The action comedy Mrs Undercover is agenda-driven, not story-driven or character-driven. It’s not even clear who the intended audience is for this film that wants to promote women’s empowerment but doesn’t treat the issue with any sophistication.
Instead of first introducing its main character, Durga (Radhika Apte) — a seemingly ordinary housewife — Mrs Undercover opens with the villain, Ajay (Sumeet Vyas): a serial killer who preys on strong, independent women. We hear him beat the feminist lawyer he has tricked into having a date with him before we watch him run over her repeatedly with his car.
This misstep immediately puts the focus on the man committing violence against women, and not the woman who will (ultimately) stand up to him. The very first woman we meet is a victim, and we witness her brutal death.
Ajay goes by the alias “The Common Man,” and he records his victims confessing their crimes against masculinity before murdering them. For some reason, literally everyone in India has their phone set to alert them when The Common Man posts a new video. Why? Who knows?
The special task force assigned to find The Common Man has one last chance to learn his identity. Turns out an undercover agent whose contact information was misplaced happens to live in Kolkata, The Common Man’s new hunting ground. That secret agent is Durga.
Durga married sexist, conservative Dev (Saheb Chatterjee) to establish her cover. But with no word from the special force in a decade, Durga went ahead and started a family. When task force chief Rangeela (Rajesh Sharma) assigns her to the case, she’s not willing to disrupt her family’s routine to do so.
Rangeela’s attempts to bring Durga back into the fold are the funniest part of Mrs Undercover. He surprises her by showing up in odd places wearing disguises that don’t fool anyone.
Sadly, that’s it as far as the laughs go. The dialogue is uninspired, as far as I could tell. Only the Hindi words are subtitled, with the rest reading “???Bengali.” The action scenes are forgettable, too.
That’s because the point of Mrs Undercover isn’t to entertain, but to educate. Somber piano music plays whenever characters launch into heavy-handed speeches about how housewives are special and should be treated with respect. Religious references abound, such as naming the main character Durga and lauding women for managing their households as though they have ten hands.
I’m not sure who writer-director Anushree Mehta is trying to persuade. It’s not like men who look down on women don’t realize they do so. Durga’s husband Dev isn’t a controlling jerk by accident. When Dev’s mother (played by Laboni Sarkar) tries to convince him to allow Durga more freedom, it’s as though Mom has only just realized that her married adult son with whom she lives is sexist.
The characters feel like they came into being just before the events of the film, to serve the purposes of the screenplay. This is especially true in the case of a woman who is one of The Common Man’s accomplices. Why would she agree to help a man who is literally murdering women for refusing to be subservient? We’ll never know, because Durga shoots her before she can explain herself.
Mrs Undercover opens the door to all kinds of feminist issues, only to abandon them or treat them in a simplistic way. Durga joins a Women’s Empowerment group at a local college, and most of the attendees express a desire to start their own businesses. The men running the group instead teach them a choreographed dance routine.
Because the film addresses issues at such a surface level, it doesn’t even realize that movie’s the ultimate message to women is that it isn’t enough to be “just a housewife.” Durga saves the day using skills she learned as a special agent, not abilities she picked up once she started her family. Were she to have succeeded using those skills, the movie might have made a point about all women’s work deserving respect.
The ending assumes that justice is best served via eye-for-an-eye physical retribution meted out individually. Even then, it’s up to women to do the dirty work themselves while men stand and watch. That’s not catharsis. It’s more forced labor for women that absolves men of the work of holding other men accountable. Who does Mrs Undercover think will find this satisfying?
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