A Gripping Crime Thriller, ‘She’ Is a Cop’s Journey of Self-Discovery From Plain-Jane to Wily Minx
An undercover assignment becomes a timid Mumbai constable’s road to empowerment, as she realises her potential.
Director: Arif Ali, Avinash Das
Cast: Aaditi Pohankar, Vishwas Kini, Vijay Varma, Kishore Kumar
Runtime: Under 40 minutes per episode
When I heard that Imtiaz Ali was writing a crime thriller series for Netflix, I was over the moon. The expert storyteller has given us movies like Love Aaj Kal and Jab We Met, both gathering a cult of fans in the romance genre. Furthermore, Ali is a connoisseur in writing strong female characters that are well-loved by the audience.
Safe to say, I devoured She in less than 24 hours. I was initially impressed on a macro level with the storyline and twists that the series brought. However, upon reflecting on the series for a few days, cracks began to show under a magnifying glass.
The first season of She has seven episodes, each with a decent thirty odd minutes in length that makes for a quick binge. Bhumika Pardeshi (Aaditi Pohankar) plays a plain-Jane police officer who lives with her mother and sister in a chawl, living quarters where spaces are the size of shoeboxes and everyone is miserably cramped together.
She has nothing going for her except divorce proceedings from her abusive ex-husband who has eyes for Bhumika’s sister. Damsel in distress is an understatement because Bhumika literally has all the problems a lower middle class woman can have.
Enter Officer Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini) from the Narcotics Bureau, who personally scouts Bhumika to go undercover in a high-stakes drug case as a prostitute. He is convincing and overbearing, while manipulating her into taking the job and unabashedly putting her life in danger several times. As per the plan, she is picked up by the drug lord Sasya (Vijay Varma), which marks the beginning of Bhumika exploring her sexuality – a recurring theme throughout the series.
She is essentially a journey of self-discovery, disguised as a crime thriller. All her male counterparts in the show, even the short pudgy constable with a huge potbelly, describe Bhumika as “manly-looking” and “nothing special”. Through her alter ego set up for the drug raid, Bhumika discovers her sexuality and the power it possesses as she slowly learns about the contours of her body and how to use it against men. How she uses her newfound weapon to bring down main drug kingpin Nayak (Kishore Kumar) is the premise of the rest of the season.
Directors Arif Ali and Avinash Das nailed their impeccable casting. Pohankar portrays Bhumika’s transformation in much detail, showing her change in attitude primarily through body language. She never takes the easy way out by relying solely on make-up and wardrobe to convey the change to the audience. The antagonists, played by Varma and Kumar, never really feel like they’re the bad guys. I found myself oddly rooting for both of them at various parts of the series. Be it their different accents or motivations, each actor plays their character perfectly.
Another aspect highlighted in the series is how technically good it is. The cinematography is exceptional, successfully capturing the scenes of Mumbai, while the lowly-lit shots maintain the consistent dark theme of the series. The background score is exceedingly gripping as the perfect complement to the darkness of the shots while the pace of the entire series never slows down, keeping viewers constantly on edge for the next twist. With the acting and production side nailed, half the battle is won for a successful story. However, the writing lets the series down.
Where I was let down is through the women “empowerment” side of things. Bhumika’s sexual awakening and prowess was essentially the orchestration of all the men around her. Ali’s writing left her with no agency of her own to be the director of her own change. While this makes a separate point in itself, Ali mispackaged it as female empowerment for the masses. Women deserve more.
Female sexuality is already under represented and swept under the rug in mainstream narratives. Ali, who is known for some of his iconic female characters, misses the mark with development of Bhumika in She. She developed and found her sexuality solely from the male gaze and her psyche was not expanded upon. I was disappointed but not surprised with yet another trophy display of female empowerment in the Indian entertainment industry.
She is gripping from a purely crime thriller perspective. It has enough twists and turns to keep the audience engaged with decent protagonists, all while being a technical treat to watch. The series belongs to the performance of the cast, with Varma and Pohankar stealing the show.
She falls short in its undertone of false feminism, which is used as a decorative garnish rather than an intense marinade. However, it performs very well based purely on entertainment value, which led me to obsessively binge the show, about 220 minutes that I do not regret spending.
Meanwhile, here’s the trailer for She:
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