The saga of the extraordinary life of warrior Manikarnika, who later got titled as ‘The Queen of Jhansi’; is something we’ve known and marveled at all these years. So, when it came to the screen translation of the legend, the first thing that this magnum opus gets spot on is finding the Queen in the indeed reliable Kangana Ranaut. Though lacking the aesthetics and design of the master Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s direction, the movie still feels lively and refreshing under Kangana’s raw direction (also by Krish Jagarlamudi) and a strong screen presence.
Redefining ferocity through her act, Kangana is on fire in her portrayal of the titular role as The Queen of Jhansi. Right from her intro sequence that feat. her aiming an arrow at a (substandard CGI) tiger, there remains no ambiguity to the fact that how the character is a superwoman. Since then itself, it is a treat watching her do full justice to her portrayal of a soul so fierce and brave. Blinking her eye not even once, she jumps off forts, gets control over the stubborn horses, and manages taking upon the evils. Flabbergasted by her act in all the war scenes, the sequence of hers that particularly stood out for me is the one in which she, post killing all the Englishmen, gets captured (by the camera) in front of the Kali Temple, basking in all her glory of victory, with her sword held tight: What imagery!
As the movie entirely revolves around the journey of Manikarnika, the supporting cast here having Atul Kulkarni as Tatya Tope, Danny Danzongpa as Ghulam Ghouse Khan, and Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao, gets little to do in their monotonous parts, and acts much the same way (with evident fake mustaches). The depiction of British is caricaturish, though not worse than ‘Thugs of Hindustan’. The dialogues of the whites here are poorly dubbed, as if no one cared for the same.
Zeeshan Ayyub, for a change, refrains from playing the hero’s best friend this time (actually, the movie here has no male hero!), and acts passably as Sadashiv Rao. Making her big screen debut with this feature is the already television star, Ankita Lokhande, as Jhalkari Bai. She too suffers from the curse of ‘poor writing of supporting cast’, but gets a fledged dance song (absurdly out of nowhere) and an unmemorable brief fight scene to showcase her acting skills.
Apart from the absurdly popped up dance number, the screenplay does roughly change gears, frequently in the first half. The proceedings take quite a time to settle, and then pace swiftly during second half, to successfully convey the prime point towards the end. Maybe, that too much was happening because there is too much to show about her life so eventful yet short lasting. Clearly, the second half is anyday a better executed one, where our Queen takes the entire matter in her hands, giving away both subtle and loud takes on feminism and nationalism.
Throughout, I found myself in total awe of the lyrics and dialogue work by Prasoon Joshi which aptly complements the story set centuries ago while simultaneously appealing to the audience of now, as it efficiently evokes the feeling of nationalism within the listener, both on and off screen. The soundtrack by Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy righteously suits the tone of the storytelling. I loved the use of song ‘Bharat’ at different junctures in the narrative, with the ‘Vijayibhava’ song being a treat to eyes as the camera captures the Queen walking through the palace. As the story proceeds, the standards of CGI do drop noticeably to my disappointment; so the best CGI (by this movie standards) work is unarguably the ‘Manikarnika vs tiger’ scene.
Narrating an extraordinary tale right from birth (in 1828) to death (in 1858) of Rani Lakshmibai, this movie still feels slightly long at a runtime of around 150 minutes. Inducing goosebumps perpetually, this one chooses to prefer substance over style, making me applaud Manikarnika and her acts of valor throughout, portrayed ably by Kangana Ranaut and the grandeur.
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