Director: Anushree Mehta
Writer: Abir Sengupta and Anushree Mehta
Cast: Radhika Apte, Sumeet Vyas, Rajesh Sharma, and others
Rating: 2 Stars
There is a serial killer (Sumeet Vyas) on the loose who is targeting young, educated, working women. He lives with his single mom. His motivation for the killings could have been his murderous rage again working women because maybe he didn’t get the love and affection of his mom, who might have been busy earning money to give him a good life while growing up. Childhood trauma makes for an interesting backstory for unhinged characters, but the writers don’t bother with this.
Instead, our serial killer is the India operative of an international serial killer syndicate (yes, in a first, we have a union body of psycho killers; good to see the Ted Bundys of the world unite for a cause) and also has a woman sidekick (yeah, she is an independent working woman recruited by a syndicate that is formed to kill independent working women). And he is called The Common Man. Because why shouldn’t we just assume that all men are predators and get into a problematic generalisation when we have already firmly established the lameness that fuels this endeavour already?
Now, we move to our protagonist. She is a spy with a national intelligence agency. She was told to get married and become a housewife. And there you have a Mrs who is an Undercover. With the title of the movie being justified, you need a name for our lady. She is Durga — because a bong woman eradicating evil and fighting patriarchy can’t possibly have any other name, duh! She is married to a man who is as soaked in patriarchy as a rossogolla in sugar syrup. But Durga is not interested in squeezing out the syrupy patriarchy but gulps it down even when it almost chokes her. She is never seen taking offence or raising her voice against the husband (the light-eyed Saheb Chatterjee). However, she has a rather progressive and vocal mother-in-law (Laboni Sarkar who looks eerily similar to Shweta Basu Prasad), who time and again is seen standing up for her instead. One wonders if this would have been a better and more fun movie with the MIL playing a Miss Marple-like character, something we have already seen Rakhi Gulzar play to perfection in late Rituparno Ghosh’s 2003 thriller Shubho Mahurat. But I digress (it is difficult not to when you have something like Mrs Undercover unfolding).
Durga has been inactive for the past 10 years because after getting the agent a cushy cover, the intelligence agency just conveniently forgot about her. Her handler died, all her records got burned, and every other staff member who knew about her got transferred elsewhere. Of course, this is exactly how a government intelligence organisation is supposed to work (I am really curious to know if she got her salary all these 10 years). But now that all other agents are dead, with the last one being killed by The Common Man, our desi Nick Fury AKA Chief Rangeela, goes on a mission to find Durga, his last hope to save the women of the planet. Instead of just calling to the office he dresses up as a priest and makes lewd gestures at her and tries to woo her to get back to her field job. To this, Durga screams at him that she can’t oblige as her child’s unit test is coming up. A person who had opted for the profession of that of a spy and work for the country is more concerned about her son’s unit test than saving women in the city from a serial killer. Because women will be women, right? And Sehmat and Noor Inayat Khan weren’t women enough.
And men will be men. So, our Rangeela saab, like every stalker worth his salt, relentlessly follows her, pops up at her house, and keeps persuading her until she gives up. But, when she wants a refresher to brush up on her skills which she has not used for a decade, he is reluctant. He wants the bumbling housewife to magically transform into a spy and get intelligence on a serial killer. And she, the ‘poor woman’ then starts practicing her shooting skills at a local mela by shooting balloons. She takes her unsuspecting husband along with her while on a spying trip as she is scared of darkness. You have a housewife, who needs her husband to tag along on her mission, trying to save women from the patriarchal mindset symbolised by the psycho killer Common Man. Fine. Making perfect sense (all is well…all is well). If you are wondering how she had even landed the job ten years back and is entrusted with the crucial mission for which she has shown zero interest or skill sets, then my sympathies are with you. But not all questions have answers, my friend. Life goes on, and so does this movie. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
But what really broke my resilience to persevere and unwilling suspension of disbelief were the random monologues about women’s empowerment and deification of the job of a housewife… also, why do you need a man to explain this? It is a wannabe feminist movie co-written and directed by a woman that shows zero respect for women’s voices, talents, professionalism, education, and work ethics, and instead uses the same blueprint of a bimbette for its heroine. There is nothing worthwhile to really talk about in this, it is a study in the ever-lowering bar of mediocrity and how logically bereft and vacuous wannabe wokeness can be.
Regarding the actors’ performances, only Laboni Sarkar sparkles, but she gets just one good scene to do so. Sumeet Vyas hardly gets to explore the darker shades of a psychopath and blends well with the mediocrity around him. Radhika Apte should really think of losing her scowl which has become an extension of her onscreen avatars. These days her movies almost always leave me with one thought: Radhika Apte ko gussa kyun aata hai? Give her any character and you have her scrunching her eyebrows and looking all irritated. She has a lovely face and is a capable actor. We need her to go back to her Antaheen and Binodini days and try out roles where she is not perennially angry or angsty or mildly psychotic. A strong woman can also have some calm and peace. It is ok. You don’t have to always carry the world on your shoulders.
Being a feminist is one thing and being a good filmmaker is another. Anushree Mehta aces the first and is adequately preachy with her proclamations against patriarchy, but stumbles with the second.
The premise of the movie is so banal that it is difficult to invest in the goings-on. If this was supposed to be a spy comedy like Pink Panther, the tonal shifts ensure that it doesn’t land. What makes things worse is the random spattering of long monologues on women’s empowerment and the deification of housewives.
If you want to talk about strong women, women who are Durga, the slayer of societal evil and patriarchy, a good place to start would be to not write her as an eccentric and clumsy bimbette. Show, don’t preach. This is supposed to be a movie and not a rally speech.
You can watch Mrs Undercover on Zee 5.
Images: Zee 5