The writing in Revolver Rani winks at the seventies and the jargon of hero-centric blockbusters. So Police ne tumhe chaaron taraf se gher liya hai becomes Police ko hamne chaaron taraf se gher liya hai.
The menace of a hero or a villain once conveyed through lines like, Teja..Teja..Teja..kaun hai yeh Teja turns into Alka..Alka..Alka..kaun hai ye Alka.
And it is not the heroine, but a man in the film who is issued the age-old filmy warning, Ghar se kadam bahar rakha to tange tod doonga!
The tagline of the film, Ab mard ko dard hoga! itself is a spin on Manmohan Desai’s Mard where it was reinforced time and again that Mard (the symbol of ultimate masculinity in Hindi films) ko dard nahin hota.
Here the Mard motiff goes through various stages of deconstruction and it all begins with an underwear contest (we kid you not) with male contestants parading before Alka (Kangna Ranaut) who strikes an imperious pose and watches on.
The male body and female gaze switch is both amusing and satirical. Not just that when her boyfriend is kidnapped by her foes and is tied up much like the helpless heroines of the seventies, she arrives in style, shooting everything in sight, flying midair in slow motion before she “rescues” her man.
Ranaut’s Alka is also the female version of the angry heroes who attribute every crime they commit to a violently interrupted childhood. She strides into the frame to the thump of a signature tune inspired by RD Burman, with her riotous curls and no sign of artifice that heroines are encouraged to cultivate.
She is seductive, apologetic and maternal only when she wants to be. Alongside her story is that of a country where tribal lands are cleared off by ministers to make way for big business enterprises in exchange for a multi-crore kickback. And where political games can get bloody, vicious and appallingly dirty in a second. Where sting operations and hilariously inane news-readers add both chaos and mirth to the mess that is Indian politics. The film is a cross between the Putli Bai genre of pulp novels/cinema and the almost sublime violence from the world of Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Here too, the woman smashes all cinematic cliches along with anyone who dares to stand in her way.
Ranaut’s Alka is neither the nautch girl (she makes her lover dance to her tunes instead) turned dacoit like Putli nor real like Phoolan. She is a larger-than-life figure who flaunts bustiers from Milan and a baby bump with equal conviction. The problem is that as the story unfolds, you realise that for all her courage and fearlessness, Alka is afterall just a putli, a puppet in the hands of men. Her uncle (the always formidable Piyush Mishra) writes her speeches, decides what she will do and when. He will allow her to kill but not to live the way she wants
And her lover (Vir Das) though just putty in her hands is the chink in her armour. He is a cocaine snorting loser she can’t see through and keeps returning to after being brushed off again and again.
The narrative loses its focus when the gun toting Alka decides to get married on the banks Yamuna near Taj Mahal. She wants a baby, not just because she wants one but because she wants to prove she is not a baanjh (infertile), the biggest slur used against women along with kulta and chudail in our films.
She also has a fair and lovely complex and bathes in milk to lose her tan. She is done in by this need to conform in the end but as the last scene shows, she just may come back for a sequel.
Director Sai Kabir has an inventive mind and though his attempt to change the gender of heroism in our cinema is brave, the film gets muddled and confused like Alka in the end. The cinematography captures small town unrest well. The lines are funny. The performances solid and the music rich with reference points.
It is Kangana however who rules the chaos and transitions from Rajauri Baagh’s Rani to Revolver Rani, with great energy. She is always, always watchable. Wish the same could be said about the film.
Verdict: Brave, but confused.
Film: Revolver Rani
Director: Sai Kabir
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Vir Das, Piyush Mishra