Mardaani 2 review: Rani Mukerji whips a rapist but also lashes out at patriarchy

First-time director Gopi Puthran’s crime drama is a manhunt for a juvenile rapist, killer but more importantly, it condemns patriarchy that perhaps influences juvenile delinquency.

Rating: 3 /5

Mardaani 2 [2019]

By Mayur Lookhar

It is not often that you go into a film screening with a heavy heart.  You know the heroics, justice on the screen is seldom mirrored in the real life.  Reviewing a film by carrying an emotional baggage.  Definitely, not the ideal scenario, but the gross injustice that we see around isn’t ideal too.  Or is it?  The unabating sexual crimes, slow justice or the lack of it, only gives more teeth to sexual predators who think that they can get away with their barbaric acts.

The charred soul of the Unnao rape victim cries for justice. In a spate of a week alone, there have been numerous cases of rape reported across India.  Disgustingly, the lust of predators hasn’t even spared some toddlers.  As India continued to be left embarrassed by one case after another, the killing of the four accused in the Hyderabad rape and murder case in an police encounter was hailed as a just act.  Is that truly justice? cried human rights champions. But for the people at large, the action of the Hyderabad police mirrored their dire call for instant justice. Enough is enough. A strong message had to be sent.

Rani Mukerji’s Mardaani 2 [2019] comes at a time where aggrieved, angry citizens, are baying for the blood of sexual predators.  After busting a human trafficking racket in Mardaani [2014],  Shivani Shivaji Roy [Mukerji] is now on the hunt for a serial rapist, a juvenile criminal.   Screenwriter Gopi Puthran, who co-wrote the first film, makes his directorial debut with Mardaani 2.

It’s not just rape, but Mardaani 2 throws light on the grave issue of juvenile crimes. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, over 40,000 cases of juvenile crimes were reported in 2017. Out of this 72 % offenders belonged to the age group 16-18 years.  A total 1614 cases of rape by juveniles was reported, while there were other 1456 cases of sexual assault.

The government had in 2015 passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, which provides for the trial of juveniles in the age group of 16 to 18 years as an adult if involved in heinous offences.  The statistics are alarming. Why is that these teens are indulging into serious crimes? 

There ought to be a serious debate here, but there seems to be lack of political will in tackling this menace.

A few weeks before the film’s release, Lok Speaker and Bhartiya Janata Party MP [Member of Parliament] had raised brows when he stated that films like Mardaani 2 potentially paint a false picture of his town Kota, Rajasthan.  Mardaani is only set in Kota, but the worried filmmakers had then dropped the ‘based on true stories’ claim from their film.

A few days later, one was shocked to read about an alleged rapist, out on bail, attacking the victim and her husband in Kota. Well, Mr. Birla doesn’t this bring bad name to Kota?  This was no film but a cold dark reality.  As per the National Crime Records Bureau, 2016, there 159 cases of rapes by juveniles in Rajasthan alone.

Puthran’s film does throw up the statistic, but it primarily focuses on the manhunt for a psychotic rapist, murderer and contract killer.  Usually, filmmakers keep a veil, create a suspense around the antagonist, (as we saw in the first film) but Mardaani 2 begins the visual of a teen who brags about his sadomasochism.   So, there is no suspense element here. He had a disdain for strong, opinionated women.

One would have perhaps expected this migrant from Meerut to go on a crime (raping) spree, but Mardaani 2 is not a conventional dark crime drama that simply covers a manhunt.  Sunny [Vishal Jethwa] is a cerebral assassin, a in-your-face criminal, a fly on the wall with Shivani only sensing the danger later. Much like Walt [Tahir Raj Bhasin] in the first film, Sunny dares Shivani, “catch me if you can”. He plays around with her emotions.  Keep aside the nature of crime, but mind games in Mardaani 2 have a sense of déjà vu to it.  

Puthran draws your attention to the political patronage that hired guns like Sunny enjoy.   The director subtly touches upon the mining mafia-politician nexus. Inevitably, it shows the ugly face of patriarchy not just through a criminal’s mind, but Mardaani condemns patriarchy at work.  Shivani is envied by her misogynistic colleague Brij Shekhawat [Sunil Nijhawan] who simply cannot digest the fact that he is to obey a woman superintendent.   

