A bloodless crime thriller about a fearless cop and a heartless villain, Pradeep Sarkar’s latest “woman-oriented" movie follows the exploits of the amazing Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukerji), a Mumbai crime branch senior inspector who is tough, honest, intelligent and brave. The movie’s sexist title suggests that she has masculine qualities of bravery and honour, but the best proof of her macho side is her indifferent relationship with her spouse. Not unlike the average Indian husband, Shivani prefers the company of others, in this case her co-workers, her orphaned niece, and a teenager, Pyari, who sells flowers at traffic signals. The abduction of this flower girl by a sex trafficking ring deeply upsets Shivani, who launches a personal crusade to save Pyari and whoever else might be in the room at that moment.

She is actually a superhero, but since Sarkar and writer Gopi Puthran, working on a concept suggested by Hussain Zaidi and Vibha Singh, have decided to take the gritty realism route, her cape remains invisible. Crusading cops working for the greater common good have now taken residence in the superheroic realm after films like Dabangg and Singham, and it seems unfathomable that Shivani would entertain taunting calls from the trafficking ring’s leader Karan (Tahir Raj Bhasin) and risk life by travelling into his lair in Delhi purely for professional reasons.

Before Shivani meets her tormentor, some solid police work goes into unravelling his operation. Stripped off the gloss that director Sarkar has been guilty of since he started his career, Mardaani has a suitably dark opening, retains its grimness throughout, and keeps developments on the right side of credibility for as long as possible. But it nudges closer and closer to vigilantism in the closing minutes, ending in a sickening climax that allows Shivani to have her cake and eat it too. The movie often gets confused between procedural and procedure: there’s too much exposition for a standard issue cop-versus-villain story, and not enough building of character or mood. It’s efficient and watchable, but also cold and mechanical despite the sensationalism inherent in the material. Mukerji works hard and is far more convincing using brains than brawn, but Shivani is a dull cop whose obsession never yields any emotional pay-off. Bhasin plays Karan with eye-rolling insouciance, but the most effective villain is Anil George in a small and memorable part as the sleazy lawyer who operates the trafficking operation.

Mardaani released in theatres on Friday.

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