Why human rights bodies have no right to be upset about Rani Mukerji's Mardaani

Piyasree Dasgupta

Sep 04, 2014 15:11:36 IST

Roughly 30 seconds into Dabangg 2's less-than-two-minute long trailer, Salman Khan beats up as many men as Farah Khan has back-up dancers in her films. When he is not swatting them like they're flies, he uses the men as foot rests. He also breaks their necks, twists their arms and uses their crotches as kick boxing targets.  The promo ends announcing gleefully in funky fonts, "More jaws will break."

A minute into the Singham Returms trailer, Ajay Devgn has sent men flying into the air with the same flourish with which seasoned chefs make roomali rotis pirouette mid-air. In another three seconds, he has slammed a man's head into a stone statue and slapped a man nine times, a thud-sound complementing every slap.

These are Bollywood's good cops and their crusade of justice hasn't only impressed women who like restless biceps and men who like hitting other men, they have even impressed real life cops. No wonder then, 300 cops from Ghaziabad Police trooped into a mall to watch Singham Returns on Independence Day. In Uttar Pradesh again, a circular was issued by the ADG, exhorting cops to watch Dabangg to motivate themselves.

Why human rights bodies have no right to be upset about Rani Mukerjis Mardaani

A still from Mardaani.

While some of us might have spent an exasperated sigh at the state of affairs of our country, nobody really objected to the idea of the police being inspired by the sight of Khan beating up people. However, when the Bihar Police instructed its force to watch Rani Mukerji's Mardaani, some seem to have woken up to the irrationality of assuming that a real life police force would take inspiration from the manufactured angst of a Bollywood cop.

According to an IANS report, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has written to Arvind Pandey, CID Inspector General of Bihar, asking him to not encourage cops to watch Mardaani for inspiration. They have pointed out that Rani Mukerji's character in the film chooses extreme violence as the only method of meting justice and passes of encounter-style policing as "outrage". They said, "Shivani's conduct involves gross violations of the Constitution, criminal procedure, and fair trial rights of the suspect. The increased emphasis on violence as the solution to solving all problems re-emphasises bad practice, which the police is everyday being accused of."

Their accusations are perhaps true. Mardaani, to some extent, follows the same Bollywood routine of romanticising violence as heroism. It also makes departures from due course of law seem legitimate, just because it's a good cop doing it. Having said that, it is also important to point out that Mukerji's character follows a path fellow actors like Khan, Devgn and several others before them have tread, glorifying disturbing violence as justice. Which then necessitates the question, what the pushed the human rights body to sound a bugle against Mukerji and her film, when they seem to have stayed mostly silent on other cop blockbusters?

The only answer that comes to mind is the fact that Mukerji, as of now, is neither a box-office friendly actor nor is she a male superstar with a huge fan following. Perhaps that makes it easy for people to take up cudgels against her.

Or is it the fact that Mardaani claimed to be a close-to-real life experience, as opposed to the obviously unreal, almost caricaturish characters played by Khan and Devgn? Did Mukerji's deglamourised turn as a police officer make the film seem more serious, thus making it less easy to write off Mardaani as a film?

Or was Mardaani's violence particularly disturbing because it was being inflicted by a woman? Did it take an aggressive woman - seen doing what things we traditionally associate with the macho, larger-than-life, heroic male - to remind us that violence is unnecessarily valorised in our films? Or did it simply not seem right to have a woman shoot people, beat up men and do most other things that routine in every Bollywood film for ages now.

DNA reported a few weeks back that the Jaipur Police was asked to watch Singham Returns, which ends with Bajirao Singham killing off two villains in a fake encounter, for motivation. The newspaper quotes Sriniwas Rao Janga, commissioner of Jaipur Police as saying, "The movie will be shown to constables, ASIs and SHOs along with other officials to motivate them."

One must note here that one of the more important themes of the Singham films is the frustrated cop-hero. In the recent film, he finally abandons his uniform and with it the legalities that bind him as a cop to bring a villain to justice. Basically, Singham is espousing the need to turn the country's law on its head despite being one of those who should be preserving the law. The reason why not many of us bristle at this is that we watch these films with an extra pinch of salt, dismissing them as fiction that is much removed from reality. We, as humans with the gift of logic, can tell between a film as an entertainer and the real role of a cop in the society.

ADG Arun Kumar of UP said, "The cop hero in Dabangg knows how to win the confidence of the people and tackle the goons. These movies can motivate the state police to work for the people." If anyone has ever gone to lodge even a general diary at a local police station, one will perhaps know how useful watching Dabangg would be for the police.

However, did anyone protest? No. Even the conscience keepers of the country are somewhat used to men being, well, men in films.

Updated Date: Sep 04, 2014 15:11:36 IST