Soni movie review: Netflix’s finest Hindi film, this deserved better. 4 stars
Soni movie review: Director Ivan Ayr’s Soni is an underrated gem in Netflix’s grand treasure. The film deserved a better launch and more faith. 4 stars
Director: Ivan Ayr
Cast: Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, Saloni Batra
A young woman, maybe in her early 20s, walks down a deserted street early in the afternoon. A man on a cycle rides perilously close to her, reaching out for her breasts the moment he gets a chance. She pushes him off the bike and they are soon surrounded by Delhi Police personnel. The man is arrested and the woman – a cop in plain clothes – gives herself a mental shake before she goes to stand on yet another road, trying to keep the women safe.
As a reporter who was part of Delhi Police’s drive against eve-teasing – yes, that’s what it was called back in the day when I watched the scene unfold – I have often wondered what that woman must have gone through, thought, felt. Could she have accepted it all as part of her duty, would she have felt violated, would she have wanted to react with her fists?
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Soni lashes out, she blows a fuse and doesn’t apologise every time she is faced with sexism and misogyny – whether on the streets of Delhi or inside the ‘safe’ confines of work and home. Like that policewoman from all those years come back to life, Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) in the eponymous Netflix film is a Sub Inspector who along with her boss Kalpana (Saloni Batra) is keeping the streets safe for women.
Ivan Ayr’s film opens in midst of such an operation targeting crimes against women. Verbally abused by a man, Soni doesn’t read him his rights; she breaks his jaw before her mild-mannered superior can pry her away. She is a repeat offender in a world where men are entitled and women considered lesser despite their achievements. Misogyny in this world is insidious and inherent, social strata notwithstanding.
The film may be named Soni but it is a character study of both women – Soni living in a middle-class colony and her IPS boss who is married to a senior police officer. Once the uniform is off, Kalpana is yet another junior partner in marriage, harangued for not having children despite being in her 30s and told off by her husband for being ‘too soft’ for the police force.
Soni, her anger coming from years of sexist treatment, has her own demons. Estranged from her husband Naveen, she is often counseled by her well-meaning neighbour to make up, for what is a woman without a man? As the lines between her personal and professional life blur and she is attacked at home, Naveen says it has happened because they don’t live together. A lone woman – even one who wears khaki – is an easy target, and needs a man for protection.
The two women forge an unlikely friendship, joined by their passion towards their work. A scene where Soni is ready to give up and Kalpana reaches out to her with author Amrita Pritam’s seminal work Rasidi Ticket is poignant in its handling.
The narrative gives layers to the two women, making them three-dimensional characters who have to face up to societal expectations, demands of the job and tyranny of gender roles. Without any music, the scenes are shot as single-takes and low-key at all times. David Bolen’s camera is discreet as it never intrudes.
Soni doesn’t give any answers, it doesn’t dramatize problems too. It just shows life as it is and is all the more powerful for it. Perhaps one of the most masterful Indian films on Netflix, I am surprised that the OTT giant didn’t give it a better launch. Like the women it champions, Soni deserved better.
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