Malang: an exploration of female agency
The complications of feminism and representation in Malang
Stories about women falling victim to the male ego are tales as old as time. It goes like this: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl dies, boy goes through an intense transformation and seeks revenge. Mohit Suri’s action-packed, crime-thriller Malang employs a similar storyline, following protagonist Advait on his epic journey seeking retribution against a band of corrupt cops; though the movie is not as predictable as it seems.
Malang takes advantage of crime-thriller stereotypes that are tried and tested: the nomad, the junkie, the prostitute, the good cop, the bad cop. For most of the movie, I associated the characters with their designated conventions, not expecting them to outgrow the roles they were given. Due to the nonlinear narrative structure, the murders are shown before an explanation is provided. In those scenes, the men are portrayed as sympathetic victims of a coldblooded murderer, establishing uncertainty around who the characters really are, and what their intentions might be under layers of false pretenses. It is a story about men in positions of power who wield it for personal gain while still reaping the rewards of the moral high ground.
Flashbacks are used to explain why Advait decides to embark on a murder-spree, days after he is released for serving five years in prison under fabricated charges. The general storyline was not unlike that of movies Ek Villain and Kaabil; all three of them following male protagonists on their journey to defend the honor of their dead (and pregnant) lovers. As soon as I saw Disha Patani’s character, Sara, the walking definition of a manic pixie dream girl, full of love, full of hope, full of potential to piece together the pieces of Advait’s heart; I knew she was going to die. But what does this say about how Indian cinema represents women?
The big twist is that Sara is the mastermind behind the murders. Bollywood movies are so accustomed to feeding the public the same story about helpless women over and over again; that I was genuinely surprised.
Why is the woman scorned a trope that hasn’t been explored as extensively? Vengeful women deviate from the norm, especially ones that spend five years plotting foolproof murder against seemingly honorable, family-oriented men. But does this plot point work as a feminist narrative? Patani sacrifices screentime surrounding the murders, only to be revealed as the real perpetrator in a supercut toward the end.
It is hard to tell if the storyline was well-intentioned or written in for shock value. For a movie exploring female agency, Malang is unsurprisingly male-focused, catering to male audiences until the very end. Ultimately, I didn’t find the real revelation to be that the ‘good cop’ was an abuser and a murderer, or that the police force would cover up violent crimes against women; but that it was not only possible for a woman to survive the wrath of such injustices, it was possible for her to fight back and win.