Cast: Rani Mukerji, Vishal Jethwa
Director: Gopi Puthran
Rani Mukerji's Mardaani 2 could not have come at a better time. But then, a good time for a revenge drama where the cops are chasing a serial rapist and a murderer is a bad time for the rest of the country.
Gopi Puthran weaves a gripping tale and he doesn't loosen the grip through the whole of the 1-hour-45-minute run time of the film. And that right there is Mardaani 2's biggest win. The tight screenplay leaves room for our Hindi film heroine's stray hair because she is not just a pretty Bollywood face, but has no space for one stray scene, emotion, line or expression.
As Gopi Puthran moves from the writer's position in Mardaani (2014) to the director's chair in Mardaani 2, Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani) and the story move from Mumbai to Kota, Rajasthan. Kota here plays a significant role, but contrary to the protests that mushroomed claiming the film is trying to malign the image Kota has, the city remains a symbol. It represents a mindset; a mindset we women have struggled with far too long - the battle of staying within our 'aukaat.'
Kota Police, therefore, struggles to take orders from a woman - Shivani, while Sunny (Vishal Jethwa), the prime antagonist, struggles to accept 'No' for an answer. And it is this inability of his that escalates and sets the ball rolling.
Credit to Puthran, and both Mardaanis, for that matter, for sketching negative characters as ruthless as Sunny, or Karan (Tahir Raj Bhasin in Mardaani). Sunny of Mardaani 2 has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He is evil to the bone. And Puthran or the narrative doesn't apologise for him. Sunny is driven by a feudal mindset - the one which demands women stay within their 'aukaat.'
Sunny tortures women because he can overpower them with his physical strength. His ultimate kick is causing women maximum hurt - something that goes beyond physical hurt in his mind - hurting their 'honour.' But then, he doesn't stop at that. He turns their embarrassment into a spectacle - hanging his half-dead, bleeding, near-mangled victim by a noose for all to find. Of course, he wants credit et al. For a moment there, you will be reminded of Mindhunters, and a chill will run down your spine.
On the flipside is Shivani, a straight-talking cop who puts her job before her gender, even while the rest of the world can't. She knows men at the top will get away with being bossy (read: harsh, short-tempered or just plain cruel) but a woman has to keep massaging egos. Except, she doesn't care.
And both actors deliver, and how!
Rani Mukerji may have the might of perhaps the biggest and strongest production house in India, but with every performance, she proves that she doesn't take it for granted. In Mardaani 2, she's once again silenced naysayers, if any. Vishal Jethwa takes your breath away - like you're looking at Fear Incarnate. He, in places, outshines Rani, even though both characters are equally strongly written. The entire film is shouldered on these two, and while other characters are made available for support, the actors are hardly given the scope to do anything more.
The storyline is something that caters to the majority of the audience. That scene where Shivani whips away at Sunny with a belt as the camera is panned at her from below (we've seen it in the trailer, so no spoilers here) is disturbing but strangely satisfying. It is perhaps the same 'satisfaction' that makes people take to the streets and say 'Hyderabad Police Zindabaad' when the rapists of the Telangana veterinarian are shot dead in an 'encounter'. There are muffled cheers for Shivani across the semi-packed theatre on the first day, first show. But the film leaves so much out that it is almost heartbreaking when it ends. Only 1 hour 45 minutes down, we could have invested another 15 or 20 minutes if only Mardaani 2 had gone that far.
Sunny personifies the mindset that is plaguing India. He is the rapist. But he is also a pawn in a larger, dirty game. Sadly, the story doesn't even go as far as to expose the men in positions of power who are actually brokering this mindset and finds happiness in catching a small (albeit evil) fish.
Granted the narrative could have gotten preachy, or the film could have gotten lengthy - the bane of all Hindi films anyway. But isn't that the true test of good writing and screenplay?