Cast: Radhika Apte, Sumeet Vyas, Angana Roy, Rajesh Sharma
Director: Anushree Mehta
Rating: One star (out of 5)
A fluffy flick that leaves all the heavy lifting to Radhika Apte, Mrs Undercover wilts under the weight of its misdirected frivolity. The film aspires to be funny. It also wants to deliver a message. All that it manages to do is tie itself up in knots. Mrs Undercover has ‘run for cover’ written all over it.
The lead actress plays a docile, dutiful homemaker with an ‘undercover’ past that catches up with her when a serial killer goes on the prowl on the streets of Kolkata and singles out independent-minded women to brutalise.
The man’s murderous rage takes a high toll and leaves the city cops completely clueless. The heroine is compelled by her erstwhile secret service agency boss to put her household chores on hold and don the cloak of the trained agent that she was before she settled into domesticity a decade ago.
Directed by Anushree Mehta with a script jointly written by her and Abir Sengupta, Mrs Undercover would have been infinitely better off had it stayed on paper. The finished film, streaming on Zee5, is a completely muddled job that bumbles its way through spy comedy territory with the aim of extolling the power of a woman who is “just a housewife”.
The message is exasperatingly hollow. The medium is infinitely worse. The double life of Durga is neither funny nor meaningful. As Mrs Undercover beats about the bush, it beats the stuffing out of any real chance that Mrs Durga Das – the character Apte portrays – might have had of making an impact on the world around her.
Durga’s reluctant return to her old job as a special agent is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Like the film, she goes through the ungainly motions. Apte makes game efforts to breathe life into the half-baked character. She is thwarted by the sloppy writing and the gallingly limited character arc.
None of key figures in the film, and this includes the titular protagonist, is able to fight off the ludicrously far-fetched premise and evolve into a believable character.
Mrs Undercover wastes no time in establishing its setting. It opens with a night shot of Howrah Bridge across the Hooghly before it moves into a deserted restaurant where a female lawyer (Amrita Chattopadhyay in a special appearance) awaits the arrival of her date for the evening.
She has just won a divorce case and got a man convicted for domestic violence. She is just the type of woman that can raise the serial killer’s hackles. When the man does get there a few minutes late, his initial demeanour is innocuous enough. But he does not waste much time to unleash his simmering wrath. The woman ends up dead.
That is a shocking opening all right, but nothing that follows the brutal killing, including the actions of a special force trained to tackle terrorists and psychopaths, can shore up the sinking film.
Women deserve much better than what this film has in store for them. Inept and devoid of imagination, Mrs Undercover is worse than a misfire. It is a gun without a bullet. It stutters and sputters its way to a grotesque, hopelessly clunky climax.
You are just a housewife, the amiable mother-wife-daughter-in-law is repeatedly told, especially by her feckless husband, Deb Das (Shaheb Chatterjee). He thinks Durga has no right to refuse to do his bidding. He walks into a trap that puts his life – and marriage – at grave risk but he does not possess the acumen to see where he is headed.
Durga’s former handler, Chief Rangeela (Rajesh Sharma), who is even more of an odious oaf than her hubby, wants her to return to the thick of the action because her name does not exist in the records of the special force that she was once a part of and can, therefore, go about her sleuthing job without attracting undue attention to the mission.
Her husband owns what looks like a shop that sells antiques. His views on women, too, are antiquated. His mother (Laboni Sarkar) – Durga’s mom-in-law – is far more progressive and encourages her to do whatever her heart desires. When she does jump into the fray, we know exactly how things will turn out for her and the man she is in pursuit of.
With a contrived plot severely limiting her options, Durga does not have to do any chasing at all because the film does not believe in keeping any secrets from the audience. The serial killer hides in plain sight. His identity isn’t the point of interest. The vacuous plot centres squarely on the process of Durga’s facile transformation, which is neither convincing nor particularly exciting.
Apte, who played a real-life World War II secret agent with distinction in the 2019 spy drama A Call to Spy, receives none of the support that an actor would require to make the most of an out-of-her-comfort-zone action heroine role meant to power the entire film.
The little that she achieves is wholly owing to the energy that she brings to bear upon the role although, strictly speaking, it takes her some doing to look and sound like an unassuming Bengali housewife happy to perform her domestic chores in anonymity.
Rajesh Sharma, who has a notable track record as a versatile actor, makes futile efforts to make an underwritten role work. A daft plot and pedestrian filmmaking combine to make Mrs Undercover an eminently forgettable action-comedy.
Mrs Undercover is a comatose, half-pie mish-mash. It is sought to be palmed off as female-centric entertainment but its cover is blown in no time.