Radhika Apte is one of the most talented artists working in various national and international industries. She has proven that she can ace every genre, be it horror, drama, mystery, thriller, or comedy. At one point, she even became a meme due to her ongoing professional relationship with Netflix, as people alleged that the streaming platform only hired her to star in their movies and shows. But either Apte, her agents, or Netflix took that joke way too seriously, and the actress started to venture into projects by Zee5, Prime Video, and Disney Plus Hotstar, which were of varying degrees of underwhelming. Thankfully, her appearance in “Monica, O My Darling” and her first theatrical outing after a gap of three years in “Vikram Vedha” showed that she hasn’t lost a step. However, instead of continuing that streak, Apte has started off 2023 with the awful “Mrs Undercover.”
Durga is married to Deb, and they have a son named Joy. Although Durga dreams of being a “special force agent,” she wastes her life looking after her husband, her son, and her in-laws. Elsewhere in Kolkata, a serial killer who calls himself the “Common Man” is straight-up murdering women who are either empowered or on their way to smashing the patriarchal norms imposed by society. After he kills an agent of the special forces, he becomes the organization’s No. 1 priority. But due to their dwindling resources, Chief Rangeela is forced to bring Durga out of retirement and help them arrest Ajay (Common Man). Initially, she refuses because she has too much going on in her personal life. That said, when she learns that the threat is imminent and almost at her doorstep, she decides to divide her time between her family and the special forces.
As you can clearly deduce from that synopsis, Abir Sengupta and Anushree Mehta’s writing in “Mrs Undercover” has no subtext whatsoever. They want to talk about how men who walk through the crowd in the local market, meet you for a date after a brief chat on a dating app or arrange feminist meetings can end up being the most sexist, misogynistic, and dangerous beings on the face of this planet. So, the villain of the movie is called the “Common Man,” who is approachable by day and a killer by night. The writers want to portray women as people who can be a goddess, a housewife, and a trained superspy if they want to. So, the heroine of the film is named Durga, who can perform all kinds of martial arts, tend to her “family,” and then perform a dance number whose lyrics underscore everything that her character represents. It’s blunt to an unnecessary extent. Sengupta and Mehta likely thought that the audience wasn’t going to “get it,” but a little nuance would have benefited this otherwise interesting twist on “The Family Man” trope.
The inconsistent tone in Anushree Mehta’s direction is incredibly evident. It’s never clear if we are supposed to take this movie seriously or if we are supposed to perceive it as a parody of self-serious movies and shows about special agents. The way the “special forces” operate is akin to something from Abbas-Mustan’s “Baadshah.” They wear obvious disguises and appear out of nowhere in temples, taxis, and trams. Their “headquarters” look so fake due to the lighting and the overall production design that you’ll start to question if the whole movie is taking place inside the mind of Durga’s son, Joy. And there’s virtually no difference between the editing and choreography of the action sequences in Durga’s dreams and the ones that apparently take place in real life. So, when the film wants to issue a message about modern-day feminism, it all falls flat. On top of that, “Mrs Undercover” has no sense of pacing. The first 50 minutes don’t progress the plot or do anything fun with the premise. There are multiple unimportant altercations that go on forever. Why weren’t they just left on the cutting-room floor? Well, that’s a mystery even Durga can’t solve.
Radhika Apte is the only saving grace here. She is clearly fighting for her life to engage the audience. She never hesitates when she has to make a fool of herself. When she has to appear intimidating and channel all the rage bubbling inside her, she does that with immense confidence. When she needs to break down and cry because her character feels lost, her sadness is palpable. As far as I can tell, she has done a lot of her stunts, which is commendable. So, you can critique the way those scenes have been presented, but Apte has given her all to this role. Sumeet Vyas doesn’t look like he wants to be in this film. There’s not even a second where he feels “villainous.” Even when he’s saying or doing something that’s technically heinous, he looks and sounds bored. There’s not a single instance where Rajesh Sharma, like always, is firing on all cylinders to make Chief Rangeela as memorable as possible. As for the rest of the cast, they are all fine. They’ve done exactly what they were asked to do, hopefully, cashed their check, and moved on to the next project. Nothing too memorable, nothing too grating.
At the end of “Mrs Undercover,” Abir Sengupta and Anushree Mehta commit the biggest mistake one can make after taking viewers through one of the worst audio-visual experiences of all time, i.e., teasing a sequel. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going through the minds of the filmmakers to promise another movie with the titular special agent after fumbling with her first on-screen mission. Maybe they are banking on the viewers of Zee5 to watch and rewatch it so much that the streaming platform and the producers have no other option but to greenlight “Mrs Undercover 2.” And if that happens, I genuinely hope that they spend more time in the writers’ room, find a consistent tone, and acquire some kind of expertise in terms of visual storytelling because Radhika Apte deserves better than this slop. I don’t know where things are going wrong, but I do hope she sorts things out and stars in movies and shows that aptly use her talent. In the meantime, please feel free to check out this alleged “franchise starter” for Radhika Apte, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.