Rani must have been so upset when Kangana Ranaut first did Queen and then Revolver Rani. Not just because these were female oriented films without male stars and they brought fame and fortune to Kangana. I can imagine her saying “I am the Rani, see? Please pick films that have jewellery based titles, Kangana. I am Rani. Do you see that now?” And while we wait for Kangana to announce her next, Rani has already made a subtle move. You can’t think of Mardani without “Jhansi wali Rani”. As I entered the theatre, I was praying this not to be an “Aiyyaa” level disaster.
Because it’s important that this film be good. Not just because we need more sensible cinema, not just because I want heroines to succeed at their own terms, but because this is a film about a deadly serious topic. Human trafficking is a huge worldwide problem, and we have really positioned ourselves at the centre of it. To our utter shame, our young girls (and rarely boys too) are easy targets, especially when there is no one fighting for them. This is the film to put the voiceless on centre stage and make us feel for them. And it does that. The plight of the poor girls is palpable. You feel for them as they are herded like cattle, humiliated, and dehumanised. You feel the dreams slip away, replaced by a nightmare they didn’t deserve. I felt anger rising at the whole apparatus that makes it happen, and then at the whole society that allows it to go on; including myself.
So we need an avenger; a hero that makes it alright for at least some of them. Someone with a stake in the game. Enter Shivani Shivaji Roy. She is a cop that uses her head. She follows leads, does surveillance and talks rationally. Sorry no Singham style public drama here. When the villain tries to get to her by using goons to publicly humiliate her family, she neither starts fighting them nor lecturing them. She tries to comfort her family. Strange no?
And the villain. The guy running a prostitution racket is not a seedy gangster. He is a suave, English speaking professional. And he is menacing without being loud. Or probably because he is not loud. Tahir Raj Bhasin is a find, and I think we will see more of him in coming years.
And Rani is great, of course. From Dharmendra onwards our action heroes have performed one simple trick to show anger: loud voice. The harder they shout the more dangerous they think they look. Here is an action hero showing them how it’s done. She is most dangerous when speaking softly. When she delivers her ultimatum to the villain, it is believable. Even though she doesn’t even know which city he lives in at the point.
Pradeep Sarkar has been brave enough to make a taut thriller with a heart. It treats the young victims with respect. The camera never violates their dignity even when it is showing the violation. The writing is great and the dialogue brings characters to life rather than trying to show its own cleverness.
This is not a perfect film, nor an edge of the seat thriller with car chases and helicopters. This is an intelligent journey through an unspoken tragedy. Take a bow Rani, this is what second innings are made of. And well fought, lady. Khoob ladi ye Mumbai wali Rani. There’s no need to call yourself Mardani though. Manly is not good enough. This was a good womanly fight.