Rating: 2 stars
The queen of Jhansi is undoubtedly an extraordinary woman. And within minutes of the opening scene of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, we are introduced to her entrancing personality. As a young lady, she’s seen striking down a tiger with a single arrow. BUT the injured animal continues to charge towards her, only to screech to a halt by a foot. The special effects are on point, but whether it actually played out in history is something that we will NEVER know.
Taking such massive cinematic liberties is possibly what ruins what could’ve been an authentic take on our first warrior princess. But alas, Bollywood is far more invested in turning every lead actor into a superhero. There’s no space for vulnerabilities or insecurities. It’s always about how charged and self-righteous they are. Rani Lakshmibai is no different.
There’s this constant urge to showcase her as a superwoman, who can, apart from doing wonders with swords, FLY on top of elephants and do quick somersaults. Lakshmibai is even seen building a women’s army, bang in the middle of a rebellion, egging them to pick up the sword and chant the war cry, even when the history books are in the dark about it.
There’s never a real sense of responsibility to represent history without adulterating it with a twisted sense of bravado, thus making it difficult for us to buy into this fantasy. However, with two names credited for directing - Kangana Ranaut and Krish – you are unsure, whom to blame for blatantly distorting facts.
At one point, almost appeasing to a certain political ideology, Lakshmibai barges into a tiny British party, uninvited obviously, to showcase her English skills (well, research does show she schooled in English) to reprimand them for stealing cattle to cook a good steak. “These animals are not to be killed. And from now on, I forbid you from stealing them,” she announces, valiantly.
It’s also a movie about contradictions. While Lakshmibai refuses to bow down to the gaze of a British soldier, she’s angered at one man for refusing to bow down to her. Her king wears bangles to remind him of his ineptness to fight the colonial powers but is willing to put his wife on the throne because he thinks she’s worthy of it.
There’s also not enough about Nana Saheb Peshwe and Tatya Tope’s journey, even though they played a crucial part in her uprising.
Kangana paints an arresting image of the queen and tackles the battlefield with finesse, and carries much of the movie on her able shoulders. The moment when she breaks down at a personal loss is intensely captured. Jisshu Sengupta wears the King’s crown with aplomb. Barring a romantic ballad and a pearl necklace, there’s no real sense of his relationship with his wife.
There are also a handful of actors who’ve supported the main lady competently, with Ankita Lokhande packing in some genuine moments. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub who’s often left to play the hero’s loyal sidekick, gets a one-sided, misplaced role as a snitch in this one, while Danny Denzongpa appears to have borrowed Amitabh Bachchan’s costumes from Thugs of Hindustan. Among the British actors, Richard Keep manages to hold his own.
Despite wanting to know so much about Lakshmibai, the movie prefers to celebrate her unabashedly without ever throwing an insight into who she really was. So we are left googling for more information!