Actor-director Kangana Ranaut’s ‘Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi’, which chronicles the heroism and valour of a revered warrior, is as subtle as a sledge hammer.
At every given turn, we are bludgeoned with Rani Laxmibai’s heroic tales about taking on British colonisers who wanted to annex her turf Jhansi, and all of it is done with as much pizzazz as an amateur school play production.
Every emotion fleeting through Ranaut’s face — ranging from triumph to tragedy — is exaggerated. Her shrieks, as she loses her newborn son to greedy, power-hungry forces within the palace, to her guttural roar as she slices off her enemy’s head, is showcased in all it gory glory.
Does it work? In parts, but not always.
While the Indian patriot in your revels at the sight of the British colonisers being taken aback by a woman’s spirit and spunk, it’s not wholly convincing, looking elaborately staged.
Like any British-laced Bollywood film, those invaders are highly caricatured in their representation. Their accented Hindi is cartoonish and fails to evoke a sense of fear at their strength or military might.
Having said that, it’s cathartic to see a woman spearhead a warrior epic, set in the 19th century. Ranaut gets it right when it comes to communicating her rage at bowing down to the British. A scene that stood out particularly was her defiance at lowering her gaze when greeting a high-ranking British official. She’s a new bride and her husband had expressed his acquiescence, but she doesn’t follow suit and stands tall against her invader.
Another inspiring scene is when she puts together a battalion filled with amateur men and women from her kingdom. Ranaut’s determination is swiftly captured. We are told several times Jhansi’s troops, led by Ranaut, are underdogs who know their enemy is armed with better weapons and artillery. However, their spirit remains unfettered as they go into battle with their chests spread wide.
Ranaut, who directed this film along with Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi, has also made sure that the primary focus remains on her. It is undoubtedly self-indulgent, but that can be forgiven as she has a commanding screen presence and charisma.
Actress Ankita Lokhande, who makes her debut with this warrior epic, has a limited role. Actor Zeeshan Ayub’s grey, villainous role isn’t fully explored either. It is Ranaut’s battlefield from the word go. Just like a conventional larger-than-life Bollywood hero, she’s felling tigers and slicing her detractors with a sword. While the gender reversal is fun to watch, the other talents in this film are given very little to do.
The sword-fighting scenes are well executed, but the battle scenes with an army of foot soldiers feel repetitive. Prasoon Joshi’s dialogue is suitably evocative and laced with patriotic fervour. There’s a lot of stress on earning self-respect by quashing the colonisers too.
If you are a fan of warrior epic that’s solely Ranaut’s battlefield, this one is for you. Others can safely duck this nationalism-fuelled saga.
Don’t miss it!
Film: ‘Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi’
Actors: Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande and Zeeshan Ayub
Director: Kangana Ranaut
Stars: 2.5 out of 5