Thursday 4 September 2014

Mardaani . . . . and The Professionals.

Rani Mukherjee
   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.
6. The Professionals

   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.
Rani Mukherjee In Mardaani Movie Still Images 540x360 Rani Mukherjee In Mardaani Movie Still Images
   So why did I like Mardaani? Rani, though not entirely likeable, is brilliant and compelling. The brutality, despondency and misery of the girls lives’ after being abducted by the trafficking ring is well done too. Some reviewers have mentioned films like Taken (2008) when discussing the film but this is fatuous. Instead I recalled Lucas Moodysson’s beautiful and despairing Lilya 4-ever (2002) and of course you’ll probably think back to some of the angry Amitabh Bachchan movies of the seventies. India is cast as a place of ruthless greed where lives are cheap, morality in short supply and hypocrisy rampant and where role-models – sorry, that should be heroes - with courage and principles are rare. There are elements too that are kind of bonkers – so over the top that you won’t be able to hide a cheesy smile or two. Crucially though, its heart is in the right place. As long as you give yourself up to the melodrama, Mardaani’s pleasures, along with its bitterness and righteous anger, will hit the spot and have you debating all the way home.

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