And once again we foray in to what I like to call the third coming of Indian cinema : online edition. (granted I dont actually know enough about Indian cinema to call it anything)
Soni is an 2018 Indian Hindi-language crime drama film edited and directed by debutant Ivan Ayr and stars Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Saloni Batra. Written by Ayar and Kislye, the film chronicles the life of a police officer and her superintendent in Delhi Police who deal with the cases regarding crimes against women. It premiered in the Orrizonti (Horizons) section of the 75th Venice International Film Festival receiving a standing ovation. The film won the Facebook Award for Best ‘Work-In-Progress’ project.[ Ayr received a special mention for “Achievement In Directing” for the film at the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
First, lets get a couple of things out of the way. This is a heavy movie. Its heavy on emotions and subtlety (heavy on subtlety…get it?). Its also heavy on references to the Indian lifetsyle of a middle class working woman. Maybe just a bit specific to the life in the city of New Delhi. Its also heavy on references to the experience of female Police Officer from a middle class family in the city of New Delhi. In fact, this movie, more or less, is an excerpt from the life of two such women. There isnt enough plot to discuss. So I guess spoiler warning, though there isnt much to spoil. Though it is called a thriller, a police drama, and a crime drama, it is in fact very far removed from other conventional work in those genres. Its a fairly short film, clocking at about a little over 90 minutes. It appears to be a snippet of a much bigger film. However, in its realism, it failed to create enough intrigue to make me want to watch that bigger film.
Soni follows its titular character as she tries to go through the motions of being a policewoman in a sexist environment. While she does not get to spend much time at a station, we do see her facing assholes outside in the city. She gets followed home by pervert, which sets of the motion for the movie. Being a trained officer, she is easily able to overpower the lone pervert. But her anger gets the better of her as she ends up breaking his jaw and getting one of his eyes out of his socket. While he may have intended to molest her, it raises the question as to whether it is enough to justify police brutality. She is reprimanded and transferred to the Police Control Room where she is to attend calls from concerned citizens. The main focus of the film is the sexism these two women face. One of them being having a complaint call at the PCR turning into inappropriate flirting. While these instances do not happen 100% of the time, they still exist more than they should. She is constantly undermined because of her gender by her landlady, her ex boyfriend/husband, people stopped for misdemeanors, her superiors etc. Her short temper does not help her situation either, The only person who seems to care about her is her direct superior Kalpana. But Kalpana too has her own share of dealing with people constantly undermining her. Her mother in law basically demanding her to stall her duties in order to have a child. Her husband calling her emotional when she tries to defend Soni by saying she is a hardworking officer. Civilians at the police station trying to appeal to her sensitivities as a woman, even though she priorities her duties as an officer before anything else. Not everyone is like this. But I am sure several Indian women (and hopefully men) can understand how the scenes are really playing out. Of course a lot of these things come with culture. Unless you understand how society functions in India, or are part of something thats significantly similar, the meaning of these scenes would be lost on you.
But despite the hyper realistic scenes of oppression (only in the sense that not 100% of the Indian population is like this), there is not much going on. While the movie does a great job to highlight the little things, the little gestures, the constant nagging women go through on a daily basis, it doesn’t offer much in terms of story. While the trailers and description sell this as a thriller, there doesn’t seem to be any thrill in the story. There is no mystery. The movie feels like a river, fluidly going from one scene to the next, but there doesn’t seem to be any conclusion in sight. The movie introduces several crime story lines throughout, but nothing much happens. A rape allegation is looked over when the accuser refuses to turn up after a settlement. A police bribe and public indecency case is dismissed by saying -the country has bigger problems, why bother being a moral police in a time like this. Soni is assaulted by a rich brat she intercepted doing drugs in a public women’s washroom. But the movie concludes it by saying that Klapana continued by taking the case to court and not letting him get away due to his connections. While the cases and the way they were handled was quite realistic, I dont think they form part of thriller. The only mystery in the entire movie is how Soni and her ex broke up.
If you like long continuous tracking shots of characters in mundane and slow conversations, this is the film for you. These lesser known actors really nail the long takes throughout the movie. The two women embody Soni and Kalpana perfectly. As if drawing inspiration from their own lives. Sadly the movie is so realistic in the police drama aspect, that I lost interest after the first half. Nothing happens. Thats it. Nothing ever happens. Every time you think the story is going to pick up, that they are going to investigate something interesting, that we might get to see some action, it slows down. While I understand that this is a low budget, more or less an indie movie, maybe I was expecting something spectacular after hearing about this movie. The charm of this film does not lie in its story but in its execution. The fact that a male director could create a nuanced story about sexism experienced by women in Delhi, especially by women who are in position of power. His understanding of the struggle and apt adaptation to screen. But for someone who thrives on a John Wick-esque drama, for a film like Soni thats even more nuanced than most noir police dramas, I guess I am just not the right audience for this movie. Its definitely an artistic film and in my opinion a huge feat for Indian cinema. It is however not for me. I watch movies for escapism and this film is anything but that. If anything, I had to check several times that I was not watching a documentary.
Until next time