festival circuit January 4, 2020
drama · films
The film begins with a black screen and the sound of a bicycle bell and a man
catcalling are heard in the background. It is the sound of every terrified memory of making
one’s way through the dark of the night for most girls in India. Even before the visual of the
man stalking the woman on his bicycle is shown, the viewers are immersed in the tension of
The film refuses to force its messages down its audiences’ throat, relying instead
on the truth of the reality it depicts to resonate and shine through despite, or perhaps because,
of the subtle manner in which it is depicted.
Soni follows the lives of two police officers – the titular Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), and
senior superintendent Kalpana (Saloni Batra), as they struggle with hardships, dirty politics,
sexism and blatant discrimination in their personal and professional lives. They work
tirelessly to make the streets safer for women, but emerging victorious in the battles of their
own lives seems impossible.
It doesn’t matter that Kalpana is a smart, successful superintendent – at home she is still
constantly reprimanded by her mother-in-law for not having a child, accused by her husband
of being too “weak” to be a good police officer, and her strong-willed, independent nature
blamed by family members on her being “a Capricorn”. It doesn’t matter that Soni is a
moralistic vigilante who is good at her job – her aggression and violent tendencies don’t fit
the image of a policewoman, and her strong morals don’t fit in a field simmering in
corruption. She is eventually confined by her male superiors to the control room.
It’s interesting to watch Kalpana’s juniors address her as “Sir ji” – a term commonly used to
address male superiors. The term being gender-neutral is a positive concept, but one cannot still overlook
the inherent sexism in a woman’s superiority being acknowledged through male terminology.
However, there is no attempt in Soni to grab its
audience’s attention through a crime or mystery to be solved as the central thread running
through the film, with the women’s lives playing out merely in the background. This is precisely why it does not fit neatly into the genre of a “crime drama”. The
operations their force is working on and the crimes they deal with are never explored in great
detail. Instead, the narrative, through its unhurried pace, long single-take scenes, and empathetic
lens, closely follows the two women – their daily routines, every angered expression, every
defeated sigh, every defiant turn of the head - both in and out of their uniforms.
refuses to indulge in a flashy story to convey its intent, reasserting that its
messages are honest and important enough for the film to lean solely on them.
The film then, is not one for a society trained to crave instant gratification,
quantity over quality, and mindless entertainment. It does not entertain the “art of
tension” as Hannah Gadsby calls the process of building tension and providing the audience
with a release. It constantly builds tension, with
every violent outburst Soni has or every tense conversation between Kalpana and her
husband, but provides no release. There is no moment of catharsis for the audience, because
there is no such moment for either the two women on screen, or the ones that they come to represent in the narrative.
Written by Sanjana Bhagwat