In Mardaani, we have a police officer who is strong, can kick some serious ass and takes on a sex trafficking ring with a drive that pulses with anger without cars flying in the air and a mandatory love interest. And therein lies my biggest problem with Mardaani – the script really does underestimate the power and conviction of its central protagonist who is clearly capable of far more than the story gives her. Add in lots of clumsy exposition where the dramatic potential of scenes is halted to reel off statistics about sex trafficking as well as a rather clinical look at the experience one character goes through – whilst what we see does disturb, there is plenty of soft lighting, talk of luxury and motifs of expensive flowers to distract from the true horror of what Pyaari endures.
Thank god then for Mardaani’s trump card in form of Shivani Shivaji Roy who pushes the film from a disorganised mess to watchable and very engaging. When Mardaani focuses its full attention onto Shivani’s mission, we really can identify and champion Shivani’s determination to bring perpetrators of organised crime to justice in a real way and what’s more, I loved how she was ready take a punch for every two that she dishes out (no ego issues here). Why the script feels it needs to resort to going by numbers at times is disappointing – Shivani would not play it safe to get to her goals and neither should the script.
Performance wise, Mukerji is superb as Shivani – firing on all cylinders, this is my favourite kind of Rani performance, where she is being challenged in every way possible and rises to the occasion with a consistency and energy that drives the film forward. I also liked how Mukerji makes what must have been a gruelling preparation and physical process to get into character look effortless. Bhasin also impresses as Walt, unapologetically embracing the darkness in the character and proving an worthy opponent to Shivani’s strength. I also liked Sharma’s account which makes Pyaari more than just a stock character to someone we genuinely worry for like Shivani does.
Mardaani is certainly worth making an effort for – not just because it has a female protagonist at its centre (which in this day and age should not be a novelty – wake up Hindi cinema, the future is calling) but because when it hits the intended target, makes for an engaging and satisfying watch. Mardaani can be proud that it has contributed the character of Shivani Shivaji Roy to the police film canon – not only a welcome and necessary addition but one that will inspire and pave the way to forge a path that deserves far more attention and exploration in the commercial sphere than it currently receives. Recommended.