The Hindi film industry has a reputation for happy endings and song and dance, but it has its darker side too, as shown in this weekend's release.
In Mardaani, senior police inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukherjee) fights the leader of a mafia that kidnapped a teen girl close to her. She vows to hunt down the trafficking kingpin until he returns young Pyari (which means "lovely"), already trafficked outside the city, and leaves behind bodies to prove it. It's a bold attempt to tackle two of India's biggest talking points: women's role and human trafficking, particularly of kids. (An estimated 40 percent of India's 3 million prostitutes, or 1.2 million, are children.)
The dogged female officer is a welcome addition to Bollywood's many no-nonsense male ones (nearly all its top male actors have made recent blockbusters as cops), but one has to hope one of Bollywood's most versatile leading ladies overcomes the somewhat unfortunate title Mardaani, which means manly or like a man. Some historical context exists for it describing a woman who fights "like a man," notably the rani (queen) of Jhansi, a key figure in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 who fought the British after her husband died.
But this Rani has no husband-passing role to lend the term that context, either in the movie (Shivani is backed by her doctor husband) or in real life, where the movie is produced by Mukherjee's husband, Aditya Chopra.
Mardaani, with subtitles, opens Friday at AMC Veterans 24 in Tampa.
Caitlin E. O'Conner, Times staff writer