Review ~ Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi
Watch it for Kangana's grit and passion as the Queen of Jhansi if not for a lesson in history in her directorial debut that gives a definite feminine gaze to a war movie.
There is a big problem with Indian telling of biographies; that the truth is not exciting enough to be told as it is, in our books or in our movies and the writers find it necessary to add fictional detours and anecdotes to make their hero bigger, better and more righteous sans any grey in them. The whole idea that our titular characters can not be wrong or dull in the stories we tell is a big problem I see especially and inherently in Indian discourse because we are so scared to say all truth even in a hero’s biography that we use fiction and fantasy for entertainment in the name of cinematic liberty even when you have the canvas to say the full truth better.
Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi, Directed by Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi (Krish) and Kangana Ranaut where Kangana’s name comes first in the end titles, you will wonder what parts of the film are directed by who in this 148 minute Kangana Ranaut Show.
The film based on the martyr queen of Jhansi is as advertised, the story of the queen who fought till her impending death in this cinematic retelling of the famous tale of the valiant queen who battled the British Army after a series of events during and after the 1857 sepoy revolt (or mutiny as the britishers would call it)
The films opens with Amitabh Bachchan’s voice over (which was a given the moment he got special thanks in the starting titles of the film) to introduce the British invasion on peaceful, happy and bright India, where the protagonist in the biographical film is born to Moropant Tambe (Manish Wadhwa) who works in the Peshwa Bajirao the second’s (Suresh Oberoi) court of Bithoor.
The intro of Manikarnika (Kangana) comes quickly to establish her as a powerful young girl who is a warrior princess but gentle at heart with a free flowing larger than life sari pallu that adds to the circumference of her presence on screen. The beautifully set-up scenes also bind you from then on to be invested in lead of the film as everyone else in the cast is just props to her act henceforth.
The film that sets out to be fast paced here takes you from one action scene to another in the court of Peshwa and then in Jhansi where the famous (third) horse of Manikarnika is introduced and tamed by her immediately.
The all important characters in the film are introduced as and when they need to be part of Rani Lakshmibai’s narrative and are not given the due setting required to tell the unaware why they are important to the story of Jhansi’s queen.
Even Tatya Tope (Atul Kulkarni), Ghulam Ghaus Khan (Danny Denzongpa), Jhalkari Bai (debutant Ankita Lokhande) who are historically important to Jhansi’s and India’s story are not established very well and are wasted even when they do well in the limited screen time they get.
The story which takes chapters and incidences from Manikarnika’s life lacks finesse and makes it a little difficult to believe that Bahubali’s K. V. Vijayendra Prasad would miss the target like this. The screenplay lacks depth and maturity and the dialogues (Prasoon Joshi) that the English characters get make them even more forced and cartoonish than the couple of dialogues given to the other extras, where you can all but laugh.
The best dialogues were kept for Kangana, Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao among a few others. You can see defects in the screenplay every time anyone other than Kangana speaks on screen who gets the best of everything. Some very powerful lines, the best of action and the biggest roar were just for her and were probably designed that way, where the all important Tatya Tope, who gets his own movie this year starring Ajay Devgn is shown as falling so short of Kangana’s fierce body language.
The action scenes are very well shot, though lacking in scale that it deserved, they are lit up by the film’s protagonist. The cinematography is sharp and very beautiful in parts but are let down by it’s under finished VFX even in comparison to what we are now used to in the Indian Magnum Opus’s from the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and S S Rajamouli from the very recent past.
The costume (Neeta Lulla) and make up department (Santosh Gilbile) shines in the film and gets pretty much everything right for the ensemble cast and even the extras. The art department does well too with a seemingly limited budget that misses on the opulence of Bhansali and VFX of Rajamouli.
The sound design & the background music by Ankit Balhara and Sanchit Balhara is powerful and complements the film through out but Shankar Ehsan Loy’s music is just about average and lacks a powerful number that could be a war cry or morale booster in a film about the first struggle of Independence in India.
To summarise and to think of it as a debutant director’s film, it misses the mark by just that much. A little more of everything else and just about a little less of Kangana Ranaut and this could have been an amazing debut of the actress Kangana as the director Kangana but you can still laud the actor for taking up the job to direct an unfinished project and completing it to this scale and doing it pretty well for a debut.
It could have been better but then again with all the issues the film has, Kangana still shines as the hero from her first scene in the film till the last.
I’ll give Krish & Kangana’s Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi, 3.3 out of 5.
A good attempt that misses the mark by just that much!
Watch it for Kangana’s grit and passion as the Queen of Jhansi if not for a lesson in history in her directorial debut that gives a definite feminine gaze to a war movie.