Rj Stutee review Imtiaz Ali’s, She.

‘She’ Succumbs to a Confused Plot & Problematic Protagonist

The series is created by Imtiaz Ali. 

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‘She’ Succumbs to a Confused Plot & Problematic Protagonist

Desperate times call for desperate measures. While the coronavirus is forcing everyone to stay at home, what is the best way to put those idle hours when not working from home to good use? A new series, She, created by Imtiaz Ali, has dropped on Netflix. Ali hasn’t been in the best form lately, and after his last offering Love Aaj Kal 2, the apprehension about his work is only increasing.

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However, there is a curiosity too because She looks like something we haven’t seen Imtiaz Ali associate himself with. The story, which he has co-written with Divya Johry, is about a nondescript police officer who goes undercover to nab a dangerous drug dealer.

This seven-part series (each episode running for around 35 minutes) has been directed by Arif Ali and Avinash Das. The striking quality about every episode is how, bit by bit, it kills our interest and expectations .

The first episode is probably the best - which sadly isn’t saying much - and by the last one you realise that the show stubbornly never moved an inch from its one-line brief . While you keep hoping that things would get better, that there is more to the characters than what meets the eye, the show scarcely redeems itself.

The series operates on two levels. One is the regular “police chasing the drug dealer” motif. And the other is following Bhumi Pardesi’s ( Aaditi Pohankar) graph as she discovers her sexuality and the power she can wield with it. On both these levels the show not only is lacklustre but also deeply problematic. We meet Bhumi on the job as she stands before Sassya (Vijay Varma) in gaudy clothes and loud make-up, ready to be his pick for the night. Vijay Varma, who wowed us with his impeccable performance in Gully Boy, is splendid as usual. One of the many men in the drug network that the police seek to bust, Varma is convincing as the cocky, foul-mouthed criminal who gets aroused by Bhumi’s gun-wielding avatar.

Aaditi Pohankar in a still from <i>She</i>.
Aaditi Pohankar in a still from She.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

Don’t be fooled by the title She thinking it would have a deep insight into what motivates a female cop to navigate in this big, bad world. Because ‘he’, that is Imtiaz Ali, offers his very skewed notion of what women want and how they must be treated.

In Cocktail (written by Ali), the sexist and misogynistic philosophy is masked in drool-worthy dresses. However, the stink is similar to what we find here. She too has the same surface-level and half-cooked notion of what women want by pitch-forking a female character in some extraordinary circumstances. But make no mistakes about it, the gaze is decidedly male and the mindset nauseating .

Bhumi is belittled everywhere, be it at home by her family or at the workplace. She is ridiculed by her husband for being frigid. At work, one of the colleagues asks her why she has joined the profession that isn’t meant for women. She replies, “Mujhe pagaar milti hai mein kush hai (I am making money and I am happy with it).”

Vijay Varma in a still from <i>She</i>.
Vijay Varma in a still from She.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

Bhumi says the same thing when as a prostitute she is asked by the man she was sent to seduce if she likes the work she does. When Bhumi is chosen by Jason Fernandes (Vishwas Kini) the reason he furnishes is that she isn’t conventionally attractive and will be easy to control. Because obviously taming a wild woman is just unnecessary effort when you can have a timid, unsure one at hand. When a couple of episodes later Bhumi gives it back to Fernandes, he is quick to call her a ‘b***h’ . “Hope I haven’t created a Frankensteinian monster,” he says. The said monster though is always made to define herself through a masculine gaze. Her diatribe against Rupa (Shivani Rangole) that surfaces later in the series is because she feels her sister mocks her for not being sexually attractive while she has men swooning over her. An exploration of female sexuality as power is interesting but here it is compromised by making Bhumi surrender repeatedly to the male gaze and look for their approval as validating her existence or ability. Her sole reason to exist is because the men, both in her personal life and at work, can fit her into roles they find convenient. The main villain - drug mafia head Nayak (Kishore Kumar G)- makes an appearance as late as the sixth episode and both the plan and the series end on a damp squib. There is no real tension and the frenzied camerawork only aggravates the problems.

A still from <i>She</i>.
A still from She.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

The times She captivates us are few and far, and it’s mostly because of Aaditi Pohankar and Vijay Varma. As the plain-looking girl who swallows hard each time she is pushed to the brink, Aaditi shows great understanding of her character’s exasperated mental state. Vijay Varma gets a raw deal and a badly-sketched character, but he plays it vociferously. Overall, from the shabbily-written and confused plot that offers very little meat and it’s dodgy feminist protagonist, there is enough merit to stay away from She.

Our rating: 2 quints out of 5

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