I HAVE bought my Learn Hindi kit – honest! CDs, book, dictionary – but unfortunately they languish by the side of my bed. But now I wish I’d worked harder so that I could quote some of the brilliant lines in Pradeep Sarkar’s Mardaani. Rani Mukherjee plays Shivani Shivaji Roy, a tough Mumbai police inspector on the trail of gang that abduct young girls and sell them off to be used in sex work. Rani is tough, undaunted and determined as she tracks the gang and she gets to slap, bully and intimidate petty criminals and Hindu nationalists alike. Rani plays it straight, or as straight as is possible in a Bollywood production. The result is intriguing; on one hand there are still few Indian films that have such brilliant roles for women or that tackle such difficult subjects in a reasonably serious way; on the other hand I can’t help but love it in the same way I love The Professionals (please – if you’ve not seen an episode of that 70s show, watch one now!). Not that Mardaani is as reactionary as The Professionals, though it certainly embraces an uncomfortable level of brutal police behaviour, but the over-the-top action sequences, its sly humour and the pleasure of top actors playing it straight in slightly ludicrous circumstances certainly bears comparison.
I doubt I would have enjoyed Mardaani so much a year ago. It’s easy to love the song and dance, the love stories, even the dramatic changes in tone that can occur throughout the course of a Bollywood film and these are the things I fell for, but Mardaani is one of those films that embraces the mode of melodrama AND wants to be very serious too and that film fans, is a dangerous game – I give you Bol (2011). Now I disliked Bol A LOT because it felt like a mixture between Dickens (at his worst) and Eastenders – thus, saccharine, soapy, full of caricatures and melodramatic to a degree that I couldn’t accept, but, I did watch it in my Bollywood infancy so maybe there was a level of culture shock I wasn’t ready for.