Over ninety five per cent of Hindi cinema revolves around men. And even the other five per cent of Hindi films with women protagonists are often seen through the male gaze.
Which is why Queen is such a refreshing holiday from the routine. This is not your regular makeover film where a small-town girl becomes a modern bombshell and/or finds her Prince Charming/true love overnight. This is not a revenge film of getting even after being left at the altar. This is not even a film about women's issues.
Vikas Bahl's Queen explores a girl's identity as an independent entity. It's about a rooted Indian girl who goes on a holiday to find herself, far away from her family, friends, culture and society. Films of this genre often liberate their heroines only to have them fall in another societal trap by transforming who they are or making them find what they want in another man. As if women need men to be complete. Not Queen.
Queen is also the rare Hindi film to pass the Bechdel test (Feminist Alison Bechdel came up with a test to evaluate gender bias in films — it has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man).
Kangana Ranaut as Rani, in a role of a lifetime, makes Queen an absolutely delightful journey. She wins us over first with innocence, small-town charm, vulnerability, spirit, strength, warmth and her gradual confidence. There's a scene in the first half of the film where a thief tries to grab her bag in Paris. As scared as she is, she does not let go. She puts the strength of her entire body in holding on to the bag... Other films would have manipulated this situation to give the already troubled girl yet another conflict — losing her passport.
But how this scene plays out tells us everything about how different Queen is. This is not the story of a victim. This is the story of a girl who fought it alone, held on to her identity and made us root for her spirit.
Like all good journeys, Queen refuses to follow an itinerary. Or structure. Just as you prepare for a story of a small-town girl who finds a liberal girl friend (who shares the same name as her fiancé) and you think you're ready for a story of their friendship in Paris, Queen packs us off to Amsterdam, to continue her journey alone. Off to meet new people. Minus the baggage of the first into the second.
Many films would have felt the need to break for interval at a point where the girl has to make a difficult choice. Queen breaks for interval after she has made her choice. It's a great departure.
Vikas Bahl's vision is so uncompromising and earnest that you are likely to excuse the leisurely pace with which the film unfolds. He spends a good length of the first half in making us invest in his heroine.
And it pays off because halfway into the film, we love this girl. We are rooting for her. We want her to have a great holiday. As protective as we are about her, we know she is going to be fine.
The destination does not matter in a journey film. The idea of a vacation is to have a blast. To let your hair down, make friends, party hard and explore. Places, time and people.
Book yourself a ticket. Kangana makes for a great companion. You are guaranteed a good time. Hear a song you want to dance to? Doesn't matter if you can't. Just follow her lead. Hungama Ho Gaya…
Genre: Coming of age
Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Lisa Haydon
Storyline: A small-town girl, whose wedding gets called off, decides to go on her “honeymoon” all alone
Bottomline: A welcome vacation from structured, formulaic Hindi films. Feel good at its best