Starring: Kangana Ranaut, plus stalwarts reduced to junior artistes;
Directed by Kangana Ranaut & Krish
Rating: * * * *
There is plenty that is openly wrong with this beleaguered aspiring epic. Its rhythm of storytelling feel all wrong. One minute we are looking at Kangana Ranaut playing herself-wide-eyed tight lipped defiant stubborn and sinister-the next minute she forgets herself and immerses herself in her character.
Much like the Queen-warrior herself who never could decide whether she wanted to be a wife mother warrior or rebel and ended up being an amalgamation of all these roles.
But country always came first. Oh yes, Rani Laxmibai was a desh bhakt and she made no bones about it. It is when Ranaut speaks about putting country above all else that her eyes light up. And so do the frames. I got goosebumps when Ranaut's Rani ticks off the British General.
The film is never short of visual luminosity. It as an exquisite look most of the time, though many shots seem overly enamoured of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's gaudy grandeur. It is hard to tell who is more impressed by the way Bhansali bedecks his frames, Ranaut or Krish.
The co-directors together create a fairly impressive imitation of Bhansali's style without seeming slavishly devoted to the notion of glitter.
The battle scenes that take up plenty of the lengthy narrative are heavily influenced by Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani. But Ranaut manages the horse-riding and sword-fencing with impressive self-assuredness.
I wouldn't agree with Mr Manoj Kumar when he says Kangana was born to play Rani Laxmibai. But she certainly gives the complex character a kind of cutting edge that makes the Rani empowered and powerful. The supporting cast is largely wasted.
Barring Jishu Sengupta as the Rani's husband, who is shown to be somewhat delicate. Is he meant to be gay?
More than the politics of invasion and acquisition I like the petticoat politics of the film, the friendship between Rani Laxmibai and the uncommonly valorous commoner Jhalkaribai(Played with spirited affection by Ankita Lokhande) which culminates in the two ladies battling the common enemy in the climactic battle.
In fact the way all the women of Jhansi come out of their kitchens to battle it out on the preying field , is one of the great charms of this flawed but fabulous fable of feminine felineness, as are Prasoon Joshi's dialogues which suggest a kind of deep-rooted empathy between history and girl power.
The Britishers, as per the demands of all Colonial dramas in Indian cinema, are portrayed as sadistic buffoons.
One particularly distasteful sequence has a nasty British General hanging a young girl by a tree after he gets to know she is named after his pet peeve Laxmi. Imagine the extent of destruction if the girl's name was Padmavati.
Manikarnika could have easily avoided these violent bouts, concentrated more on creating a drama of disambiguation that destroyed the Indian kingdoms during the British Raj. I am sure there was more to Rani Laxmibai than the expensive saree and jewellery, the mystery and the dancing eyes. But what we see is what get in this film. And that is quite a lot.
All said and done, Manikarnika moves us, though not in ways they should have.There is too much going on at any given time to focus on the heart and thoughts of a woman who defeated the Britishers with a child in her lap. Did the child ever wet the Rani's costly silk sarees? We would never know. The characters of this film are not prone to human frailties.