The film is set in the post Nirbhaya case Delhi. Soni is a young woman in the Police force and is a part of a Police operation to scavenge the streets off the rapists and assaulters. This operation is headed by her Superior, Kalpana. Kalpana is an IPS officer who is sensitive towards her Junior, Soni, or a little too sensitive as believed by her husband, who is also in the forces.
Soni, the new Netflix film, is a look at women of different ages/generations and their response to the insensitive treatment by men towards them. Soni is a young, fiesty Police officer who can’t help but land a few blows to the man that attempts to assualt her. Her superior, IPS Kalpana (who is a few years elder) is milder and believes in working as per the Protocol to arrest the assualter and take due action. Then we have Soni’s neighbour, a woman in her late 50s, who, in her youth, used to put on a Sindhoor to prevent the lechorous men from oogling at her, as she walked past them and advises Soni to do the same. Here are three women of different ages, the oldest finds ways of changing herself in order to survive, middle aged Kalpana, believes in the Protocols and the young Soni, can’t seem to hold back her hand. The continued perverseness seems to have filtered out any little patience women have had over the years.
Ivan Ayr’s film is an extremely nuanced and sensitive take on the prevalent atrocities against women, especially in the Capital city. Delhi is a perfect set-up for Ayr’s film as it seamlessly incorporates the arrogance of the aristocrat, manipulation of the middle-class and the perverse daring of the lower-class. Because it is Delhi, the filmmaker has the chance to integrate the problem of rape with the absurd solutions to this problem, that are proposed by the people in the same city, the Government. We hear Ministers in radio, proposing measures to curb the burgeoning rate of rapes by segregation of the two sexes. Different buses, different taxis are some of the solutions the Ministers come up with. The film subtly magnifies the missing empathy or understanding. Men in Police force, household and Politics seem far removed from the sensitivity of the situation and either propose archaic rules like segregation or as a character says ” You need me at home, so this wouldn’t happen ” when a hooligan stones a single woman’s window. This behaviour exposes the double-standards of a society marred by hierarchy that is topped by a man. As a woman, you are allowed to become an IPS officer but are still bound to perform your duties as per the men above you. You might be a woman police officer but your man believes that he needs to be at home to protect you from the hooligans. As a woman, you are expected to seek advise or help.
For a film that deals with women issues in the society, it is not biased to just one perspective. Early on in the film, we get a scene where a middle-class woman is trying to take advantage of the situation in the society by falsely accusing her landlord of attempt to rape, only to avoid paying rent. Hence, the film does not just advocate women’s safety rights but paints an honest picture of the society that dwells in exploitation.
The performances in the film are top-notch. The Director stays away from any kind of manipulation and presents the true selves of these characters through his untained gaze. Geetika Vidya Ohlyan as Soni and Saloni Batra as Kalpana are terrific. Geetika brings to her role a physicality that is both strong and vulnerable. As the film moves forward, we understand that her physicality is a shield to her broken pieces. Saloni Batra is one of the best characters written for women in recent times. An IPS officer who is constantly advised by her family. An elder cousin advising her to have a baby, her husband advising her to be a stricter and unsentimental officer. In the middle of being superior at work and being at the constant receiving end at home, she nurtures a bruised Soni into staying afloat in the battle against the wrongdoers. This is the most dense, vulnerable and yet, heroic character that has been written recently.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the director was a Man. Its quite poetic that a man made this immensely personal film about women, that understands and empathizes with women, countering all the methods used by men in the film, to protect the women characters, proving that empathy triumphs over a distant gaze and idiotic preventive measures. Soni is a definite winner, both the film and the character. The film does not answer anything. It does not offer solutions. Instead, it does the most needful thing, by putting an arm around and trying to empathize with the characters and compels us to introspect. Soni is a mature, masterful piece of filmmaking.