Jan 24, 2019
Welcome back to another Netflix Original, but not the one I was hoping to review. For reasons as yet unknown, Netflix has postponed releasing “Girl” for streaming services, although likely because of the controversy currently surrounding the film. You can search on your own for that, but in the meantime I thought I would let #FilmTwitter decide with a poll between “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and “Soni”. And the votes came back 50/50. So, I asked One Movie Spouse which one she wanted to watch, and she chose “Soni”, but don’t worry, I’ve got a familiar voice coming back with a review for the other one next Saturday.
For a few other Netflix Originals from India, check out “Love per Square Foot” (Episode #052), “Sometimes” (Episode #136), “Lust Stories” (Episode #168), “Brjj Mohan Amar Rahe” (Episode #220), and “Rajma Chawal” (Episode #344). And if you have any suggestions from Bollywood, let us know at onemoviepunch.com or by reaching out over social media.
Today’s movie is “Soni” (2018), the Netflix Original Indian drama directed by Ivan Ayr and written for the screen in collaboration with Kislay Kislay. The film follows Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan), an officer working on a special task force to combat violent crimes against women, under the direction of her superintendent Kalpana (Saloni Batra). However, after being suspended for alleged misconduct, her future within the police is placed into jeopardy.
In my review for “And Breathe Normally” (Episode #373), I talked a little bit about female solidarity and my ability (or inability) to speak about the female experience. Without covering too much of the same ground, one point I want to reinforce is that sometimes the social structures meant to ensure gender equality end up reinforcing inherent double standards for women. It’s one thing to make gender discrimination illegal, but it’s another thing to remove it from society as a whole. “Soni” brilliantly shows this distinction, and how it plays out today in India, and to a greater or lesser extent, how it plays out in other countries involved in the same transition, including my own.
You can really feel the unbridled frustration in Soni’s character, thanks in large part to an excellent performance by Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, but also a well-structured journey by the writers through the multiple levels of sexual harassment faced by women. The film’s cold open, as featured in the trailer, is brilliantly constructed, showing Soni riding a bicycle and being harassed by a man, whom she confronts viciously and appropriately, until you learn it was a training exercise, which gets factored into the reasons for her suspension. It may seem unwarranted, but Ohlyan then takes Soni through the rest of her story, showing the discrimination she faces from her co-workers, from her superiors, from male citizens disregarding her authority and uniform, from men she meets while off-duty, from her separated husband, from the male members of her family, and from her superior officers, including her own superior Kalpana when her job becomes threatened as well. Each injustice she faces may not always justify her initial actions, or the subsequent actions she takes, but they certainly help the viewer understand her actions, even more so if the viewer has faced any or all of the discrimination faced by Soni.
Messaging is key to “Soni”, but it’s not the only good thing about the film. Ayr uses well-chosen muted filters throughout the film, that matches the depressing and oppressive tone expressed throughout the film. Locations are well chosen to match each situation, and costuming is used well. My main criticism of the film is that the message can also make for tough, depressing viewing, which can make the film feel slow during some transitions. It’s still an astounding achievement by Ayr, especially for a debut feature-length film.
“Soni” (2018) is an insightful and depressing look into gender discrimination, not just in India, but also throughout the world. Geetika Vidya Ohlyan portrays the title character well through a difficult journey, with an ending that will leave audiences divided. Fans of Bollywood, or fans of films about social justice and gender discrimination, should definitely check out this film, but be ready for a tough watch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
One Movie Punch: 8.0/10
“Soni” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.