LICH rating: (4 / 5)
If there ever was an actor who’s come closest to living their onscreen persona’s angst as a parallel in the journey of making their movie on that personality, it has to be Kangana Ranaut. Aim a brick named Manikarnika at any Hindi movie industry personality and chances are that instead of choice words that are interspersed with your family tree’s fruit bearers, you’ll hear stories of personality clashes; of Kangana being a difficult personality who ensured the movie was sabotaged; susurrous stories of throwing tantrums leading to actors leaving the movie mid-way, the original director cutting the chord; of sniggering snarkiness almost wishing the movie’d never gotten made.
And yet, here we are: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is out. The titular and historical character is celebrated in history books for standing up against a crushing patriarchal conspiracy to ensure she didn’t ascend the throne of Jhansi after her husband, Raja Gangadhar Newalkar (played here with a sensitive, almost poetic and sagely dispensation by Jisshu Sengupta) died an untimely death. There was opposition and conspiracy from within the palace, the primary driver being a savagely jealous nephew, Sadashiv (in the movie, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub reveling in the poisonous tricks his character is upto). And of course, a deprecating army of societal conscience keepers hexing to vex the lady. All of which could do nothing to undermine the queen’s eventual blaze of glory that’s lit up in awed immortality. Kangana Ranaut, standing up for she believed in her vision of the movie, ensured it got made, must’ve wondered at the eldritch-like curse that, mirroring her character’s struggles, haunted the movie making. Despite all the camp talk and body blows the project suffered, the lady displayed steely gumption and got her movie out on the screen. Where an Aamir Khan is called a perfectionist (Taare Zameen Par, anyone?) to steer his movie’s journey back on what he thinks is the right track, Ranaut has been labelled differently, and none of it complimentary.
Which is not to say that the movie’s a cinematic triumph. It’s not. I’m not sure if it’s because of the switch between director Krish Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut behind the camera, or writer Vijayendra Prasad‘s penchant to keep stringing episodes from Lakshmibai’s life. But whatever secret messy sauce it is, the first half of the movie is a patch-work of stories that keep popping up with nothing to smoothen the segues or tie them together. All the characters you meet—Jhalkaribai, (played with solid spunk by Ankita Lokhande)—who goes on to steer an unbelievable-but-true-life-sacrifice—her husband Puran Singh (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi), the loyal and gritty Ghulam Ghaus Khan, (Danny Denzongpa, still having a solid screen presence)—who has mostly nothing to do in the first half except make announcements in the court—Tatya Tope (Atul Kulkarni): keep making appearances in a hurry and then disappear, making you wonder about the slight randomness here. On the plus side, all the tracks by Shankar Ehsaan Loy are beautifully melodic, making you want to go back and listening to them on your streaming, chatbotty device. But there’s also a problem with the extras who act as if they were in a 80s set, grimacing, gawking, and doing everything that they oughtn’t to this side of the cinematic century.
Thankfully, everything ties in the second half, making you overlook some historical liberties—in real life, the queen wasn’t too keen to wage a war with the British folks right off her surefooted moves. But none of it matters. With a ferocity that stuns, hypnotizes, and touches you, Kangana Ranaut does what no actress has had the guts to. She dominates this homage and dominates it superbly. In an act that’s sizzlingly magnificent, she makes you overlook all of the flaws that surround the movie and earn this review its extra point. Manikarnika is Kangana Ranaut’s and she is the movie’s. She gives all the men around her—and the male leads of the industry—a run for their parkour in the action sequences. Ranaut is a tigress, her eyes slit like a predator’s, ready to move in for the kill—and yet giving away the desperation that her character must have felt in real life—as must have she herself, as she shot, reshot, and moved in for the kill of her life, ensuring the movie made it to its original release date. And you realize then and there—as you swallow a lump when Amitabh Bachchan reads a tribute in the end—for women who stand up for themselves, the struggle for independence is far, far from over.
LICH ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s intense action sequences
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi
Directors Krish Jagarlamudi, Kangana Ranaut Running Time 2h 28min
Writer Vijayendra Prasad
Stars Kangana Ranaut, Danny Denzongpa, Jisshu Sengupta, Ankita Lokhande
Genres Action, Biography, Drama, History