‘Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi’ review: playing patriot games

Kangana Ranaut in an image from the trailer of ‘Manikarnika’.  

Manikarnika comes to the point very early, in the introductory voiceover by Amitabh Bachchan, that celebrates the “mahaan sabhyata", "gaurav” (the great civilisation and culture and pride) of India, the country whose soil is (or rather was) like gold.

The film is all about stoking the latent nationalism this Republic Day by telling the story of the brave Rani Lakshmibai (Kangana Ranaut) who fought the East India Company and the British to protect her kingdom of Jhansi. Even her marriage to the King of Jhansi was for the cause of matrubhoomi (Mother Nation).

Lakshmibai, and in turn the audience, is told by Peshwa Bajirao how the resolution of all problems lies in “matrubhoomi se niswarth prem” (selfless love for the nation) or as a song goes “main rahoon ya na rahoon Bharat ye rehna chahiye” (whether I remain or not, India should stay)”.

The desh bhakti, however, remains a boring sermon, comic book flat than soul-stirring and resounding. And, so far as history itself is concerned, why barely a mention of the Revolt of 1857 and Mangal Pandey? Forget the tackiness in special effects, production design and battle sequences — the film remains unidimensional — whether it's the characters or performances. The writing wallows in the simplistic in the guise of simple; contrived and strained rather than heartfelt. At times, the narrative veers towards plain pedestrian pantomime. Like the laughable sequence in which the Rani dances to an item number of sorts only to be told after that “aap pet se hain (you are pregnant).” All you can do is look on incredulously.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi
  • Director: Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi, Kangana Ranaut
  • Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Jisshu Sengupta, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni
  • Run time: 148 minutes
  • Storyline: The tale of Rani Lakshmibai who took on the might of the Britishers to protect the kingdom of Jhansi

One is not denying the significance of the historical story but it has to ideally be about revisiting past in the light of the present to acquire a larger relevance. Like it happened in Lagaan or Rang De Basanti. Manikarnika displays no such ingenuity, inspiration or imagination. Frankly, the nth representation of the Brits, speaking Hindi with a pronounced accent, doesn’t hit hard as the vile enemy any more, more so when there are far worse enemies afflicting the country from within.

Contemporaneity comes in bits like pitching the King as the one doing “sewa” (service) rather than a “raaj” (rule). Now we all know where this is coming from. Ironically, the social hierarchies and class divides and raja-praja (ruler and subjects) distinctions are duly maintained and celebrated while mouthing these homilies. Then there’s the entire speech by the Lakshmibai on the mother tongue, how it can only be one language and certainly not English. Then what? Your guess is as good as mine.

The good versus bad Muslim binary — Mohammad Ghouse Khan as against Peer Ali — is there to stress on how the betrayers of the nation will eventually go to hell. Then there is the strange mixed messaging about women. They are encouraged to come out and fight in battles yet their bangles seen as signs of servitude, which the King of Jhansi wears, shameful of being bullied by the East India Company.

Ranaut doesn’t just share the director’s credit; she overshadows all of the cast, including veterans like Danny Denzongpa and consummate performers like Atul Kulkarni and Mohd Zeeshan Ayub. It’s evident that Ranaut has put her all into the film and she's present in practically every frame.

But what you go back home with after the film is not a compelling performance, but the gorgeous textile and jewellery she wears, the trailing pallu and hair blowing fetchingly in the wind, the agile swordplay, choreographed stunts, the many hops, skips and jumps and tonsil-revealing roars of “Har Har Mahadev” and “Azaadi”.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 2:15:09 AM |

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