MANIKARNIKA Review: where Kangana saves the Queen!

From all those history lessons back from school, there was one powerful imagery that stuck in most of our heads – that is of a woman warrior fighting an uphill battle against the British empire with a child strapped to her back. You may know or not bother to remember anything or everything around the event, but that imagery had always been powerful. Thus in these times of biopics and real-life events making it to the big screen, it was a no-brainer to get a movie based on India’s real life ‘wonder woman’ the Jhansi Ki Rani, Laxmibai out there. The journey wasn’t easy but certainly it had been headline making. Post all the controversies and plot-twists, the producers have finally managed to release their ambitious biopic MANIKARNIKA: THE QUEEN OF JHANSI.

In terms of casting, there isn’t a better candidate for the role of the brave, fierce queen in the Bollywood industry than Kangana Ranaut herself. Not because the other big names don’t fit the bill, but Kangana has been preparing for this role for some time offscreen. She has stood out as this lone fighter against the Bollywood bigwigs with her outspoken and candid persona, thereby making her fit the role like a glove. So, when she is out there playing a woman defying stereotypes and taking on social norms and traditions single handedly, we ask no further questions. She instantly sells the character of Manikarnika aka Queen Laxmibai.

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The movie starts off with the oh-so-familiar Bachchan Saab’s booming voice talking about how the evil East India company has been taking control of the Princely states. At this point, you are thinking two things – are you headed for an epic like Lagaan or a dud like the Thugs of Hindostan?

Soon we are introduced the girl child who is predicted for ‘greatness’. And on the Manikarnika Ghats, she is named ….no prizes for guessing.

Cut to a grown-up young woman who, in the initial few reels itself is established to be a skilled archer, expert at sword combat, an animal lover, educated and a voracious reader. Impressed by her skills and bravery, an alliance is sought from the Jhansi kingdom and Manikarnika agrees. That is after we are also established another important aspect- she is a desh bhakt.  A patriotic song is sung to her lest she forget.

Now Jhansi is facing a serious threat from the British Company who is out to annex the kingdom under the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ policy and therefore it is essential to avert it by having an heir to the throne. The kingdom is hoping they have found the right bride in Manikarnika (who is now rechristened Queen Lakshm) for their king (played by Jisshu Sengupta).  However, Manikarnika turns out to be a little too ‘wild’ for the throne. When the Queen mother is hoping her to take to the domestic ways of the palace, Queen Laxmi is keener on taming wild horses and the Brits.

Though history shows that the Queen had been on friendly terms with the British for most of her reign, what is the point of a Bollywood production if there is no ‘masala’ added?  So we make way for some seeti-maar scene that pits Queen Laxmibai with the British.  For starters, the Queen is in no mood to bow down to anyone. This gets the English officers furious.

Then she becomes the protector of cattle, by gatecrashing the Brits party and ensuring they get to enjoy no steak. The English officers are livid.

And then she ends up making the officers to turn up to work on a Sunday. By now the English officers are enraged.  At this point, them baying for her blood is understandable.

In between all this getting on every one’s nerves, the free spirited queen also finds time to bear a child to the throne. However, tragedy strikes, and now the Queen is forced to step up and protect the throne and keep the enemies at bay.

What follows is in lines with the historical events, so not sure whether revealing more about the plot would essentially be considered a ‘spoiler’. The 1857 mutiny strikes and the rest of the second half has the Queen taking the fight to the colonizers.

It eventually closes up with the words of Officer Huge Rose that remarked Queen Laxmibai as a ‘a man among mutineers; the dangerous of all rebel leaders’

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I am not sure if it due to the change in the director’s seat or if it was originally scripted in this way, but one cannot deny the confused bi-polar nature of the screenplay.

On one hand, it tries to become this voice for ‘woman empowerment’. Only to have it ruined with a facepalm moment later when the King reveals the reason why he wears bangles in his hand.  In one of the big moments mentioned above, the Queen boldly makes her stand clear that she will not bow down to anyone. Fine, but then why follow it with a hullabaloo when another character is thrown out of the kingdom for refusing to bow down to the Queen?

The one that takes the cake, though, is much later during the battle where the English positions their cannons behind a temple. Now for a movie that has been blatantly going on and on about love for motherland before everything else, it suddenly has the characters deciding that the protection of the temple is primary. So, they work around a way to carry on the attack without causing any damage to the temple, even putting their own lives at stake!

