Mardaani 2 is in a big rush to set itself up and gallop towards the end credits. The runtime – 105 minutes – is astonishingly crisp for a Hindi movie but also apt for a thriller that revolves around a manhunt. In case it is not clear that Superintendent of Police Shivani (Rani Mukerji) means business, writer-director Gopi Puthran’s screenplay sets her a deadline: she has two days to catch serial rapist and murderer Sunny (Vishal Jethwa).
Sunny is a misogynist whose hatred of women, especially those who assert themselves, leads him to abduction, rape and murder in gory fashion. Shivani quickly realises Sunny’s modus operandi, and he is both impressed and intrigued. Shivani bristles at the suggestion that Sunny will stage his next few crimes in order to get her attention – and that this wouldn’t have happened if a male officer in charge. But that is, in effect, what takes place. Sunny hides in plain sight even as Shivani and her team bumble about. Meanwhile, the clock ticks away because the filmmaking crew really wants to yell “pack up” and move on.
While the briskness lends some urgency to what turns out to be routine serial killer fare, it barely allows for character sketching. The most rounded person in Mardaani 2 turns out to be Sunny, who is given the pop psychological treatment. Sunny’s back story gives us some idea of the roots of his anger towards women. He turns out to be but an extreme manifestation of the chauvinism that greets Shivani’s efforts. Vishal Jethwa turns out a chilling and compelling performance as the man who despises women and seeks out opportunities to brutalise them.
Like a man, but only much tougher: Rani Mukerji’s tough-talking police officer first surfaced in Mardaani in 2014. Five years on, Shivani is still the smartest bird in the flock, relying on a combination of empathy and clever guesswork to see patterns that nobody else can. Mardaani 2 slows down to give Shivani her chance at feminist speechifying, but there isn’t enough meat on the screenplay or in its heroine to give Mukerji a chance to display her acting chops. Shivani exits the picture as quickly as she enters it, and a movie centred around a woman’s achievements in a male-dominated world ends as hurriedly and bloodlessly as it began.