Banners: Zee Studios, Kairos Kontent Studios
Producers: Zee Studios, Kamal Jain
Directors: Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi (Krish), Kangana Ranaut
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande, Jisshu Sengupta, Danny Denzongpa, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi, Atul Kulkarni, Mishti, Suresh Oberoi, Edward Sonnenblick
Writers: KV Vijayendra Prasad (Screenplay), Prasoon Joshi (Dialogue)
Bollywood has always loved magnum opus films based on historical themes. The catch is to get it right, so that the filmmaker can hook the audience and transport them back to the era in which the film is set. Directors Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi (Krish) and Kangana Ranaut have made sure that with Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi, they present the revolutionary story of Rani Laxmibai, set in the 1850s, with the right vigour.
The story begins with a young and beautiful Manikarnika proving to the world that she is not just another demure princess. Raised in the royal house of the Peshwas, Manikarnika has the fervour of a rebel. She gets married to the ruling King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao, and thus becomes Rani Laxmibai. However, Jhansi is annexed by the British East India Company
After a few tragedies in the royal household, Rani Laxmibai ascends the throne of Jhansi and vows to fight British rule. Even with her strong army, which includes the brave women of the state, Laxmibai loses this battle but regroups with the Peshwas to fight ahead in order to win back Swaraj. This leads to a major battle between Laxmibai and the British Army, bringing the film to an engaging climax.
Every proud Indian looks upon Laxmibai as one of the prominent heroes of the Revolt of 1857 and her courage in the face of the odds is legendary. But the filmmakers have done their research to present another side to the warrior queen. They beautifully show her emotions, her sense of humour, her love for books and what prompted her to sling her only child on her back and enter the battlefield. As the film struggles to maintain a balance between historical facts and entertainment, the creative liberties taken by the script are evident.
The screenplay, by KV Vijayendra Prasad is smooth, especially the pulsing battle scenes in the second half. The first half of the film takes you on a historical tour as you understand the lay of the land and the ruthlessness with which the British tried to get a hold on every part of India. A tad long, the film chronicles the moments of Laxmibai’s life which lead up to the real action post-interval. Peppered with quite a few jingoistic moments, the film fittingly plays on the most vulnerable emotion of the Indian audience, which is patriotism. Full credit to Prasoon Joshi, who has written the dialogue, for bringing us the flavour of the era that the film is set in.
The backdrop of the film is varied, ranging from lush green fields and forests to the grandeur of royal palaces to rustic deserts where battles rage. The cinematography by Kiran Deohans and Gnana Shekhar VS captures the essence of the 19th century very well. However, the VFX incorporated in some scenes distort the natural lens at some points. The artificiality of the special effects is quite obvious, hampering the realism that the makers were going for.
There are several songs in the film, the album includes not only patriotic numbers to go with the theme of the film but also a romantic song and a fast-paced dance number. The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is not full of chartbuster hits but engaging. Commendation to Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara for the power-packed background music, which adds a thrilling element to the narrative, especially the dramatics of the action sequences.
All in all, the film is an epic historical presentation with strong content and stronger performances. Hitting the right notes with all the emotions, Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi is a beautifully etched story of a female warrior whose valour should be remembered more often.
Performance-wise, leading lady Kangana Ranaut delivers her career’s best performance in this role, showing courage, passion and intensity. She makes Rani Laxmibai her own and one can see the effort she has put in every frame. Ankita Lokhande, who debuts with this film, is another highlight as she shines on screen. She is a welcome addition to Bollywood. With her performance, she says, loud and clear, that she’s here to stay. Jisshu Sengupta as Raja Gangadhar Rao is amazing and so is Danny Denzongpa. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is average. Vaibhav Tatwawaadi and Atul Kulkarni are good but have limited screen time. Other supporting actors like Mishti, Suresh Oberoi and Edward Sonnenblick are good.
Verdict: A laudable effort!