The film condemns media trial and the media is battered a little too much.  From their excessive presence around crime scene, incompetency to bitter, regressive interviewing skills,  the media is perhaps depicted as the bigger evil.  This reviewer is not being defensive, but when  a film is hammering down media’s incompetency, then it perhaps is digressing the from the core issue.  While it is important to discuss regressive attitude towards women at work place, but exposing it through a TV  news anchor Amit Sharma [Rajesh Sharma] is a bit far fetched.

While Mardaani 2 poses tough question to media, police, legislature, but it doesn’t touch the judiciary. Much of the public anger today stems from the inability of Indian judiciary to deliver timely justice. Lakhs of rape cases are pending in court. The convictions take years to come. Besides, many who have been given death sentences , keeping sending mercy pleas. It’s a shame that Nirbhaya’s killers are still breaking bread in jail. Mohammad Afroz, the man who allegedly brutalized the victim the most, got away leniently as he was minor then and is currently a free man.

The manhunt plot made it impossible to incorporate the role of the judiciary, but if Shivani can speak about regressive minds in media, polity, police, then surely one or two tough questions could have been thrown at the judiciary too.  

To Puthran’s credit, there is an attempt made though to look into the mindset of a juvenile criminal.  Sunny’s back story gives an insight into what made him this monster, but it is not sympathetic towards him.  Poverty would come second, but it is patriarchy that’s chiefly to be blamed here,

Mardaani 2 spells out its message clearly but it adopts a fairly predictable Bollywood crime thriller route.  The trailer clearly gave away that this is a manhunt for a juvenile rapist but Sunny’s crime count consists of two rapes and three murders.   The political patronage, mining mafia are important sub plots, but it inadvertently, shifts the focus slightly from the core crime – rape.  It is incessant rapes that is making citizens see red.

The aggrieved citizens though needn’t lose heart as Rani Mukerji does crack the whip on the rapist.   It’s in this action that a Shivani emotes the collective anger of the public.   It’s yet another authoritative show by Mukerji. Compared to Mardaani [2014] the action here is limited, but Mukerji throws in enough verbal punches that will draw the cheers.   The new hairdo is neat. More than any physicality, what Mukerji does well is to show an emotional side to Shivani that helps build an emotional connect with the target audience.

Though 25, Vishal Jethwa carries the look of a teen.  His hazel green eyes are enough to intimidate anyone.  He gets the Marwari accent right.  However, there are moments when the psychotic conduct looks a gimmick.  Walt [Tahir Raj Bhasin] was an educated, wealthy Gurgaon [now Gurugram] man. That served as his veil too.  Sunny, though, is  too much of a ‘in your face’ character.   In Mardaani, Walt was a mama’s child. Remember, it was Meenu Rastogi [Mona Ambegaonkar], Walt’s mother who was the queenpin of the human trafficking racket.  In Mardaani 2, Puthran’s monster is a creation of patriarchy.   Jethwa reflects the audacity, the brazenness of this psycho nicely.  However, given his sadist mind, he’s too much of a loose canon to pull off certain contractual crimes. 

Jisshu Sengupta has a fleeting presence, simply to remind us that Dr. Bikram Roy [Sengupta] is Shivani’s husband.  The one actor to impress the most is Sumit Nijhawan, who plays Shivani’s envious colleague Brij Shekhawat.   He’s natural in his act and though misogynistic, Shekhawat doesn’t let that corrupt his sense of judgment.  You would find a Brij Shekhawat in most work places. The have big egos, but it is also their biggest strength.

At 105 minutes in duration, you wouldn’t complain about the length, but the media bashing could have been trimmed a bit.  Besides, while you don’t need to show it, but simply adding 1-2 more sinister cases against Sunny would have built more fear around this sexual predator. Thankfully, the film is not dragged unnecessarily by adding few needless songs.

This review began by talking about the hideous sexual crimes and the grim mood, anguish among the citizens.  It’s the dire desire for quick justice that makes you back a Shivani. However, she just doesn’t want you to wield the whip, but Shivani reminds you to first wield the whip on patriarchy. May be that can help prevent some juvenile crimes.

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