Last we saw an Imtiaz Ali creation, it was the horrors of watching Love Aaj Kal 2 and ruing the day we purchased the tickets to watch it on the big screen. So, when Imtiaz Ali’s made his streaming debut with the latest Netflix series She, we wished for the writer, who once gave us gems like Tamasha and Jab We Met, to use the unbridled freedom digital platforms come with and give us a riveting watch he hadn’t been able to in years. But nope, he instead opts to disappoint us in installments- in 7 episodes of around 37 minutes each to be precise.
While watching She, in some parts you will be reminded of Alia Bhatt in Highway and how she fell in love with her captor who somehow freed her from the horrors of being sexually abused as a child. Our protagonist in She, an undercover policewoman posing as a prostitute, begins to fall for the men she is out to bust before hitch-hiking its way into a sudden territory- a woman discovering her sexuality. And that confusing track is mixed with Imtiaz Ali trying to make it a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase between drug smugglers and the police. You will want to thank Ali for limiting it to just 7 episodes.
So, as the story of She goes, we see Bhumika Pardesi, played by a wonderfully emotive Aaditi Pohankar, a constable who lives in a Mumbai Chawl, tending to an ailing mother, looking after a rebellious sister, fending off an ex-husband, and tolerating the men in her life looking down upon her. When she is asked to go undercover as a sex worker and bring down a large cartel, by first tracking low-level goon named Sasya (an excellent Vijay Varma), by officer Fernandez (Vishwas Kini), she vows to prove herself.
Aaditi Pohankar as Bhumi manages to nail moments when she has to be measured and calm, exuding stark vulnerability while uncomfortably pretending to be a sex worker and oh, the moments she gives in to her hidden self-confidence to embrace her bold side. She presents Bhumi as an invisible ordinary individual with the most extraordinary finesse. We also have Vijay Varma nailing his part as the dangerous and despicable drug dealer and dealing out some of the most watchable parts of the series.
In fact, the series floats in parts because of Pohankar and Vijay Verma’s exquisite performances but the erratic, pointlessly jumping-from-one-point-to-another script successfully dominates their presence to give a floppy feeling to the screenplay. There are way too many flashbacks, repetitions of stellar dialogues until they lose steam and some insane amount of verbalizing instead of enacting. The build-up of sexual tension and the suspense fizzles too often to hold any ground when paired with the jumpy camerawork laying out Bhumika’s transformation from an under-confident woman into a seductress in a few scattered montages.
At its core, She’s theme is an exploration of women empowerment but on what Earth is it necessary for a woman to rediscover her sexuality to be given the respect and merits she deserves? Imtiaz Ali’s She ends up being directed by a strong male gaze with a rather flawed mentality of what makes a woman an empowered individual