Manikarnika - The Queen Of Jhansi Review
Every Indian school-kid has studied the poem about 'Jhansi Ki Rani' who grew up playing with swords and fought better than men. When the poem (story, in the case of the film) is so well known, it becomes important to then tell the tale so beautifully that it bests the last memory people have of the poem. The trouble is, they try to Bollywoodise it. There's so much glamour and chest thumping patriotism that unwittingly the audience begins to discover flaws.
The poem tells us about this young girl who grew up playing with swords, And there you see Kangana besting her brother and teacher in a swordfight, with her jumping on to the back of an elephant in triumph. Of course you are not alarmed (neither is the elephant) because it's obvious that it is special effects done thoughtlessly. The elephant doesn't even react! Why would he? Kangana seems to float just a couple of inches above the poor beast.
As in all British rulers in India movies, this film too makes the mistake of having the British talk to each other in really badly spoken Hindi. Why don't they just speak English? In one scene they do and I ended up laughing because they say, 'Let us eat the tender flesh of the calf'! Who speaks like that? Then their big bad officer shows up and he speaks to his British officers in Hindi. Phew!
I'm all for Wilhelm screams. Especially when there are so many soldiers dying violently during battle. But it's fun to hear only swords clashing but no screams from dying soldiers. They definitely did not pay the sound guy for adding these sounds . We hear only Kangana's battle cry of, 'Aazadi!' (Independence!) and the 'Har Har Mahadev!' (Hindu soldiers calling on God). And why are the Pathans (Muslims) who have joined this Hindu queen in battle, say, 'Har Har Mahadev'? Did they not care or not pay the writers to add in a, 'Allahu Akbar'?
Everyone knows the story, and the movie ticks off the boxes one by one. The King who is Laxmi bai's husband has a delicate constitution (Jisshu Sengupta), the widowed but almost evil 'Rajmata' (a character borrowed from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film Bajirao Mastani), the brother who has been ignored and therefore hates the king (played earnestly by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), the teacher Tatya Tope (Atul Kulkarni) are all decent and earnest. To add a bit of flair, they have Danny Denzongpa who plays Ghaus Baba and he's made to wear some leftover leather costume straight out of Pirates Of The Caribbean...
Speaking of costumes, the film does well. But we've seen so many period dramas in the last couple of years, we are not impressed, except for the jewelry Kangana gets to wear. That is exceptional, and earns a star on its own merit. Even the menfolk wear beautiful brooches and necklaces.
That brings us to the battle scenes. Of course they are long drawn, and nothing you have not seen before. They are so long drawn you have enough time to check mail on your phone. The chest thumping patriots clap at British soldiers being brutally killed, but you see Kangana's hair going from curly to bun and when she finds enough time to change her jewelry during battle, you know the film has failed rather badly. In one scene, she claims, 'I am unarmed!' while we can clearly see the swords on her side. You have no energy left to groan. You don't even care why a Marathi queen who wore sarees, is suddenly wearing churidar and kurta (which were not exactly a Hindu costume) and hats. You notice that her hair is done in a bun in the battle and in close ups you see a French braid very clearly. It's another thing that Kangana looks rather fetching, but is that all what we are looking for in a film?
There are only two moments which are superb: one where Kangana bids safe journey to her mother-in-law who is threatening her, and the other, when a young girl offers water to the big bad British guy Hugg Rose (played by Richard Keep) and when he asks her, 'What is your name?' (completely unnecessary, in my humble opinion), the young girl answers, 'Laxmi'. That young girl's sassy smile was the most refreshing thing in the movie.
If it is a period drama, you need Amitabh Bachchan's voice-over to narrate the beginning and the end of the film. That check box too is marked. But the changing blood spatter on Kangana's face during the battle and the shallow patriotism of the lyrics make you cringe on your way out.
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