Here’s the latest instance of a movie that can’t quite match up to the catchiness of its title.

Anushree’s Mehta’s Mrs Undercover stars Radhika Apte as Durga, a harried housewife in Kolkata with a chauvinist husband, batty in-laws, and a chirpy son. In her past life, Durga was an undercover agent, but now spends her time managing her brood and tolerating her husband’s taunts.

Deb (Saheb Chatterjee) is the kind of noxious spouse who, if he suffered an accident in the kitchen, wouldn’t be missed. Durga will meet an even bigger exemplar of misogyny in the form of Ajay (Sumeet Vyas), a serial killer who targets educated and independent-minded women.

Despite steadily working his way through the population, Ajay has escaped the Kolkata police as well as Durga’s boss Rangeela (Rajesh Sharma). Might the perennially fretful and hopelessly out-of-touch Durga be Kolkata’s Clarice Starling?

Sumeet Vyas in Mrs Undercover (2023). Courtesy Jaadugar Films/Knight Sky Movies/B4U Motion Pictures.

The jaunty, slapstick tone sits oddly in a film about a man who hates women and kills them in gruesome fashion. Mrs Undercover is closer in its hammy humour to Abbas-Mustan’s Baadshah than in its feminist themes to Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, whose unlikely avenging angel appears to have been the role model for Durga. The Kolkata setting – another hat-tip to Kahaani – is an excuse to draw parallels between Durga and her divine namesake.

Although Sumeet Vyas is effectively creepy as Ajay, Mrs Undercover is more interested in the buffoonery that results from Durga’s scatter-brained ways. The ineptitude is infectious: Rangeela’s clowning makes you wonder about the recruitment strategies of law enforcement agencies. Important matters of utmost secrecy are discussed at high volumes in public places.

The most engaging bits are to be found in the most inappropriate scenes. Rangeela’s mission to coax the thoroughly domesticated Durga back to work is more fun than Durga’s shambolic investigation, which does her no favours and almost makes you weep for the lost opportunities in the screenplay.

A turbo-charged Radhika Apte dials up the overall silliness and furiously mugs her way through the comic-book plotting. Lectured to by others on the emancipation of women, condescended to by the irredeemable Deb, and even overtaken by her mother-in-law at one point, Durga triumphs because Apte gives Mrs Undercover more attention than the movie itself devotes to her journey from drudgery to bravery.

Radhika Apte (2023).

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