Against all odds: Kangana Ranaut reigns supreme as the Queen of Jhansi. Long live the Queen.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

Rating: 3.75/5                        
Language: Hindi
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Atul Kulkarni, Jisshu Sengupta, Richard Keep, Suresh Oberoi, Danny Denzongpa, Ankita Lokhande 

Director: Krish & Kangana Ranaut
Music: Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy
Story & Screenplay: K. V. Vijayendra Prasad
Produced by: Zee Studios, Kamal Jain, Nishant Pitti

Written by: Prasoon Joshi (Songs & dialogues)

Happy Republic Day!

There can be no better movie to watch this Republic day weekend than Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. A Magnum Opus, it looks as magnificent as Bahubali did, on the big screen, without the patriarchy and misogyny. The story and screenplay is done by the same person for both films, yet the road was bumpier, the budget was far more constrained and there was political drama galore as often is when a movie, based loosely on any character in Indian history, is made.  Full credit then, to the team for the timely release of the movie on 25th January.

The costume and jewelry – not just the Queen’s but for the entire cast –  is detailed, rich and opulent without being crass. Even the men are bejeweled and befittingly so. It’s only the Jhansi King’s bangle that is a cross that his widowed mother found hard to bear. The costumes made from fabrics like khadi, raw cotton, brocade and Paithani feel authentic to that period. I won’t be surprised if this makes it the 5th National Film Award for Best Costume Design for Neeta Lulla, who has won it for films like Devdas and Jodhaa Akbar. Along with the costumes, the fort and its surroundings, the horse riding scenes, the grandeur inside the fort have been beautifully captured in the excellent cinematography.

Kangana Ranaut goes by Manu, Lakshmi, Rani, Queen in this movie. Coincidence? I think not.  One can’t help but think that all those past characters have been stepping stones to her portrayal of this warrior queen. She looks and acts like a queen. The slight lisp can be over-looked as she does justice to the fervour-rousing, quotable patriotic dialogues, well written by Prasoon Joshi.

Donning the mantle of the director for the first time, playing the lead in this demanding role, whilst fighting all the off-field battles, sans any God-father in Bollywood – can’t help but raise our hats to this lady!

Atul Kulkarni as Tatya Tope and Suresh Oberoi as Bajirao II are significant Maratha characters of that time, who are just touched upon as the focus is on Jhansi.

Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao does a perfect restrained mature role. A SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) in those times must have been a rare find! A perfect foil to his fiery, confident, brave and fearless Rani, without him the Queen would have not been able to create the history she did. I would like to see Jisshu in more and bigger roles in the future.

Richard Keep as General Hugh Rose came across less as a weird, broken Hindi-speaking Ang Moh (white man), which is how the British are usually portrayed, and more as a man whose ego couldn’t take an Indian and that too a woman who was not toeing the imperialistic British line.

Danny Denzongpa as Ghulam Ghaus Khan was magnificent. His look and his roars lived up to the role of an Army General more than the infamous Katappa.  

Ankita Lokhande as Jhalkaribai added to the length of the film with an unwarranted song and dance and some histrionics. It also added to the production length of the film, as some radical group protested the portrayal of a queen dancing in public, which could have been totally avoided in my opinion. Makes me wonder what the film would have looked like if the directorship hadn’t changed hands midway through the making of the movie.

There are moments when the CGI is glaringly obvious, cringily so. Also, some fantastically, unbelievable super-hero like scenes which could have been avoided. Kangana’s well-practiced swordplay and her horse riding skills were enough to display her prowess as a warrior without having her jump on elephants and fly her poor horse down a tall tower. Crisper editing of all these and a couple of avoidable songs would have shortened this long movie to a perfect length. The background score doesn’t overpower, which speaks well for it. The best song and one of the couple that works for me would be ‘Vijayi Bhava’ which can rank amongst some of the best patriotic songs by Shankar Mahadevan.

The women of the kingdom are shown as individuals and not as shadows trailing in the wake of their menfolk. Maybe having a Queen at the helm of the affairs would have made it easier for the women to assert themselves or more tough for the men to justify their restraints? I wonder if it was true then and how I wish it were! Telling the daughter-in-law that her place is in directing the household and kitchen affairs and not on the ramparts or battlefields would have fit into most ‘saas-bahu’ (mother-daughter-in-law) scenes but was rightfully not even laughable in the case of the Queen of Jhansi. The scene in which the bereaved queen refuses to tonsure her head and live the ascetic life of a widow was done in a befitting way. The king’s widowed mother says that a widow’s place is in Kashi (A religious city in India where widows are/were banished to). In response, the regal queen, in a matter of course way, agrees and asks for arrangements to be made to send her widowed mother-in-law comfortably off to Kashi. This and the interaction between the little widowed girl and her queen were impactful moments. Can’t help but hope that this leads to a moment of reflection in the tiny hearts of regressive thinking folks.

Which brings me to the final text on the scene at the end of the movie. Did they think that after showcasing all the spineless male rulers – including the King of Gwalior – it would be a compliment to say that the Queen of Jhansi fought like a man? I don’t think so. In fact, I would end it by saying – She fought with valour this queen of Jhansi, thank God she was NOT a man. “Khoob ladi jo, Woh Jhansiwali Rani thi”.

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