No one would've ever imagined Pradeep Sarkar -- director of films such as PARINEETA, LAAGA CHUNARI MEIN DAAG and LAFANGEY PARINDEY -- to plunge into the dark world in his new outing. Likewise, no one would've ever envisaged Rani Mukerji -- having proved her mettle in diverse characters -- to portray a tough-talking cop in a violent movie. MARDAANI, which teams Sarkar and Mukerji together after LAAGA CHUNARI MEIN DAAG, goes beyond the glitz, glam and fluffy entertainers synonymous with Bollywood, drawing your attention to the dark and murky world of human trafficking.
Tackling a pertinent topic, Sarkar makes sure he stays faithful to the essence by not deviating to unwanted tracks, till a formulaic climax takes over [more on that later]. The question is, does Sarkar make a point? Or is MARDAANI yet another film that attempts to 'entertain' under the garb of realism?
The premise of the film, first! Shivani [Rani Mukerji], Senior Inspector, Crime Branch, Mumbai Police, sets out to confront the mastermind behind the mafia, which makes the mistake of kidnapping a young girl, Pyari [Priyanka Sharma], out of the city. Pyari is close to Shivani and her family and in her obsessive hunt for the girl, she stumbles into the world of decadence and debauchery, cruel desires and exploitation.
What follows is a cat and mouse game between a fearless cop and a young and ruthless mafia kingpin [Tahir Raj Bhasin].
Unlike the female cops portrayed in Bollywood thus far, the cop in MARDAANI is as real as real can be. Sure, the plotline may bear similarities with the Liam Neeson starrer TAKEN , but Sarkar steers clear of replicating the Hollywood movie or for that matter, Nagesh Kukunoor's LAKSHMI , making sure the story takes an altogether different route as it moves forward. Sarkar doesn't really venture into a new terrain frankly, since LAAGA CHUNARI MEIN DAAG did narrate the story of a call girl who supports her family financially. However, LAAGA CHUNARI MEIN DAAG did not throw light on the dark side of flesh trade, like this one does.
MARDAANI grabs your attention from the commencement and never relents. Padding the proceedings with several intense episodes, MARDAANI eventually becomes the good versus evil fight as the protagonist makes her way to the baddie behind the baddies. The simmering rage of the protagonist, as the mystery behind the kidnapping deepens, is illustrated convincingly, while the director also incorporates ample emotional baggage that would make you connect with the on-screen characters.
However, you cannot turn a blind eye to the blemishes. Sarkar knows the necessity of keeping the thriller moving in those 113 minutes, but there are times -- in the second half specifically -- when the film slows a little, before the protagonist zeroes on the kingpin. Moreover, MARDAANI adopts the standard route towards the penultimate stages, when Rani and the baddie come face to face. The culmination, although well executed, could've remained realistic, like the rest of the film. In fact, Sarkar manages to keep you hooked for most parts, but why this need to get formulaic in the concluding reels?
Sarkar's stance to sidetrack the soundtrack is indeed courageous. The conventional entertainment-seeking spectator, so used to the mandatory songs every 15/20 minutes, may whine initially, but let's face it, the same people also grumble if a song derails the story when the drama intensifies [there's just one song that appears towards the conclusion thankfully!]. Also, Sarkar steers clear of graphic violence, avoiding excessive blood and gore. The background score [Julius Packiam] is perfect and the composer makes sure he doesn't go overboard. The DoP [Artur Zurawski] depicts the gritty environ with striking visuals, closing in tight on the protagonist in dramatic moments.
Enacting the part of the tough-talking cop who goes in pursuit of those who run the sex trafficking ring, Rani strikes a true to life, forceful pose and also lends her character the much-needed intensity, strength and dignity. The agony that drives her forward is visible on her face and is one of the prime reasons that makes this story easy to swallow. In a lesser actor's hands, the written material would not have been so competently delivered.
Tahir Raj Bhasin, who portrays the antagonist, is intimidating. Despite being pitted against a powerhouse performer like Rani, Tahir makes sure he leaves an ineradicable impression, playing a cold blooded criminal but maintaining a cool demeanor wonderfully. Jisshu Sengupta gets limited scope. Priyanka Sharma doesn't get much to do either. Mona Ambegaonkar is convincing. Anil George is first-rate.
On the whole, MARDAANI is relevant, powerful and inspiring with a top notch performance by Rani Mukerji. Worth a watch!