Film: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Jisshu Sengupta, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Danny Denzongpa, Mishti Chakraborty, Atul Kulkarni, Suresh Oberoi, Ankita Lokhande, Unnati Davara, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi, Yash Tonk

Director: Krish, Kangana Ranuat

Rating: * *

If Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi wore the kind of ridiculously fashioned trousseau that Kangana Ranaut sports in this sartorially encumbered biopic about the valorous Queen then she certainly wouldn’t have won any battle worth eulogising about. There’s neither historical record, nor period authenticity backing this largely imaginary amelioration of a time when the ‘Game of Thrones’ was much more than just a flight of fancy.

This film is largely make-believe with little research to back it, and rides hard-back on modern day pop-nationalism (pseudo) that did not exist in the 1800’s where Bharat constituted an unallied grouping of individual principalities ruled by Kings and Queens whose egos were bigger than the notion of unified resurgence against the British – that this film wants to propagate.

Prasoon Joshi’s dialogues sound completely out of place here. To add to that disenchantment, the post-production makeover is such that it makes Kangana look like a plastic doll with standard wide eyed ferocious expressionism called-up at the drop of a hat. The emotive range and linguistic adaptability we saw her exhibit in Tanu Weds Manu 2, doesn’t exist here. Her diction in this film is rather clipped, her accent sounds disconnected from the Bundelkhand, Jhansi, Gwalior region the Rani existed in and her performance is concentrated on being battle-ready rather than gaining empathy from an audience.

So in this film you will see her ride her horse rather ably and sword-play with ease but the add-on stunt-work looks rather unreal, with post-production enhancements leaving little room for real-time grit.

The opening sequence shows an abandoned baby (looking like a dead doll) being picked up by the Peshwa’s close associate (Amit Behl), christened as Manikarnika and then integrated into the Peshwa’s family as his own. The next scene has this seductively positioned Princess aiming her arrow at a digitised tiger waiting to spring at a tied-up goat. Of course the Princess hits her target and stands firm waiting for the tiger to fall propitiously at her feet.

And the next thing we know, she’s applying salve to the tiger’s wound and claims she never intended for a kill but instead wanted to incapacitate the tiger so that he could be relocated away from human occupants. It’s all so cornily orchestrated that it looks pretty laughable – especially since this same Princess has no qualms slicing her sword through numerous humans in her bid to protect her marriage-apportioned kingdom from the marauding Imperial English Company.

By all historical accounts Rani Lakshmibai was a daring, daunting fighter who fought like a man and brought her opponents on the battlefield, to heel. Kangana’s sylph-like appearance doesn’t help that aspect resonate even though her skills look adequate enough. As Director, Kangana hogs the show all through – everyone else is given short-shrift.

Kulbhushan Kharbanda as a Minister Of Jhansi, Danny Denzongpa as Ghaus Khan, Ankita Lokhande as Jhalkari Bai, Mishti Chakraborty as Kashi, Atul Kulkarni as Tatya Tope, Suresh Oberoi as Peshwa Bajirao, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Sadashiv Rao, Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao and particularly those playing prominent Englishmen, look pretty much comedic and clueless in the schema here.

Action director Nick Powell may have managed to orchestrate some glorious swordplay but it’s never consistent or awe-inspiring. The numerous songs are very much a drag while the background score, attempts to raise the tempo in hollowed out fashion. The choppy editing also makes it seem like Kangana wasn’t interested in making this a gritty, believable experience. Even Kiran Deohans’ experience-enabled cinematography can’t raise this dolled-up spectacle to epic heights.

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