Power-packed ‘Mardaani’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Jan 2019 10:08:19



Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi

By Farina Salim Quraishi

‘Khoob Ladi Mardaani Thi, Woh Jhansi Wali Rani Thi’! True to the reverberating words by Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood Queen Kangana Ranaut is every inch the royal brave heart in Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi; walking the talk with her head held high. After waging and winning a war of sorts to see her dream project completed - never mind if it meant taking on the film industry’s Baahubalis, steadying the directorial reins, or even facing the wrath of the Rajput Karni Sena - Kangana is resplendent in each and every frame; firing on all cylinders royally to tell the tale of a queen immortalised for eternity. However, even as the ‘Queen’ stands tall on performance, there is little denying that the ‘Mardaani’ is bogged down by feet of clay, aka a weak watered-down script and a narrative as inconsistent as the historical facts in the film.

Chronicling the well-known story of the Queen of Jhansi, Manikarnika, is set in the 1842, a time when Manikarnika aka Manu - as she was affectionately called - was just a young girl and the British had begun enslavement of India. After seeing Manikarnika take on a tiger without batting an eyelid, she was betrothed to King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao Newalkar (Jisshu Sengupta). Renamed Lakshmibai after her marriage, Manikarnika assumed the throne after both her infant son and husband died prematurely and vowed to protect Jhansi from British East India Company at all costs.

A cinematic extravaganza, packed with sweeping sets, silk, swords and booming guns, Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi tells, or rather more often, shouts the story of ‘Man Among The Mutineers’ - as Sir Hugh Rose named the valorous Rani of Jhansi. Resurrecting the legend of a heroic queen, with bravura speeches and dazzling visuals, Manikarnika screams its intention out loud (on more than one occasion) even as it wears ‘deshbhakti’ on its sleeves.

The mighty pen behind the humongous Baahubali series falters badly this time round, as K V Vijayendra Prasad scripts a story that connects only intermittently and tells nothing of the Queen beyond what is common knowledge. Also the inconsistencies in the narrative stand out glaring,
as style of both the directors Kangana Ranaut (yes, her name precedes him) and Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi are
world apart. The CGI-rendered effects too are tacky and come across as fake. While the palaces of Jhansi and Gwalior appear suitably imposing, the battle scenes look plastic and the dubious contemporary overtones are simply unforgivable!

Even though the script fails to give the audience a significant story, it is the indomitable spirit and all-heart treatment of the film that rings true and holds you captive for the duration. Clocking 2 hours, 18 minutes of run time, the film looses steam several times and has an unhurried pace. Even so, several standout moments are applause worthy.

The blurring of fact and fiction is, of course a given in big-ticket entertainers, where finer points and nuances of history often take a back seat to drama and dramatisation. Manikarnika too is distorted and at times deliriously far-fetched in narrating the tale of a woman who broke scores of societal norms in service of her people and her matrubhumi!

While the film does play it by the book, by and large and highlights key incidents, it doesn’t look too deeply into those times’ cultural and political equations. As a result, important events, including the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the Barrackpore movement, Siege of Lucknow, all get but a passing reference in the war saga. It is the action, the expert sword-wielding and horse-riding skills of Kangana in particular, that get the major chunk of the focus. Such is the sustained focus, that it blanks out important contributions of prominent figures of that time, including, Ghulam Ghaus Khan, Jhalkaribai, Tatya Tope and even Sadashiv Rao.

With a deeply wrinkled face, an authoritative voice and sheer power of presence, only Danny Denzongpa as Ghulam Ghaus Khan manages to match up to the forceful and ferocious Kangana. Rest of the talented cast, including Jeeshu Sengupta, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Ankita Lokhande and Vaibhav Tatwawaadi, all get a raw deal.

It is only Kangana who reins in the wild mess of a film into shape, looking every bit the demigoddess astride her white horse, swinging her sword like there is no tomorrow. A veritable sight for sore eyes, Kangana is stunning to look at and lights up the screen with her powerful presence. Exceptionally brilliant in the action sequences, Kangana’s skills with the sword are awe-inspiring. She also does an impressive job of rising above much of the mundane material and is compelling both as a fighter and the legendary queen, even when she chants Har Har Mahadev in every other sequence.

With little substance and a conspicuous dose of style, Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi is hardly an insightful take on the lion-hearted queen. Watch it only for the other Queen - Kangana Ranaut.

The Hitavada Rating : O O 1/2