Director: Gopi Puthran
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Rajesh Sharma, Shruti Bapna
Some things are a given in the Mardaani franchise – like a proficient performance from Rani Mukerji, who is a consistently watchable and skilled actor. Like the vicarious joy you feel when the no-nonsense cop she plays, Shivani Shivaji Roy beats bad guys to a pulp. And the inherent satisfaction the film provides because awful men are punished for their heinous crimes against women. It doesn't happen enough in life so it feels good when it happens on screen. But the question is – is that enough?
Mardaani 2 takes us to Kota, the coaching capital of India, where Shivani is the SP. While the first film gave us a sense of her home and family life, here the focus is almost wholly on her work – namely catching a criminal who is brutally raping and murdering women. In fact, Mardaani 2 shifts the balance heavily in the villain's favor. This is a man so brutal that ominous music starts playing when we see the Yash Raj Films logo, even before he has come into frame. The film begins with him breaking the fourth wall and speaking to viewers directly. He does this throughout the film. It's a decidedly odd choice for writer-director Gopi Puthran to make. I think it's designed to creep us out more but it's not entirely effective.
There are umpteen shots of Rani Mukerji striding in slow motion. She's brave, strong and also Sherlockian in her ability to deduce what is going on – she figures out things so quickly that it seems implausible
Vishal Jethwa plays Sunny, who seems like the love child of Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs and The Beast from Split. So he will bite a chunk of flesh from a woman's face and hit his victims with a nailed belt. He reserves his worst torture for women who he thinks are trying to rise above their aukaad. Early on he says: Nakchadi laundiya speciality hai hamari. Vishal does a fine job of being an unhinged psycho but this character unsettles the film. And after a while, the violence and brutality also become hard to watch.
What worked in Mardaani were the realistic textures. The masterstroke was the college-educated, Breaking Bad-loving baddie Karan, played wonderfully by Tahir Raj Bhasin. At one point in that film, when Shivani loses her cool, Karan smoothly tells her: That's a lot of anger ma'am. Chill kijiye thoda. His normalcy is chilling. But Sunny is written as evil with a capital E. Every move and gesture of his screams 'bad man'. Which has less impact.
Mardaani 2 has been shot beautifully by Jishnu Bhattacharjee – the film begins with a Dussehra mela that looks like a fairy land with twinkling lights
The screenplay works too hard to underline Shivani's heroism. There are umpteen shots of her striding in slow motion. She's brave, strong and also Sherlockian in her ability to deduce what is going on – she figures out things so quickly that it seems implausible, including how she figures out where Sunny is hiding in the climax. Plot twists in the film also stretch believability – Sunny seems to be able to go anywhere he wants and pretty much do whatever he wants. Even after his face has been exposed in the media.
Shivani isn't just fighting criminals. She is also fighting the inherent patriarchy of the system including a chauvinistic colleague and a boss who frankly tells her that successful women are expected to be humble and polite. These moments are instantly relatable. But once again, Gopi wants to underline the point he is making. So Shivani gives a rousing speech on what women go through and how much they sacrifice on a daily basis. She says: Har aurat Sita maiyya ki tarah agni pariksha deti hai. It's well written and Rani delivers it with exactly the intensity and passion that it needs. But it has little purpose here except to once again, establish Shivani as both role model and savior.
Shivani doesn't have the nuances or realism of other on screen female officers like Vartika Chaturvedi in Delhi Crime or Soni and Kalpana in Soni
Mardaani 2 has been shot beautifully by Jishnu Bhattacharjee – the film begins with a Dussehra mela that looks like a fairy land with twinkling lights. It ends on Diwali so we know that good will win. Which is fine. Shivani is the female cop fantasy that we need. I am okay with the fact that she doesn't have the nuances or realism of other on screen female officers like Vartika Chaturvedi in Delhi Crime or Soni and Kalpana in Soni. But Shivani Shivaji Roy needs to be a believable fantasy. There is a moment in the first Mardaani when Karan is lying next to Shivani whose hands and mouth are bound – he casually tells her about how men are the stronger sex. He says: Tabhi toh hum mard upar chadte hain aur auratein sirf upar dekhti hain. But a few scenes later, she outsmarts him and teaches him who is really on top. There is an undeniable thrill in watching her win. But it's even better when the cat and mouse game that precedes her victory has more plausibility.
Ladaai ab bhi baki haai we were told in Mardaani. I hope Shivani will return for round 3. Let's just find her a more layered script.