There is something romantic about a “has-been” filmmaker staging a comeback. It happened last week with R. Parthiepan in Tamil. And this week, after the regressive ‘Laaga Chunari Main Daag’ and the disastrous ‘Lafangey Parindey’, Pradeep Sarkar delivers the best Hindi film of the year (till date, at least). And in the process, he also gives us the find of the year, Tahir Raj Bhasin. Never has a villain, after Bhiku Matre, made me look forward to his scenes like Tahir’s Karan/Walt has. He sets the tone for his performance in his introductory scene, where he spells out the options to an abducted girl who is threatening to kill herself with a broken ceramic plate.
His telephonic chit chats with Police Inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani, is a delight to watch. When he comes to know that the Mumbai cop is running a surveillance operation on him, he tries to offer her a bribe – a flat in the 35th floor of a posh apartment building. (She refuses saying she can’t climb 35 floors, should the lift fail!). She compares him to a poisonous snake found in the jungle river. (You should be working in Discovery channel, Ma’am!). It becomes a cat and mouse game quickly and a great one at that – till the final act, that is.
It’s high time screenwriters got their due. Gopi Puthran’s script is lean, taut and riveting, yet he offers some insights into Shivani’s relationship with her colleagues, her husband and the little girl Pyaari, who gets abducted and these moments truly make you invest in the characters. There are several moments that are sparkling. Take the scene in which Pyaari sells flowers in a traffic signal where she asks her customer to ‘keep the change’, or the chilling scene in which Shivani’s husband is made to pay for her pursuing the case, or the scene in which Pyaari decides to celebrate her birthday on the day of Ganpatiji’s birthday (When Shivani’s niece who is in the same age group of Pyaari asks her how old she is, Pyaari retorts, “How old are you?” , “I am 12”, “Then I am also 12!”. Casual and understated, yet brilliantly portrays the sad state of affairs!). I particularly loved the scene in which a street seller tries to sell coolers to Shivani! This film is truly one of the finest understated screenwriting in Hindi cinema this year, ably handled with mature, clever direction.
Sarkar opts to shoot in real locations and keeps it real for most part of the film. Be it characters or locations, they seem incredibly authentic. And he gets tremendous support from his cast and crew. I had problems with only two people. The first was the background music of Julius Packiam. For a movie which is so subdued the bgm was way over the top (reminded me of Amar Mohile in RGV films).
The second was the portrayal of Shivani by Rani Mukherjee. For most part, Rani is competent but little acts like the way she eats peanuts and has cutting chai in roadside tea joints or the way she appears with complete make-up in many scenes gives her away. But to give credit to the actor, she is absolutely fabulous in scenes where she is vulnerable.
Apart from the crowd pleasing (or should we say, studio-executives pleasing) final act, Sarkar hardly missteps in the best film of the year so far. Mardaani is crisp, superbly entertaining, has some sparkling lines, makes you care about its characters and does not insult your intelligence. Go watch it, like NOW!