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Film review: 'Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi' is a historical epic that falls flat

Kangana Ranaut's directorial debut is, perhaps, not the success she would have hoped for

Kangana Ranaut in 'Manikarnika'
Kangana Ranaut in 'Manikarnika'

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is another take on the familiar story of Rani Laxmibai, the well-known female resistance leader who fought back in the early days of the British colonisation of India through the East India Company.

As well as taking on the lead role, the film marks Kangana Ranaut’s directorial debut, with help in the chair from Krish Jagarlamudi. And, simply put, the best thing about the film is Ranaut - but its downfall is that it’s all about Ranaut.

Undoubtedly, the Queen actress took on some heavy lifting with the dual role. However, the script lets the movie down, feeling contrived with an almost cookie-cutter approach to the well-told historical narrative.

Although it’s not as much of a blatant propaganda piece as other movies released this month – in fact, it may not even be propaganda – it still portrays a seminal moment in Indian history, with a prevalent “coming together in the country’s hour of need” message.

That said, the film has its share of bright moments: the music and background score is good, in particular Shankar Mahadavan's Vijayi Bhava is an inspiring song. And the costumes by Neeta Lulla are well worth a mention. They befit the period drama, while feeling sufficiently glamorous.

Beyond that, it goes downhill. The dialogue, although penned by award-winning writer Prasoon Joshi, feels amateur. The script’s focus seems to be highlighting the multiple facets of Laxmibai’s personality, which either falls flat or contradicts itself. She is portrayed as an animal lover, despite the fact that she hunts a tiger in the opening scene; she is a book lover; she is witty and a humble people person, despite a Brahminical background in an orthodox class-based society. All while being a dutiful wife and a war strategist, nonetheless.

Kangana Ranaut in 'Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi'. Courtesy Zee Studios
Kangana Ranaut in 'Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi'. Courtesy Zee Studios

The visual effects for the all-important war scenes, especially in the climax, are underwhelming, especially when compared to movies like SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali 1 and 2 and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat. Comparisons are inevitable, however, especially when you consider that Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi’s screenplay was penned by Baahubali writer Vijayendra Prasad.

Watching the movie, you can’t help but feel like the likes of Danny Denzongpa (Ghouse Khan) and Suresh Oberoi (Peshwa Baji Rao II) have been wasted, in a bid to maximise the camera time of Ranaut.

If you are looking for a real historical insight into the Jhansi ruler and her place in history, this is not the film. That is except for two simple facts: she did not ascend the throne by choice, and she showed exemplary courage and fighting skill against the odds.

While promoting the film, Ranaut has been upfront about not meeting the “requirements” of the role. She has spoken frankly about underestimating the physical demands, which eventually required her to give up veganism and incorporating eggs into her diet, which in part helped her “gain 5 to 6kg in weight”.

She also addressed other controversies attached to the project, including the delayed release and her directorial status. Touching on the fact that the film had to be vastly re-shot in order to match the script’s original vision, she said that she felt “vulnerable”, when she was accused of stealing Jagarlamudi’s glory.

Ranaut recalled Joshi's advice to her, saying, "Kangana, mediocrity will always be threatened by talent." But when talent is matched with mediocrity in a project, talent can only take it so far.

Updated: January 27, 2019 03:36 PM

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