If ‘Queen’ defined Kangana Ranaut’s career in 2013, her role as Manikarnika: the Queen of Jhansi, brings her back into the limelight with a warrior- like force.
FILMFARE ME RATINGS: (3.5)
Produced by : Zee Studios, Kamal Jain, Nishant Pitti
Directed by : Kangana Ranaut, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi
Star cast : Kangana Ranaut, Atul Kulkarni, Ankita Lokhande, Vaibhav Tatvavadi, Danny Dengzongpa, Mohommed Zeeshan Ayyub
If Shekhar Kapoor’s Elizabeth of 1998 spoke about the life and times of the ‘virgin queen’, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, chooses to call itself by the warrior queen’s maiden name Manikarnika and not the name ‘Lakshmibai’ awarded to her by her husband Gangadhar Rao.
The premise of the film starts with this very progressive title of addressing her by her first name and defining her as the free-spirited, compassionate, patriotic, progressive-minded queen. Of course, the film takes a few cinematic liberties and thankfully so – be it widows not shaving their hair, widows taking part in the haldi-kum-kum ceremony (largely reserved for married women with husbands alive), and above all wielding rifles and taking part in the war to save their motherland Jhansi.
The oft-repeated story of the valiant queen of Jhansi taught in school text-books comes alive with Kangana’s portrayal of Manikarnika. She brilliantly walks the line between looking stunningly fragile yet fiercely valiant in spirit – the epitome of a woman who dons several roles. The film is a great showcase of Kangana’s immense talent – her abandon and free-spiritedness as she wields the sword to save her kinsmen to her dramatic anguish of losing a child and husband, refusing to relegate herself to widowhood and shave her head (a norm for widows then) – she truly lives her role.
Given the traditional framework of Manikarnika, she had everything working against her. She was widowed early, her own child poisoned and then surrounded by the British. She was also saddled with a helpful but subservient husband Gangadhar Rao (played by Jisshu Sengupta) who looks up to her for guidance and support. He even figuratively wears a bangle to remind himself that he is slave to the British but encourages her to wield the baton.
Some defining moments in the film – Manikarnika’s gaze that she refuses to lower in front of the British, the child widow that Kangana smears vermilion on, training a women’s army clad in nav-vari sarees – the film is a delight to watch! Directors Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut ensure that you keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Ankita Lokhande as Jhalkari Bai stuns with a fierce performance well supported by Vaibhav Tatvavadi who plays her husband Puran Singh. It is a pleasure to watch Danny Denzongpa who plays her loyal soldier Ghulam Gaus Baba whose tomb is still a tourist attraction in the fort of Jhansi. Atul Kulkarni and Kulbushan Kharbanda add their dose of valour to the story and so does Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Sadashiv Rao who plays the traitor. Wish he had a longer role.
Dialogues by Prasoon Joshi are penned sensitively and will stay in memory for breaking free from cliches – watch the words carefully as they laud self-respect, the breaking free of out-dated traditions, the fight for freedom and not martyrdom and a fresh view of repartee towards the elderly. Music by Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, adds to the landscape and mood of the film, though the dance sequence felt out of place. Neeta Lulla’s costumes and Amrapali jewelry complete Manikarnika’s look.
As the description of that time continues – Manikarnika is compared to valiant men. The film starts in 1828 Varanasi and her birth is announced by the astrologer as a birth of a ‘punya atma’ (pure soul) and she is compared to the likes of Lord Ram (Ek Vachan Ek Baan). And the much-lauded term ‘mardani’ from ‘Khoob ladi mardani, woh toh Jhansi wali Rani thi ( a term used by 1904 born poetess Subhadra Kumari Chauhan)’ and later after her death, the British General Hugh Rose who watches her die, writes about her in “ The Central India Campaign’ as being the bravest of all revolutionaries.
The background score by Sanchit and Ankit Balhara use the very powerful hymn ‘Aiy Giri Nandini’ (used for Goddess Durga) to depict Manikarnika’s valour in the final scenes all contributing to the film about a woman, a mother, a warrior, a queen who rises from history to being a metaphor of women empowerment and change, relevant even today.