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Rani Mukerji’s Mardaani 2 has got its timing right – India wants instant & bloody justice

When a police officer is violent, she is giving vent to people’s sense of helplessness. Bollywood movies such as Mardaani dish out rough justice as feminism.

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Khoob ladi mardaani woh toJhansi wali Rani thi – Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem, once the rallying cry of India’s freedom struggle, Mardaani is now Rani Mukerji’s first name and her entry into public discussions on women’s safety. It is also the title of a franchise that sees Rani Mukerji playing tough police officer Shivani Shivaji Roy (the middle name is a nod to Maratha pride). In a sequel to the 2014 hit, Mardaani, Mukerji returns as the angry young woman, the Inspector Vijay of Zanjeer (1973) updated for our times with a change of gender and motivation.

But anger is key in all popular conversations about women’s safety these days in India. When a police officer is angry and violent, she is giving vent to people’s sense of helplessness. Bollywood movies, such as Mardaani, dish out rough and instant justice as feminism, and crude anger as a substitute for real structural changes.

A year ago, on Rajeev Masand’s roundtable, Rani Mukerji said women should beat up men who harass them, and stand up for themselves. She, once again, put the onus on women for their safety. No amount of protests from Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma could force her to rethink. Her view was not too different from parents asking their daughters to stay home after dark. Only Mukerji’s solution appears as an aggressive feminist response. Except it isn’t.

Also read: Mardaani 2 review: Rani Mukerji film is relatable but comes with a dangerous message

The physical feminist

If Mardaani saw Mukerji on the trail of a sex trafficker, Mardaani 2 sees her bent upon dragging a juvenile serial rapist to justice. And facing a barrage of media questions, she promises to bring the rapist in: “Main collar se ghaseette hue use court le aaungi.”

In the aftermath of the alleged Hyderabad rape and murder of a 26-year-old vet, this is precisely the kind of aggressive justice that India wants to hear about. Any doubt about it was vanquished when the Telangana Police shot dead four suspects claiming they were allegedly trying to escape and hitting the police. That morning, people ranging from Mayawati to Uma Bharti applauded the police move.

The timing of Mardaani 2 could not be better – it taps into society’s bloodlust and its frustration with the rise of such heinous crimes. Mardaani 2 doesn’t let viewers forget it, reminding them that 2,000 “rape crimes” are committed by boys under 18 years every year in India. It echoes the 2012 Nirbhaya rape as well, in which one of the six rapists was a juvenile who walked free after his three-years’ sentence.

Mardaani 2 cleverly taps into the fear of parents about the safety of their children, especially young women, emphasising how Kota is a hub for students from all across India and how “this case will not impact the city but the entire nation”. It also emphasises the “mardaani” (masculine) aspect of Shivani— “dum hai to rok le (if you have the power, stop me)” says the rapist to her. Cut to a scene where she is shown beating a suspect mercilessly with her belt.

IPS officer Meeran Chadha Borwankar, who was consulted in the process of making the first Mardaani, can only rue the depiction. Women police officers are definitely tough both mentally and emotionally, she told ThePrint, but to show them fighting three or four goondas with their fists is unrealistic. “It is so for male police officers as well. It’s time Bollywood had a touch of reality. Such depiction does injustice to us. We in India today are concentrating on scientific collection of evidence and document-based investigation. It’s real hard work and gender-neutral. Leadership and investigation require brains not brawn as Bollywood still believes,” says Borwankar, who was chief of Crime Branch in Mumbai, “that Bollywood is in awe of”.

IPS officer Rema Rajeshwari hasn’t seen the movie but says she can “imagine how it’s made”. “We will never escape from the stereotypical projection, be it men or women. Our cultural ethos tags men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities. Choosing a career from the traditionally male domain is seen as a violation of stereotypical expectations of women. These negative projections make women look at the profession with a certain amount of fear and scepticism,” she told ThePrint.

Also read: Art, life and Bollywood’s role in violence against women

Behind the uniform

Mardaani breaks away from the stereotype in that it shows Shivani’s domestic life, much like Netflix’s Delhi Crime (2019), which was a recreation of IPS officer Chhaya Sharma’s role in investigating the Nirbhaya rape case. Sharma was seen not merely as a police officer bent upon bringing the rapists to book but also as a mother of a young college-going woman and wife of a fellow police officer. Mardaani 2 reinforces the everywoman nature of the police officer. And their emotions are used to funnel their anger and their determination, whether it is Mukerji calling the rapist a “fucking monster” or the pathologist (also a woman) telling her: “Get those bastards, Shivani.”

Added to the mix, of a physical feminist police officer, with a habit of using abusive language with ease, is Mukerji’s own personal solution to the culture of violence against women. Mukerji was quite emphatic that “if girls started teaching harassers a lesson using martial arts, they will feel fearful while teasing other girls next time” at the actors’ roundtable with Rajeev Masand.

Also read: Thought of killing accused never crossed my mind, says cop who handled Nirbhaya case

It got her fellow panellist Deepika Padukone quite agitated, saying: “I don’t think everyone is constructed with that sort of DNA unfortunately”. This kind of mentality that puts the onus of safety on women is the very cause of misogyny, says retired IPS officer and current Lieutenant-Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi. She told The Print: “They are the ones holding back equality of opportunities for women. They are the ones who are causing the divide in the upbringing of girls and boys equally. They are the cause of prevailing agony.”

Caught between police vigilantism as evidenced in a state that has abandoned its responsibility of ensuring law and order, and a social construct that shames women for wanting to be in the workforce—so, therefore, act like a man—pop culture in India cannot decide whether it wants its women police officers to be a mardaani superwomen, a rape-avenging Simmba (2019) without the muscles and moustache, or a more realistic Chhaya Sharma aka Vartika Srivastav of Delhi Crime who out-thinks rather than out-muscles her antagonists.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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