Biopic offers could be waved at Kiran Bedi following “Yes Madam, Sir,” an enthralling chronicle of her brilliant, tempestuous career as India’s first elite policewoman. Granted unrestricted access to Bedi for six years, Aussie documaker Megan Doneman has created a dynamic and editorially rigorous profile of this adored public figure, whose radical methods and running battle with bureaucracy made headlines from 1972 until her retirement in 2007. Without an Aussie distrib to date, pic can expect lengthy fest travels following its Toronto world preem, and ought to attract widespread pubcaster interest. Given Bedi’s profile, subcontinental theatrical dates are also possible.
With a wealth of excellent archives at her disposal, Doneman launches with the 1978 incident that transformed Bedi from a curiosity item to a national heroine and media magnet. When male officers ran scared, the young lady cop singlehandedly stopped 3,000 sword-wielding protestors in Delhi by ordering them to “kill me or retreat.” That battle cry seems to be the mantra of the doughty Bedi, who was dubbed “Crane Bedi” in 1982 after she towed Indira Gandhi’s illegally parked car.
Swift package of early career highlights firmly establishes Bedi as a charismatic and “un-purchasable” supercop whose outspoken views on corruption sparked hostilities with her superiors. Curiously, no one here cites gender as part of the issue once Bedi had proved her chops.
Docu’s main task is to examine how Bedi triumphed in postings designed as career-killers. At the top of the list is her appointment as governor of the notorious Tihar jail in 1993. After leading prisoners in prayer on her first day, Bedi converted the overcrowded hellhole into a meditation ashram. The program’s spectacular success revolutionized India’s penal system and led to Bedi winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s Nobel Prize equivalent.
Similar success followed when Bedi was shunted off to the New Delhi police training center. Dilapidated facility was soon spruced up and began turning out meditation-enlightened recruits.
Though Bedi’s track record in policing and setting up a couple community charity orgs can’t help but impress, Doneman avoids hagiography by talking to a wide range of colleagues, bosses and family members with forthright views. The personal cost of Bedi’s brand of public duty is memorably externalized by daughter Saina, describing her mom as “completely married to the image of Kiran Bedi.”
The cultural and political context of Bedi’s run-ins with the brass is well outlined by several interviewees, most notably Gautam Kaul, the mightily insightful former director-general of police.
Carrying her own camera and editing her pictures, debutante Doneman multitasks with distinction. There’s nothing fancy here, just good, solid documaking with a clear eye for looking beyond the legend of her charismatic subject. Sparingly used narration by Helen Mirren is fine, and Nathan Larson’s eclectic score is nicely applied.