Bollywood review: Rani could give Singham a run with 'Mardaani'

Ever since ‘Kahaani’ and ‘English Vinglish’ set the box-office cash registers ringing, elevating the position of Bollywood glam dolls into those with the power to be independent of their on-screen sweethearts, every female actor is vying for that spot in the Bollywood frame.

So, Rani Mukerji is bang on trend, when she single-handedly holds fort in her home production ‘Mardaani’.

She might have sizzled, but fizzled, while attempting similar feats earlier, with Vidya Balan stealing the spotlight in ‘No One Killed Jessica’, and ‘Aiyyaa’ sinking miserably at the box-office, but Rani is hoping to get third-time lucky.

And she does.

Even when the inspiring story crumbles towards the end with unnecessary melodrama and a corny monologue, Rani flaunts her finest act.

Yet, this isn’t at par with ‘Kahaani’ or ‘English Vinglish’, only because writer Gopi Puthran reduces ‘Mardaani’ into an unimaginative mess by trafficking in the usual tropes of supercops and psychotic baddies without giving the tale a wicked twist.

The cop-criminal chase follows a predictable pattern, but one that begs inventiveness. Although Gopi cuts out the customary song-and-dance and romance, leaving the two-hour-and-fifteen-minute-long narrative exclusive to the issue of child trafficking and the crackdown, he is unable to tweak the format to win his lady cop a befitting crown.

Rani packs a punch as the fiery cop Shivani, who is untouched by influences from Bollywood supercops Chulbul Pandey and Singham. Despite a reference to Chulbul’s trademark aviators, Shivani isn’t bogged down by romantic tracks, the desire to randomly blow up cars, or even fly through air while chasing the goons.

She’s  fairly grounded, fighting her enemies without much fuss. Cursing, wrestling and even pumping bullets convincingly without being overly dramatic. She doesn’t even flash a tinge of make-up, purposefully designed to lend Shivani a raw touch. All these elements blend in superbly, yet untangle rather unceremoniously when the chase finally ends.

Shivani Sivaji Rao is a no-nonsense senior cop at the Mumbai crime branch, who works relentlessly to protect the unprotected. And, when she’s not in the line of duty, she’s focused on indulging her doting husband and orphaned niece.

It’s when her young street-friend ‘Pyaari’ goes missing from a suburban shelter that Shivani’s hit badly. Her investigations lead her to a child trafficking racket that’s  (shockingly) gone unnoticed by the police force until then.

With a base in the Indian capital city, the gang leader is a young bloke, whose deeds supersede his innocence. He orchestrates atrocities on young girls, captured remarkably through Artur Zurawski’s frames. The brutalities are edited out in our region, but the ones that remain are quite distressing.

Director Pradeep Sarkar, who earlier gave us ‘Parineeta’ and ‘Laaga Chunari Mein Daag’, is ably assisted by editor Sanjib Datta to give this heroic tale a fitting canvas, minus the Bollywood clichés.

One-movie-old Tahir Raj Bhasin gives Rani a good fight, and tackles Walt’s madness with aplomb. Unfortunately, his vulnerabilities aren’t fleshed out enough, reducing him to a rogue without purpose. The handful of supporting cast are decent, and help form a powerful foundation, one that’s often ignored in Hindi cinema.

With so much going for ‘Mardaani’, it’s unfortunate that its filmmakers failed to pull it through. That said, we still think it deserves a trip to the cinema just because it’s a step in the right direction.

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