When it comes to a Zoya Akhtar or Reema Kagti show, one has to remember that theirs will always be a female-centric show or a film. Not female-centric just for the heck of it, these two prolific writers and directors make sure to ask the right questions about women, their rights, bodies, freedom, and whatnot. Their body of work is proof of that. We hardly come across any mainstream filmmakers from the Hindi film industry who talk about the female gender in the most subtle yet poignant way. Zoya Akhtar and Reem Kagti, through this show, not just let us get a peek but held up a full-fledged mirror of a society that still cannot treat women as equals. Dahaad is based in Mandawa, Rajasthan, and SI Anjali Bhatti hardly finds herself welcome in a male-dominated police force. The only person who is supportive of her work is her boss, SHO Devilal Singh, the knight in shining armor. The man who lets her be.
Anjali Bhaati’s struggle is the struggle that every woman faces, but on the frontal level it does not seem very problematic. Once you dig deep into it, you get to see why it is problematic and needs to be questioned. She does not want to be addressed as “female Singham” because she knows it is meant to ridicule her because of her gender. But despite all of these name-callings, Anjali stands her ground and does not let this affect the one reason she has joined the force: to help people out. Anjali comes from a family where women are not treated as human beings. As per her mother, she is supposed to be a coy and shy woman, which would make men like her, and eventually, she would be married to any of these men, with no one bothering to ask her if she feels alright about this relationship. As Anjali states, her father was the only person who supported her dreams, and the father backing their daughter is a running theme in the show. This kind of trope is only seen if a woman is writing a male character. We saw that in Piku, Bareilly ki Barfi, and Zoya’s previous work, Dil Dhadakne Do, where the father finally apologizes to his daughter.
Anjali Bhaati here comes across as a strong woman who is a no-nonsense cop. Someone who is not afraid to leap, thanks to her mentor/boss, SHO Devilal Singh. She wants to do the right thing, but one can’t say she is thriving in that area. She is struggling because she is reminded daily of her gender and her caste. For the first time, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, and Ritesh Shah speak about a female lead being targeted for her caste. Though Anjali is hardly affected by it, she knows it is an inherent societal norm that, even in the 21st century, people still choose to discriminate against other people based on caste, even though they overlook the fact that she is an officer in uniform. She can very well arrest them for discrimination, but people are hardly worried about that. Her caste is something she wears with pride, and she never lets it bring down her morale or the dedication she shows toward her work. She knows the law of the land, and she won’t let anyone surpass it or go around her.
Anjali’s quest for the serial killer in this show piqued her interest when she understands that there is a pattern in the way women are being lured and killed. This helps her unearth not one, not two, but 29 murders of women that have been carried out by one man. On the hunt to find this man who supposedly has some hatred towards women and is carrying out this ghastly act, she comes across some uncomfortable truths about the state of women around her and the way it mirrors her life as well. The thought comes as a realization, which is that women around her, including herself, have been brainwashed to consider themselves to be a burden on the family, for all the family could think of on the day a daughter is born is her marriage, her dowry, and how important it is to have a man in her life. Women are told constantly and consistently that their existence is nothing without a man in their life. Be it her husband or her son. That’s why women are also pushed to have a son. Anjali lets this fact be known to her mother, who has been pushing her to consider one of the suitors she has put forward for Anjali. Anjali was stern enough to let her mother know that the reason these women fell for this monster of a man was that they were always told to rely on men for life ahead, there being no other identity that a woman could carry. This cultural brainwashing for generations lets young women fall prey to men who only gratify their own needs and forget to look beyond that. They know such women are vulnerable because of their upbringing, and these women become easy targets. Anjali’s words were an eye-opener for her mother because she understood that she was also raised with this mindset. Maybe it was the norm, but just because it was the norm does not make it right.
Anjali knows her woes are far from over because her caste and people don’t seem to let her forget them. Her colleague lights incense sticks every time she leaves the police station. It is his way of showing that Anjali being from another caste is impure. Her being a superior officer to him does not bother the man, for he feels he is still socially superior to her. Anjali reaches a point where she does not let it affect her or her life as a police officer. When Anand Swarnakar was finally caught, the first question she asked was, “Why would he kill those innocent women?” The man was quick to respond that the women he killed were far from innocent because they spoke to and flirted with a strange man like him. If any of these women were innocent, they would be at home, living the life society has pushed them to live. She is disgusted, but his mentality, which practically means the women he killed had it coming, makes Anjali realize even an educated man like him cannot look beyond these patriarchal thoughts and ideas where women are still inferior to males, and they can only dream of being treated and respected as equals. The show ends with Anand throwing casteist slurs at her and insinuating that a woman like her is immoral for working 24×7 with men and having lustful thoughts for her boss. Anjali knew full well that this would be a never-ending journey for her, and all she could do was live her life the way she had planned and never let a man or a woman derail it. To live up to her identity, she also changes her surname to Meghwal to own up to her family and her legacy. Anjali knows her life ahead will be filled with social obstacles, but just like before, she is ready to take it in stride, do her work diligently, and move on.