Mardaani review: Rani mistakes tough cop for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai college girl
There are several moments in this film where she, as tough-as-nails cop Shivani Shivaji Roy, sounds exactly like KKHH's Tina Malhotra.
There probably isn’t a single kid from the '90s who doesn’t remember the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) by heart, and this includes the way each character pronounced certain words or delivered certain lines (“Rahul, juice!”). After watching the morning show of Mardaani at a suburban multiplex, it seems that Rani Mukerji, who became a household name after KKHH, has also found it hard to shake off that nitty-gritty herself.
As the lead actress of Mardaani, a song-less thriller about child trafficking, she plays what is supposed to be the most realistic character she has ever portrayed. However, there are several moments in this film where she, as tough-as-nails cop Shivani Shivaji Roy, sounds exactly like KKHH's Tina Malhotra. As she gives a local goon a dressing-down in public, her words sound tough and mean, but her delivery is more along the lines of “Anjali, aaj main tumhe ek kahaani sunane waali hoon.”
It is at such moments, where Mukerji mistakes dialogue delivery for elocution, that Mardaani is at its weakest. Barring those, this is actually a pretty well-made and engaging thriller from director Pradeep Sarkar. Does this mean he has finally succeeded in exorcising the ghosts of the disastrous Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (2007) and the even-worse Lafangey Parindey (2010)? Hmm. Yeah. Sorta.
For over two-thirds of its running length, Mardaani coasts along like a kayak on still waters. It opens silently, with Roy and her team, on their way to an encounter, chatting and joking about more mundane matters. She is an inspector with the Mumbai Police crime branch, married to a Bengali doctor named Dr Bikram Roy (Bengali star Jisshu Sengupta, in a thankless supporting role). She doesn’t have any children, but treats her niece Meera and a girl she rescued from the streets named Pyaari (Priyanka Sharma) as her own. When Pyaari goes missing from her homeless shelter (why she hasn’t been legally adopted by the Roys is a question the movie doesn’t answer), Roy starts investigating her disappearance.
Things start to get murky. A Delhi-based syndicate that indulges in trafficking of both drugs and underage girls seems to be behind it. In come your standard-issue thriller elements — cat-and-mouse games, confrontational phone conversations, car chases — and to Sarkar’s credit, they are all executed quite well.
Mardaani also gives us a charismatic antagonist in the form of Tahir Raj Bhasin, the surprisingly young kingpin of this operation who is clearly a huge fan of Breaking Bad . At first, this connection is established in a subtle manner, with the camera focussing momentarily on an ‘I Am The One Who Knocks’ poster in his room during a key scene; later on, he asks Roy to call him ‘Walt’, explaining that the name belongs to “a hero from an American TV serial”.
Sarkar shows great deft and economy through much of the film, and his direction is ably supported by Sanjib Datta’s precise editing and Artur Zurawski’s effective, hand-held camerawork. Given the industry this was made in, it is commendable that Sarkar avoids the temptation to disrupt the narrative through musical montages – for the most part.
The final act, however, is a huge let-down, largely because Mardaani chooses to go all Chak De, India! on us and resolves the story in a fairly tame manner – even though what is actually being shown on screen is actually quite horrific. Add to that a horrible Sunidhi Chauhan song and the climax actually ends up doing a disservice to its delicate subject matter. It’s a pity because it almost looks like that’s the point where the folks from Yashraj Films stepped in and said, “All right, Pradeep, we’ve given you enough of a free hand. Now it’s time to do things our way.”
Mukerji, when she isn’t reciting her lines as described earlier, is far more credible when given the license to mutter expletives under her breath (thank you, Censor Board, for not muting them out). While her screen presence is effective, her performance lacks the kind of intensity the role needed. The screenplay and characters are one-note, but this is thankfully redeemed by the film’s solid supporting cast, who help give the film the authenticity it needs.
Overall, Mardaani is a better commercial film than most and Sarkar’s best film since Parineeta. However, if there is one solid reason to watch this movie, it’s Bhasin’s Walter-White-as-played-by-Seth-Green act. The young actor, who was impressive even in his brief appearance in One By Two earlier this year, seems like a talent to watch out for. Next time, hopefully, he’ll have more meat to chew on.
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