Pradeep Sarkar directs Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani where she plays a crime branch inspector shivani shivaji roy for whom the issue of human trafficking becomes personal when a girl from a shelter who she treats as her own daughter gets kidnapped and gets sold into sex trade.
I am pleasantly surprised to say that on a day when I saw two movies about femme fatales Rani Mukherjee tops Scarlet Johansson.
Sarkar known more for his period romance Parineeta than action capers also pleasantly surprises in this edge of seat cat and mouse chase which feels fresh and devoid of clichés. Sarkar chooses his antagonist perfectly as a smooth talking, Breaking Bad loving , tech savvy, fresh faced yet ruthless “Under-19 team ka 12th player” aka Kid ( as helpfully supplied by the subtitles) played marvelously by Tahir Raj Bhasin.
Without delving too deeply into the story of one-upmanship that ensues between Shivani and the Kid it is suffice to say that not for a minute will you be bored in this brilliantly crafted gem.
Sarkar tackles the demon of Children being abducted and sold into Sex-trade and tackles it with such deft and finesse that he achieves the impossible – getting the message across without grossing out the audience or holding up cue cards to navigate them to the moral dilemma or the much-favored hammering the point home so hard that by the end the audience doesn’t give a damn. I was physically shaken and left trembling by the final minutes as the climax unravels and to me that is a clear sign of the movie being impactful.
Rani Mukherjee delivers what I believe is her careers best performance. She is subtle and sharp witted at the same time. Her performance is nuanced to the point where she doesn’t need to mouth a single word or need to bawl to express her anguish, a single tear as she comes face to face with her brother/husband ( I am confused as to who he was supposed to be) who is made a pawn in this game against a criminal mastermind.
The ability to infuse the sense of urgency and the clear and present danger in the first few minutes as bodies begin dropping without the slightest of bangs is near perfection. Sarkar manages to create an atmosphere of intrigue with ease. Also the first phone conversation Shivani has with the Kid as she is unpacking dinner is sheer delight as Rani unperturbed continues as if catching up with an old mate rather the man responsible for having kidnapped her daughter.
I could continue heaping platitudes on the virtues of this movie and it wouldn’t do justice to just how wonderfully surprised I was to come across this days after being subjected to the torture that was Singham Returns. It is movies like these that keep the hope alive that Bollywood still can produce meaningful cinema. If ever there was a need for a sequel this is the franchise. What Sarkar and Rani have created will continue to bear fruits for year to come as long as Sarkar continues to treat each of the forthcoming (hopefully) outings with the same intelligence and freshness as this one.
Do yourself and India as a whole a favor and go watch this movie not only because it is brilliantly directed, acted and crafted, but also because this is a subject matter that has been debated to death but cinema one of the most impactful mediums was doing nothing to spread the awareness and it has finally picked up the gauntlet and with such panache.