via the media, not so much as personal revenge against the victims.
Spoiler alert: As a feminist film, it sends bizarre, mixed signals. It's terrific to see a smart, courageous woman SP.
Early on, Roy promises us, direct to camera, "Iss rakshas ko main collar se ghaseetke court laoongi." But finally, it's a vigilante film, that too feeka, tea-bag vigilante. When Roy finally catches the criminal, she (along with two victims), merely thrashes him with a belt, before collapsing in a puddle of tears. Arre? No handcuffs, no police custody, no court trial, not even trial by media nor viral videos. What does this tell us about the capabilities for justice and accountability of a senior woman police officer? That in the end, the best women are capable of only rona-dhona? Bah!
Other films on crimes against women offer different perspectives. Mardaani's villain was beaten to death by a bunch of women. Ajji (Hindi) had a granny bobbitise her granddaughter's rapist. The Malayalam film 22 Female Kottayam had Rima Kallingal bobbitise her tormentor. Arjun Reddy (Telugu) proposed that if you stalk and thrash a woman long enough, she will eventuallymarry you. But two films were fab googlies. Daawat-e-Ishq, on dowry crimes, was a delightful foodie film. And Spike Lee's Chi-Raq had women seeking to end gang violence by going on a brilliant "sex strike": they forced their men to negotiate peace by refusing to have sex with them. Who knew the Mahatma's abstinence might still be so relevant?
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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