The first half of Revolver Rani was awesome. Rani is a crime boss who doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks. She shoots guns and has sex and wears amazing outfits.
The second half is an exercise in the disparity between narrative and audience expectations. What I want is a movie about a woman who shoots guns, has sex, and wears amazing outfits. I mean, that’s basically the Dhoom series, right? So as the film progresses, Rani decides to settle down. That’s a logical arc, but less fun.
Let’s pause to consider the many movies were cool men decide to settle down. Pandey in Dabangg gets married, but he still kicks ass until the end.
Alka (Kangana Ranaut), the titular rani, is a woman in power, a woman of violence. She swings a gun and rules the town. Alka is the product of violence, and so she uses violence. Violence is power. “I’m not bad,” she says, “I’m brutal.” A gun means the ability to live fearlessly.
And power is tied up in love is tied up in violence, in a never ending circle. A character says “The world belongs to those who can love,” and Alka cries when she hears this, but the world belongs to those have power, and violence creates and enforces that power.
She fancies an actor, Rohan (Vir Das), and has him kidnapped and brought to her house. She desires him, and has the power to get him, the power to compel him to stay. And the violence to support that power.
She confronts her father’s murderer (and would-be rapist of her mother), who has usurped her political role. “You won by cheating,” she declares. But he says that in her five years as a politician, she didn’t accomplish anything. As is so often the case in India cinema, politics and action are opposed. Politicians are ineffectual or corrupt. Alka tried to be “legitimate,” but to accomplish something, she needs guns, not votes.
Likewise, Alka’s backstory shows how official channels fail. She was married, he cheated, she killed him. She tells Rohan she will kill him if he cheats, and that “Only I have the right to attack you.” Violence can be seen as a sign of passion, devotion, but her words reveal what domestic violence really is: an attack.
After a stint in prison, Alka runs again for political office. She wins, and soon discovers she is pregnant. This is a sign from God that she is the right choice and her opponent is impotent. Alka had explained earlier that God had a grudge against her, that she was barren. The grudge is over. As a pregnant woman, Alka now has the feminine power of giving life, to go with her masculine power of taking it.
From here, the motives of the movie’s characters become muddied, and it’s not really clear why anyone does what they do. Love has muddied up the power, power has muddied up the love. And violence is ever-present. What’s interesting is that this change hinges on something so feminine: a baby.
Alka wants to marry Rohan; when video is leaked of their wedding, the union is denied and Rohan participates in a fake marriage to another woman. Rohan then tries to rape his fake wife, and when Alka catches them, Rohan blames the other woman. Alka’s uncle wants her to abort. Alka beats her uncle for this comment, then says she will change and be a good mother. Finally, her uncle visits her enemy, suggesting they kill her.
Alka is attacked, and left for dead. The movie ends with the revelation that she is still alive.
I like that this movie takes a stereotypical action trope, “the man out for revenge,” and combines it with another, “I’m going to be a parent.” But the impact of pregnancy is obviously different than having a pregnant partner. She wants to write her own destiny and that means having her child and being a good mother. And ultimately, this female story is what gets her killed. Not her earlier violence, not her corruption, but for choosing to become a mother. She had tried the traditional female path (marriage), failed, was punished, tried a more masculine lifestyle and was successful, returned to a more feminine path, and was punished again.
What shouldn’t get lost is that, essentially, this movie is a parody. It’s meant to be over the top and violent and frenetic. When watching this movie, I was reminded of Tees Maar Khan. But there are still so few movies like this with women in the lead, which makes all of the implications heavier. It’s hard to accept funny violence when serious violence against women is still such a common element of movies. Add to that, there are so few female action characters that I just wanted to immerse myself in Alka being cool and badass. The turn would have been boring enough to me if she was male, but it was devastating because she was female.
Will you laugh, then, when I tell you that as a feminist text, Revolver Rani is problematic? Violence is glorified. Women are attacked. Men punish them. A woman rises and then falls so far. It’s a fun movie, if you don’t mind violence, but as always, I wish for more, more, more.