Mardaani (2014)

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A cop’s search for a missing teenage girl leads her to the depraved world of child trafficking. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the fearless cop and a ruthless mafia kingpin.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I have never sat and watched a Bollywood film before. They always seem very entertaining, aside from the musical numbers, but my dislike for that applies regardless of the country the film comes from. I’d chalk it up to simply not knowing where to begin – it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Netflix is on hand to make suggestions, and ‘International Thriller’ Mardaani was put forward; quite different to the cheesy action movies or extensive but glamourous 4 hour sing-a-longs I had always associated with respect to Bollywood movies.

The film follows a police officer, Shivani Shivaji Roy played by Rani Mukerji, who while searching for a lost orphan of whom she has been looking after, uncovers something much darker. The search leads her into the very real world of child trafficking, and Shivani becomes embroiled in a back-and-forth with a scummy pimp-like figure (Tahir Bhasin), who makes a living off the back of shifting these girls like cattle.

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Rani Mukeji takes on a sort of Liam Neeson type of role; a persistent bad-ass who wont stop until she gets what was taken from her. They even managed to keep the phone call scene in, only in Mardaani the boss is going to be ‘hunted’ and ‘squished’, not ‘found’ and ‘killed’. The similarities stop there though, as Mukeji’s character may be a bad-ass, but she has a level of intelligence and calculated defiance that a rogue old man couldn’t pull off. Shivani constantly has obstacles placed in her path; whether it’s the police chief, the evil guy with the eye-liner, the pimp or the various low-level scum she needs information from – she never backs down.

Mukeji’s emotional performance makes these accomplishments mean something, there is a significance to them as opposed to a mindless violent rampage through the city. The particular set of skills in this instance quite simply are that Roy can do her job well, when left to do it properly. I have limited knowledge on Mumbai and India itself, but if this film, the news that filters into the mainstream and the documentaries I’ve seen are anything to go by, then India is still very much a mans world, and this only adds more weight to the significance of Rani Mukeji’s role as Shivani Shivaji Roy.

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Mardaani is a lot more than ‘just’ a thriller. Aside from the refreshing take on having an intelligent, emotionally stable, non-sexualised, career driven, bad ass female lead in a crime thriller, Mardaani goes all out in its task of not only unsettling the audience as all good thrillers should, but simultaneously educating those unaware to the very real dangers out there in relation to child-trafficking. The film depicts the horrible way in which girls are snatched from the street, the conditions they are are forced to endure, and in one particularly grim scene it shows what they are ultimately sold for as an old man has his way with one of the young girls.

Some may deem as it as shocking and disturbing, and that can only be a good thing. That is the effect it is supposed to have. To simply gloss over this as an excuse for beating people up would undermine the message of the movie, and while it can be a little melodramatic at times, the fundamental intention remains the same. These horrendous images are backed up in the closing scene, as fact after fact is put on the screen to reinforce the sickening reality; “Every 8 minutes a girl is taken” and “each year 11,000 remain unaccounted for”.

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Reviews since have accused the film of being too violent, that it encourages a mob-mentality and is ‘cashing in’ on what is a popular social issue at the moment. It would be quite narrow-minded to think that the film is only financially driven, and while the violence is not always by the book, it is clearly a reflection of the frustration pouring out of Mukeji’s character. The film isn’t asking the viewers to take physical action, it does glamourise it slightly, but you could argue that it is offering up a platform for a wider audience discussion. Although, if the situation is as dire as it is now, and these unspeakable acts are being carried out regularly without consequences, then maybe when all else fails, there is an argument in this instance that the law could be taken into your own hands.

Overall, the film was a complete surprise. The fight scenes were fast-paced, realistic but a little bit laughable in places as Mukeji snapped peoples arms like she was collecting wood for a fire. The supporting cast were excellent, the script was quick, the plot was engaging and the cinematography was sharp. Too often these types of films become bogged down in over-complicated action sequences, disorientating camera work and unrealistic story-lines, but with Mardaani, in addition to Mukeji’s convincing performance, the strength of having such relevant and uncomfortably realistic subject matter made for an interesting film.

These are bad people, Shivani Shivaji Roy has had enough, and she is there to bring them down. Solid movie.

Mardaani is on Netflix UK/US, iTunes, Amazon TV & GooglePlay. 

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