In ‘Soni,’ the Female Police Officers Fight Sexism More Than Crime

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Jan 24, 2019

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Image courtesy of 'Soni'

Soni doesn’t have a background score — and it doesn’t need one. In the silences between characters, the disconcertingly quiet Delhi roads at night, and the soundless conceding to male figures, the film allows misogyny to fill these spaces. Delicately balanced with these silences are voices that pierce and chide the two female police officers, protagonists who are ostensibly fighting sexual assault and harassment, even as they must deal with mother-in-laws, husbands, and strangers telling them what is expected of them as women.

Meanwhile, the newsreader on the radio reports government initiatives to solve the problem of women’s safety in the city, by segregating the sexes. The sounds of everyday sexism and the quiet violence it inflicts on women presses down on viewer. Like an understated sonata, the
the slow-moving, 97-minute film moves from one scene to the next, never needing to use dramatic, orchestral flourishes to make its point — the quiet, lone notes are enough to drive the reality home.

Ivan Ayer’s directorial debut, Soni, follows two police officers who act as foils to each other, but who both face similar obstacles in their professional and personal lives. Kalpana, played by Saloni Batra, is a level-headed superintendent of the Delhi police, married to a police commissioner, and is fairly well-off, financially. She’s also very invested in her relationship with a junior officer, Soni, who works with her during the night shift on undercover operations to stop crimes against women. However, Soni is a volatile force, who lets her anger get the better of her, beating up men before they can be apprehended according to protocol and disregarding the rules.

An extremely capable Geetika Vidya Ohlyan plays the firebrand cop, who pushes back against power structures that seek to silence her, but simultaneously respects Kalpana’s opinion of her. As the film builds, Kalpana tries to protect Soni from being reprimanded when she loses her cool, but ultimately her power can only extend so far. Instead, Kalpana’s husband tells her she’s too emotional and soft on her staff, and that Soni belongs at a desk job, where most of the other women officers in the film work.

Other people’s opinions on what Kalpana and Soni should and shouldn’t do, are peppered in throughout the film. Kalpana’s family ask her why she hasn’t had a child yet, offer numbers for doctors, and beg her to stop this night shift business. Her husband tells her multiple times that she’s not strong-willed enough to run her team and that she interferes too much in their personal lives.

Soni, on the other hand, lives alone while ignoring her ex, Naveen’s (Vikas Shukla) attempts to get her back. It’s her elderly neighbour who provides the familiar critiques — she works such late hours, she’s never able to cook for herself, and the always hopeful reminder that Naveen had stopped by and maybe she should speak to him again. When some thugs sent by a minister throw a brick through her window, Naveen yells at Soni the next day, telling her that if he was living with her they wouldn’t have dared to do this. But what he doesn’t seem to understand is that men, himself included, are exactly what Soni wants to gain freedom from. Protection from him would mean setting herself up for another kind of threat instead.

The short, tight vignettes show both women in intimate and public spaces, and the insidious ways in which the patriarchy constantly reminds them of their place. Each scene is seamlessly caught in one shot, and David Bolen’s camera work directs viewers to focus on the two women’s expressions, body language, and movement.

But it’s the film’s overall subtle treatment of the women’s stories, their quiet battles against stereotypes and gender roles, and the final bittersweet outcome, that really does the issue justice. Exchanging dramatic flare for restrained performances, the silences and struggles of the women are amplified even further. And in the end, the sound of misogyny is deafening.

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Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.

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