It’s OK to hate-watch, sometimesNetflix’s Mrs. Serial Killer is a terrible film, but you don’t have to feel guilty about watching it. At times like this, when we’re all stressed, hate-watching is—in some ways—cathartic.
First-off, to be honest, this is not my first time hate-watching a film. I have hate-watched quite a few Nepali films, mostly those available on YouTube.
‘Hate-watching’ was first discussed by Emily Nussbaum in the American magazine The New Yorker. But I like how Chicago Tribune writer Christopher Borrelli puts it: “Hating is a personal, ugly act, directed at someone, place or thing; hate-watching is an irrational, compulsive act that mixes satisfaction with disgust and often says as much about the person hate-watching as it does the object of their hate-watching.”
Hate-watching for me is deriving pleasure from reaffirmation. There’s something satisfying about knowing I was right all along, that what I was watching was indeed bad right from the get-go. Netflix catalogues its latest Hindi language film, Mrs. Serial Killer, as a dark, suspenseful thriller. But if there ever were a category for ‘unintentional comedy’, then this film would definitely top the list.
My first introduction to Shirish Kunder—the director, writer and editor of the film—was when #KritiStoleBob was trending all over Nepali social media in the summer of 2016. Aneel Neupane, a Nepali film maker, had accused Kunder of ‘stealing the plot’ of his film BOB for Kunder’s short film Kriti. As of today, both parties are in a stalemate. They have filed lawsuits against each other but the issue hasn’t yet been resolved.
Coming back to the film: when I read the description for Mrs. Serial Killer on Netflix, I was quite intrigued. The lines read: ‘to prove she hadn’t married a killer, she may have to become one herself’, and I thought I was in for an edge-of-the-seat experience. How wrong I was. The whole while I was watching the film, I kept thinking of the atrocious waste of resources—money, time, and the million other things that goes into making a film—that went into making the film. The experience was so frustrating that it compelled a second watch. This time, I found my reactions more vocal—almost yelling at the carelessness of the filmmaker. I was hate-watching.
Sona Mukherjee (Jacqueline Fernandez) believes that her husband, Mrityunjoy Mukherjee or Joy (Manoj Bajpayee), is being framed for being a serial killer. He is arrested for kidnapping, and forcefully aborting and then murdering six pregnant women. He is also accused of preserving the fetuses inside glass jars. The film also makes it a point to repeatedly mention that pregnant women are unmarried, but why? We’ll get to what that’s about later.
Sona’s ex-boyfriend, Imran Shahid (Mohit Raina), is the investigating officer in the case and it’s him who discovers the dead bodies in a plot of land owned by Joy. Sona believes that Imran has framed her husband to get back at her. She then employs Rastogi (Darsan Jariwala) as her defense lawyer. Rastogi believes Sona but the bail he applied for his client is denied.
Rastogi then comes up with a plan. He suggests that to free Joy, the court has to be convinced that it has the wrong man. And the only way to do that is to execute a similar crime: kidnap an unmarried pregnant girl, perform an abortion, murder her, and preserve the fetus inside a glass jar. To save her husband, Sona agrees to do it.
Then, Sona selects her victim, Anushka Tiwari (Zayn Marie Khan), and devises a plan to kidnap her. As Sona stalks Anushka, she finds out that she is a Ninja—a literal one—who can kick real high. At this point Sona looks up at God, and asks, “Why do all conflicts have to be in my story”. This is the exact scene from the film. And we, as the audience, cannot help but laugh. Not at Sona’s reaction though, but at Kunder’s writing.
The entire film is told from Sona’s point of view. And yet, we never get to know her. Sona becomes what the script demands of her at different points in the film. In the beginning, she is a devoted wife looking for a way to get her husband out of jail. Then, she is a detective who can locate people and stalk them professionally. As the film progresses, she turns out to be an allergist. And when there’s a fight scene, the woman can go head to head with a trained Ninja.
Kunder gives Sona flashbacks, but there are no clues that show us who she really is. In one scene, we see Sona driving with Joy when we get a zoom-in on her thigh’s tattoo. Curious about the tattoo, Joy asks, “You like tattoos?” Sona says she is a part-time tattoo artist. And that’s that. We never get any resolution to the tattoo artist subplot. We also never find out where she learnt her skills as a detective, an allergist, or how she learned how to fight Ninjas. Instead, in the flashbacks, Kunder dwells on a clichéd love affair between Sona and Imran.
There’s no respite from Kunder’s dialogues either. It’s almost as though the script was written in English, and then later translated to Hindi. That could be the only explanation as to why everyone talks in a single tone, so much so that you cannot differentiate one character from the other. Also, there’s a lot of English cursing. All the characters drop F and B bombs, frequently.
Going back to the unmarried pregnant women. Remember how I said Kunder keeps emphasising that over and over again in his script? Well, right before the climax, Imran says out loud that it’s odd for an unmarried woman to visit a gynaecologist. And then you sigh and cringe at Kunder’s world view. With the dialogue and the serial Killer’s modus operandi in the film, it’s almost as though Kunder’s message for this film is this: women shouldn’t get pregnant out of wedlock, and abortion is bad.
As far as acting is concerned, Bajpayee doesn’t have much work. Despite him having proven his acting calibre in many films, his role here is negligible. But it is Fernandez who really suffers here. Although she seems to have worked on her expressions, they just come off as trying too hard. She also has a hard time delivering dialogues with Indian diction.
Kunder is the film’s editor too and although the pace is swift, his individual scenes and shot selection is not helpful for the actors. You’ll hate how Kunder exposes the bad acting of his leads, especially Fernandez.
There are so many things to hate in the film that any good qualities are completely overshadowed. But I want to point out that the cinematography by Ravi K Chandran and Kiran Deohans stands out. The indoor and night scenes are flushed with red, green, purple, and neon lights. And the duo has perfectly used uncomfortable framing to capture the mood of the film that is ominously weird. Regardless of Chandran and Deohans’ best efforts, however, the bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction make the film feel out of sync.
You’ll just hate this film, but you don’t have to feel guilty. A lot of us are stuck indoors and in desperate need for some venting. And hate-watching this film gives you that cathartic relief in some ways.
I also believe that hate-watching can be useful for critics and creators alike. It allows us to truly understand what works for us, and what doesn’t. Knowing oneself further helps in understanding what makes movies terrible, and helps us to better appreciate the ones we love.
Mrs. Serial Killer
1 out of 5 Stars
Manoj Bajpayee, Jacqueline Fernandez
Producer: Farah Khan
Director, Writer, Editor, Music Composer: Shirish Kunder