Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande, Danny Denzongpa, Jisshu Sengupta
Kangana Ranaut and Radha Krish Jagarlamudi
There might not be an Indian alive who hasn’t taken pride in the Rani of Jhansi. We might ask girls to cover up, return home early and behave lady-like and demure, but we love to add an extra dollop of gore when it comes to describing the Battle of Jhansi, describing exactly how she tried to stop the Britishers from taking her prized motherland. She was, of course, speaking about Jhansi but somehow her struggle and her spirit echoes through every Indian.
From the moment Kangana Ranaut declared she will be enacting the part of India’s most honoured historic figure, everyone was curious to know how she would fare. While there were prejudices galore, she managed to do what she wanted – release the film on a day when India takes its patriotically-charged adrenaline shots.
To begin with we will not get into the story-line of the film, because it will be redundant. Let’s discuss the treatment instead. From the first time we set eyes on Kangana Ranaut as Manikarnika to the very last frame, the film is visually very appealing. I wouldn’t stay stunning, despite there being some frames that might stay in your mind for a long time, but these frames are not repeated with as much fervour as we are used to in a regular period film (courtesy our Sanjay Leela Bhansali hangover).
In the theatre, we see Manikarnika turn into Rani Laxmibai, and absolutely no one else. Jisshu Sengupta who plays her husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, is unfortunately not allowed a lot of chemistry with Kangana, which comes across like a sore thumb in the sequence where he is having a heart to heart with his wife, speaking about his own limitations, and how everything that is perceived as wealth and comfort can turn into a gilded cage right before the eyes. The scene should have been dealt with more heart than finesse, which stands true for most of the film.
What Manikarnika excels in are the action sequences. There has clearly been a lot of blood and sweat shed in making them the stunning visuals that they have turned out to be. Kangana as the warrior queen is phenomenal - there certainly hasn’t been an actress who has willingly looked as raw and ready as Kangana has managed. The scene when she jumps onto her stead and gallops away makes you skip a heartbeat, but once again Kangana has gone too deep into the technicalities and not really given in to playing with the audience’s mind as perhaps she should have done.
So, while we see her drenched in blood, fighting with her child tied behind her back, you are somehow going back to say a Bajirao Mastani, where Deepika Padukone fights intruders holding her infant in her arms. While we felt more desperate and helpless in that choreographed fencing that Bhansali showed us a couple of years ago, Kangana left us in awe.
Despite being no big fan of Bhansali films, one cannot refute the fact that he has made a space for himself when it comes to historical period cinema. You inadvertently find yourself drawing parallels throughout Kangana’s directorial debut. Knowing it is as unfair to tally scores between Kangana’s debut and Bhansali’s masterpieces, as it is to have foreigners speaking in Hindi amongst themselves.
There are many discrepancies through Manikarnika, but the action sequences and the skill the actors showcase, does tilt the scales in the film’s favour. To begin with, there is the lady of the hour, herself – Kangana Ranaut. Her poise and attitude are perhaps the best things in the film, she knows how to handle herself onscreen but she might still need some time to handle others. While actors like Danny Denzongpa, Jisshu Sengupta, Suresh Oberoi and others tie their portions up neatly, the others don’t manage that well. One has to specifically applaud the action director Todor Lazarov and the stunt coordinator Habib, the fencing showed in the film is absolutely mesmerizing. Full marks to Kangana and Ankita Lokhande for carrying out the stunts with such aplomb. For her debut, Lokhande impresses but she has little scope. Ditto for Nihar Pandya.
To conclude, Manikarnika is not bad at all but not as effective as it becomes too self-indulgent in parts.