Released a week back, the Rani Mukerji starrer ‘Mardaani 2’ has been a hit. Rani returns as Shivani Shivaji Roy, a role that was widely applauded back in 2014 when the first film in the Mardaani franchise came out. Her name itself says a lot about the character – her middle name reminds you of her namesake, the fearless warrior king of 17th century.
The title Mardaani in itself is a little problematic. The word is a glorified one that’s in reference to the popular Hindi phrase on Rani Laxmibai: “…Khoob ladi mardaani, woh toh Jhansi waali Rani thi” (She who fought like a man, she was the Queen of Jhansi). While the intent is certainly to be an empowering one, the meaning is deeply regressive.
But credit goes to filmmaker Gopi Puthran for ensuring that apart from the film’s title, Shivani’s character is anything but regressive. She is brave, tough, modern, never afraid to call out misogyny, great at her job, with Rani once again nailing the character on-screen.
The most recent on-screen female cop to win applause was Netflix series Delhi Crime’s Vartika Chaturvedi (played by a fabulous Shefali Shah). Unlike Vartika, who was based on Chhaya Sharma IPS, who investigated the Nirbhaya case,
Shivani Shivaji Roy, however, caters to the audience in her action and monologues.
If Vartika had to catch six men from across North India in less than a week, Shivani is tasked with nabbing Sunny – a serial rapist and killer-for-hire, who is almost demonic in the way he treats his victims (and newcomer Vishal Jethwa plays him exceptionally well). Not only is he a maniac but his hatred for women is relentless. Sunny loves ‘putting women in their place’ or aukaat as his character mentions in the film.
The film is indeed a perfect set-up to show the viewers the patriarchal and humiliating mentality that women are subjected to, and the heart of the film is in the right place. But it doesn’t give an opportunity to the viewers to take any informed stance.
Be it Shivani’s rousing speech on the plight of women in India or boldly calling out her senior officer’s sexist comments, or even the support for delivering vigilante justice, the film never takes a deep dive into the complexities of our society’s notions about sexual assault, misogyny, and the patriarchal mindset.
Mardaani 2 packs a solid punch on-screen but never adapts a layered perspective on elements such as the judicial system and the cultural stigmas attached to women, or on the sexism prevalent among the upper, educated cluster of the society.
The villain in the first Mardaani film was an educated urban young man who was clever and smart, someone who one never expects to do something as heinous as child trafficking. But in the second instalment, the villain is pure evil. His ideas for women and his incessant need of pinning them down makes you hate him from the minute he comes on screen.
Post the recent Hyderabad rape case, it comes as no surprise that the sentiments of both the audience and the film are in total sync, and the film wastes no opportunity in putting it out on the screen. It is indeed a great feeling to see the perpetrator getting punished on-screen; because it rarely happens so swiftly in real life. But it leaves one wondering: is vigilante justice the only way to receive a quick justice?
To be fair, in a world of larger-than-life male cops like Chulbul Pandey, Simba, and Singham, it is indeed refreshing to see no-nonsense, gutsy, and tough as nails Shivani, who still has to struggle with the system and within the system.
But instead of making Shivani run and fight to serve the mass audience, the film could have shown that it is not just psychopaths like Sunny who commit such horrible crimes against women.
Sunny is an extreme depiction of the brutality that belies women’s safety in India – you are meant to hate him, you know he is bad. But in real life, perpetrators can be people we see every day – the ‘normal’ ones. They can be the kind uncle in our regular society, the friendly commuter on the public transport, the generous colleague at the offices, or even a member of the family inside our own homes. And more often than not, rape-victims are blamed in some way – another fact Mardaani 2 chose to overlook except in a scene of Shivani’s television appearance.
In conclusion, we would love to see Shivani telling the victim-blamers and the ones telling women to stay at home to ‘be safe’ to zip it up!