Soni movie review: Netflix's taut, engaging drama boasts of restrained yet powerful performances
Soni shows us a world that is inherently hostile towards women. On the streets, they are sexually harassed; at work, they are not taken seriously; and at home, they are constantly reminded to live up to societal expectations.
castGeetika Vidya Ohlyan, Saloni Batra, Mohinder Gujral, Vikas Shukla And Mohit Chauhan
In Soni, debutant director Ivan Ayr explores a variety of issues related to gender roles and expectations in modern India, through the lives of two policewomen in New Delhi. The film also touches upon police brutality and India’s poor track record of violence against women. And, all of this is done in an understated manner without the preaching or sensationalising that one sees in mainstream Hindi films. Ayr also shows us the inside workings of a police station in a manner that Indian films rarely do. It is no wonder that since its world premiere at the Orizzonti Competition section at the Venice International Film Festival in August 2018, this Netflix release has made a mark on the film festival circuit.
The film opens in the dead of the night with a man on a cycle harassing and catcalling a young woman on a lonely street. He pounces on her when she retaliates, only to find out she is an undercover cop. Sub Inspector Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) is a part of a decoy police operation for keeping the streets of Delhi safe for women. By the time Soni’s fellow cops arrest the catcaller; she has already broken his jaw.
Even as her boss Kalpana Ummat (Saloni Batra) scolds Soni for losing her temper, it is obvious that this is not the first time. Temperamentally, Kalpana is the complete opposite of Soni. Although it is just her fourth year in service, she is always in total control, no matter what the situation. While Soni is the quintessential Angry Young Woman, Kalpana is a stickler for procedure. There is a bond between the two women that cuts through hierarchy.
They might come from different worlds but the pressures that Soni and Kalpana face, both at work and at home, are not very different. On the job, they are protectors of the weak but once they are home, they are constantly reminded by those around them that they are just women. They have awkward relationships with the men in their lives. Soni’s ex (possibly husband) Naveen (Vikas Shukla), who she has kicked out of their home, keeps trying for reconciliation through the film. Her neighbour keeps nudging her to forgive him but Soni does not give in.
Kalpana is under pressure from her mother-in-law (Mohinder Gujral) for not spending enough time at home because of her night duties and not having a baby. Her husband Sandeep (Mohit Chauhan), a hot shot IPS officer, berates her for being too soft on her subordinates; even suggesting that she might not be strong enough to be a cop. “Why be a cop if you are not going to act like one,” he asks her.
Soni shows us a world that is inherently hostile towards women. On the streets, they are sexually harassed; at work, they are not taken seriously; and at home, they are constantly reminded to live up to societal expectations of marriage and motherhood. He turns the idea of women’s safety on its head — making two female cops, who are responsible for the safety of other women, battle misogyny at every turn. Radio news that plays softly in the background of several scenes highlights efforts to combat violence against women by separating the sexes instead of addressing the root cause.
Ayr and Kislay’s screenplay balances the two women’s lives in telling vignettes of their individual home life punctuated by their nightly rounds on the streets of Delhi. The film feels like a fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of these two women, thanks to David Bolen’s immersive camerawork. Both leading actresses are relatively unknown in Hindi films, but they command your attention with their restrained yet powerful performances. Soni is a taut drama that grabs your attention from the first scene and doesn’t let up. Soni is, without a doubt, Netflix’s best Hindi film offering yet.
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