Just a housewife.
Three words that can rile any right-thinking human.
Along with co-writer Abir Sengupta, Anushree Mehta who writes and directs the story of housewife Durga (Radhika Apte) is unabashed with her messaging. Using background songs that spotlight ‘Durga naari’, ‘Durga Mahakali’ and ‘Shani Rani’ (music: Abhinav Shekhar, Amit Sawant) Mehta is clear whose side she is on.
Serial killer The Common Man (Sumeet Vyas) with a warped brain that gives off chemicals at terms like ‘empowered woman’, may well be a metaphor for all those with a pathological hatred for women who do well outside the realm of home and hearth. Mehta furthers it by making Durga’s husband Deb (Saheb Chatterjee) a patriarchal spouse who utters lines like “Affairs happen, I’m a man” and those ultimate words, “She’s just a housewife”. The director also throws in a quirky mother-in-law (Laboni Sarkar) who is sometimes amnesic, sometimes a closet feminist, coming out in time to encourage Durga to go be the special agent she was once trained to be. And Mehta pads it some more with a female Chief Minister.
The likeable part is that despite the unambiguity of her message, Anushree doesn’t preach gender balance with missionary passion. She opts for a light-hearted, almost fun tone for Durga and her handler Chief Rangeela (Rajesh Sharma). It’s Durga who morphs from typical housewife who unquestioningly does it all for husband, son and parents-in-law to the special agent who tracks the serial killer. But it’s Rangeela who has the maximum fun as he dresses up as priest, bhelpuriwala, bus conductor, rickshaw puller, municipal worker and restaurant waiter, to play Durga’s undercover boss. He gets to mouth the best feminist lines too when he tears into the “just a housewife” perspective. And has comic situations like reminding Durga that someone she has gagged can’t possibly answer her questions.
Mehta avoids making the many chores of the housewife heavy and tedious by keeping it light on the home front too. A slow walking father-in-law (Biswajit Chakraborty) who can’t see without his heavy spectacles, a mother-in-law happy to smoke on the sly.
The humour is silly like undercover agents watching through peepholes in their newspapers. Or a double-crossing agent being casually killed while a telephone conversation is going on.
There are also huge unexplained lapses in reasoning especially in the organisation (which includes women) that works hand-in-glove with the serial killer and the ease with which Rangeela-Durga succeed in a mission that has foxed the cops in more states than one.
Rajesh Sharma gets a range to perform and he handles it with ease. Saheb Chatterjee does well too as husband Deb while Radhika Apte goes overboard with exaggerated expressions when she’s raising a verbal storm.
By setting the mission in Kolkata, the whole atmospherics of fiery Durga is seamlessly woven in. And when Durga commands, soch ko maarna hoga, it’s clear that it’s a mentality that has to be harpooned.
Of course, one always wonders why the concept of a gender-equal Durga can’t be compatible with a happy marriage and why she has to emerge only when there’s cheating and a breakdown in the husband-wife relationship.
But we’ll get there too, one day.
Until then, Anushree’s attempt to push for erasing prevailing views on women and to do it with humour instead of heavy lecturing, is a welcome baby step.
Watch the trailer of Mrs Undercover:
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