After a point, it turns out to be all trumpets of jingoism and ‘naari-power’ with no real substance.  In fact, it works as a “beginners’ guide to the Jhansi Rani with the depth of an Amar Chitra Katha.

What though makes the movie work, to a decent extent is the powerhouse efforts of Kangana. She gives it all to the titular role of the fierce and brave legend. It is a performance that rises above the script and screenplay to carry the movie home. In an industry dominated by the Khans and Kapoors, she is once again out there proving that she can run the show on her own. In fact she even puts in a line about ‘speaking English’ as if to throw in a fitting reply to all her trolls.

However, her attempt to do ‘everything’ on her own is also the movie’s biggest folly. Firstly, her additional responsibility of being the stand-in director has affected her onscreen performance. At times in the second half, you witness her going overboard as the intensity picks up. And for all other tricky scenes, you see her getting out of situations with ‘eyeball-popping’ ease.

Everything is written around the central character without leaving any scope for the other characters. As a result, you see despite a support cast that comprises names like Atul Kulkarni, Suresh Oberoi and Danny Denzongpa, it seems much of their work has been left back at the editing room. You experience scenes awkwardly jump from one to another in the first half, and characters popping in and out with not exactly a flow. Even Zeeshan Ayub, who is relatively a reliable showstealer ends up making no impact. One must remember that the role was originally shot with Sonu Sood and once he walked out, Kangana ended up reshooting all the scenes with Ayub. As a result, Ayub’s scenes are all shot with a handful of British actors and never really interacts with any of the key characters except for one key moment, when the heir to the throne is announced.

The less said about the English/Western actors the better. They still end up playing caricatures and still end up mouthing hindi lines even when they communicate with each other.

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Production wise there is much to be admired here. Despite not having the budget of a Baahubali or the opulence of a Bhansali production, it still boasts of commendable efforts in the set designs and costumes. The fight and battle sequences were also adequately mounted but lacks the creative flourish to make it stand out from the rest of the Indian movies of similar genre.

Music from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is functional. Prasoon Joshi’s dialogues seem uncharacteristically overzealous, dripping in national fervor. I am not sure of how much of Vijayendra Prasad’s original screenplay has made it to the screen.  But the final product constantly oscillates between a factual historical drama to a crowd-pleasing fantasy epic, eventually becoming neither.

Whatever the shortcomings, Manikarnika thankfully does not turn into a snooze fest or a silly comedy. The director in Kangana has managed to ensure that the movie avoids being any of that. The fact is in an attempt to make it all about her, she has definitely kept the movie from soaring to any further heights. For now, we get an average movie with a superlative one-woman show. But unlike the imagery in our heads from the history books, this one is not going to remain etched that deep.

 

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Jisshu Sengupta, Atul Kulkari, Danny Denzongpa, Ankita Lokhande, Richard Keep, Taher Shabbir, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, Kulbushan Kharbanda

Directed by Kangana Ranaut  and Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi (Krish)

Rating  2.5

Naam Shabana Movie Review: Bringing Up Baby

When it comes to spoon-feeding audiences, mainstream Bollywood is way ahead of the curve, and there are occasions where this tendency of the industry to test the patience with unnecessary exposition can be downright offensive. Therefore it was a rather pleasant surprise in Baby, when the audience anticipating a roaring rampage of rescue from Akshay Kumar ended up witness to a subverted trope where the supposed damsel in distress played by Taapsee Pannu ends up beating the daylights out of the crook they are pursuing. So it was a pleasant surprise when the prequel to Baby, exploring the origins of Taapsee’s character, Shabana, was announced. But is Shabana’s journey from schoolgirl to spy a worthy tale?Continue reading “Naam Shabana Movie Review: Bringing Up Baby”

Baby: Childish Effort

Ever seen a Rohit Shetty film and how he pulls of 80 minutes of good footage spread across 150 minutes of bad film and he has pulled off many such gems over the career with his Comedy. Welcome the one film wonder Neeraj Pandey do a Rohit Shetty to a Thriller and pull off 90 minutes stretched across for 160 with the largest collection of un-suspenseful-nothing to achieve-blank-nothing is going to happen walking, driving and sitting. Not to mention the absurd name for a supposedly taut thriller, which I can look past by considering it raises curiosity. What I cannot look past is what is the director trying to achieve here. What the film achieves is never clear it’s about stopping attack and then it becomes of catching and killing K. K Menon and eventually ending with catching Maulana Mohammed Rahman, with the attack never seeing the light of the day or we knowing exactly what this attack was which leaves out the important ingredient of making a thriller. End of the world scenario and anyone’s life ever being in any danger.Continue reading “Baby: Childish Effort”

Baby Movie Review: No child’s play, this!

