She is as cool as cucumber and as sweet as shrikhand. But rub her the wrong way and she declares she can be a “rat, a dog or a tigress”. Thankfully, there are no growls or roars or references to Maa Chandi. After all, she and the film are in very capable hands. There is a sensitive man directing this Mardaani: Pradeep Sarkar, director ofParineeta.
When we first see Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukerji), her face is seen in a well-lit shot. She is dressed in a simple saree and wears a neat plait. She could be mistaken for a middle class housewife. Then she walks. An upright, quick walk. This lady means business. She is Senior Inspector, crime branch, out to get a criminal in a buildingchawl.
Her last frame is even better; that of water splashing off her face. The location is perfect, that of a hand pump. In another scene, when she is at a very low point, she makes a very brave and determined promise to her opponent on the phone. All in calm, measured tones. Here too, the camera lens show just her alone between two window frames; a beautifully designed shot. The deft cinematography(Artur Zurawski) and edit(Sanjib Dutta), along with Gopi Puthran’s almost tight though predictable script (with liberties) has Pradeep Sarkar’s craft written all over it. Above all, it is his mastery over emotions that make Mardaani a clear winner. This stands out most when a minor character, a criminal turned informer tells Shivani as she treats him to mutton, “main yeh sab us ladki ke liye kar raha hoon, khane ke liye nahin.”
When her boss rebukes Shivani, she jokes to her colleagues about taking his wife for shopping. You smile with her. When she smears cake all over the faces of her little niece and husband (Jisshu Sengupta, controlled),you laugh with her. When she feeds a teenager girl, Pyaari (Priyanka Sharma), from a NGO, you feel she cares. When she finds a vicious ‘gift’ at her doorstep, you feel as threatened. When she engages and spars with her arch and deadly rival, Karan aka Walt (Tahir Bhasin), you really root for her. When she curses occasionally, you applaud. Finally, when she emerges in full-on Bollywood action kept realistic by Dabangg standards, blood dripping at the corner of her mouth, you whole-heartedly cheer her on. The soundtrack of “main tumko nahin chorungi”.. adds to the much-needed woman’s redemption spirit.
The only let down is a poorly delivered, over lengthy speech. Except for the filmy one line bound to draw claps and whistles.. “aaja mard ban kar kitna upar chadta hai, dekhte hain.” Little wonder, Shivani’s mardaani character and her realistic fistfight minus Bollywood shenanigans, draws you in. Mardaani, as a film as whole as its emotions and actions at the right places.
The story and well-paced screenplay revolve around three central characters: Shivani, Pyari and Karan. Shivani has a special fondness for a street child, Pyari whom she had rescued once from the streets. Pyari now lives in a NGO shelter home. Shivani takes her out often, along with her little niece. One day, a sex trafficking gang kidnaps Pyari. The gang kingpin is a young and smooth-tongued Karan who likes calling himself ‘Walt’, after a crime series character. As Shivani tries to track down Pyari’s whereabouts, her fight against the system starts getting personal. Soon it becomes a game between the hunter and hunted. Karan is fascinated by Shivani’s hot pursuit. A cat and mouse game follows, making the drama entertaining and engrossing.
If ‘picture abhi baaki hai’ is Shah Rukh Khan’s memorable line from Om Shanti Om, for Rani, it could very well be, “ladai abhi baki hai’. Her home production banner, Yashraj, does not shy away from sensational scenes of skin show, in their portrayal of atrocities on young girls.
Newcomer, Tahir Raj Bhasin, keeps one on the edge with his portrayal of Walt like villain. Rani Mukerji strikes the right note in controlled intensity while playing a calm and collected, no nonsense cop.
Short of imagination at times, this Mardaani is cooler than Singham and total paisa wasool. Khoob ladi Rani Mukerji.
( FIRST PUBLISHED IN TELLYCHAKKAR.COM)