The one admirable quality about Neeraj Pandey is that he is consistent. What his movies lack in nuance, and grit, they more than make up for it with a solid script and performances. He may aim to be Bollywood’s Katherine Bigelow or Paul Greengrass, but somehow he’s managed to be to this decade what Subhash Ghai was to the 80s and Rajkumar Santoshi was to the 90s. A storyteller, who can spin out a yarn that may seem implausible, but doesn’t insult your intelligence. Baby continues this tradition of his.Continue reading “Baby Movie Review: No child’s play, this!”

Jai Ho Movie Review : A Lazy Film That Falls Short of Its Promise of Entertainment

Jai Ho 2014Not all well-intentioned ideas get converted into good films. Jai Ho is the best example of such a film where in a simple idea of paying it forward is drilled into your head via naive contrived and melodramatic situations till you get bored of it. Eventually, you end up telling three people to not watch the film. Yes, that is a joke which you will understand only when you have seen the movie. Continue reading “Jai Ho Movie Review : A Lazy Film That Falls Short of Its Promise of Entertainment”

Salman Khan’s Jai Ho Official Movie Trailer

Jai HoSalman khan is currently having the best form of his life and its almost like whatever he touches turns into gold. Even SRK loyalist Karan Johar opened this season’s Koffee with Karan, with Salman Khan. We have been hearing about is forthcoming film Jai Ho ever since it went into pre-production, the title changed from Mental to Jai Ho. This is a remake of the Telugu film Stalin, which was inspired from the Hollywood movie Pay it Forward.Probably the people behind Jai Ho choose this film as it is about a character who wants to do good for the society . Just like MGR and NTR who used their onscreen character charisma for political benefit way back, similarly it seems Salman Khan wants to link his character here in the film with that of his brand/persona i.e Being Human.Continue reading “Salman Khan’s Jai Ho Official Movie Trailer”

Hum : Ek Hi Hai ‘TIGER’

HUM-PosterDuring the late 80’s , the Amitabh Bachchan mania had begun to decline with most of his films failing at the box office. Even films such as Jaadugar, Toofan etc  made  by his most trusted directors such as Prakash Mehra, Manmohan Desai were an embarrassment to Big B’s filmography. Much like his peers such as Dharamendra, Shatrughan Sinha , Amitabh also followed the trend and was a part of many a torturous flicks in the 80’s. Something that was definitely not suited for  the Big B.Continue reading “Hum : Ek Hi Hai ‘TIGER’”

Agneepath and The Legend of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan

Vruksh ho bade bhale,
ho ghane ho bhale,
Ek Patra chhah bhi mang mat, mang mat, mang mat,
Agneepath, Agneepath Agneepath
.”

Long long time before Bhiku Mhatre said Mumbai ka Don kaun in Satya and Malik from Company played dirty games to ‘dhanda hai par ganda hai’, there was a man called Vijay Dinanath Chauhan(VDC), who ruled Bombay. But for him ruling Bombay was not important, his sights, vision & energies were occupied to one small village called Mandwa. I don’t know if it even exists but his energies were channelized to conquer that place for a promise that he had given to his mother and thereby starts a fascinating crime and relationship journey into the minds of characters in this movie.Continue reading “Agneepath and The Legend of Vijay Dinanath Chauhan”

Enthiran Movie Review : Man Vs Machine

Dedicated to the memory of the late Sujatha Rangarajan whose contribution to Enthiran is immense. 


Director Shankar’s much in the news Enthiran finally hit the theatres this weekend and I was one among the curious onlookers on the first day. Curious for various reasons- 1. Shankar’s last film- Sivaji- The Boss had created a mass hysteria in the box office, proving that Shankar + Rajinikanthwas a very lethal combination.2. Also Enthiran was Shankar’s dream project, something which he had conceived nearly a decade ago and so was all the hype justified? 3. How was Shankar going to present the 2 different Rajinikanth’s in the film? 4. With the film receiving such a widespread release (even in the Hindi belt with the dubbed Hindi version) would the strategy work?Continue reading “Enthiran Movie Review : Man Vs Machine”