Kangana Ranaut’s first period film is out!
In fact, it’s her first directorial venture, for she is credited along with Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi for being at the helm of the project.
Manikarnika has had its fair share of trouble. Jagarlamudi left the film halfway and Kangana stepped in to shoot specific sequences. Sonu Sood parted ways abruptly, and there were some hushed rumours about Kangana’s interference and high handedness getting into everyone’s way. Not to forget the Karni Sena’s antics and Kangana’s sassy comeback.
In ‘Manikarnika’, Kangana Ranaut embodies the spirit and valour of Rani Laxmi Bai who fought the British with such vociferous courage and strength that stories of her bravery became part of folklore.
The opening scene sets the tone of what is to follow. Kangana’s unwavering gaze as she holds the bow and arrow to hit a tiger, albeit a mediocre CGI creation, while her people look at her from the sidelines, awestruck.
In character, Kangana seems aware of the attention, she arches her back, takes position and let’s the arrow pierce her target.
Her unruly mane in full glory and her blue saree’s pallu flying in zephyr is almost reminiscent of a Bhansali-esq hangover. The tiger is injured and then Ranaut nurses it back to life.
The intention, she says, was never to harm the tiger, but to protect the people. That’s ‘Manikarnika’ – always at the centre of action, surrounded by props and, at times, a badly put together CGI!
Creative liberties for the purpose of dramatisation isn’t new.
As long as it’s an Amitabh Bachchan voice-over, we are willing to gloss over a lot of inaccuracies.
The problem in Manikarnika is not that Kangana Ranaut isn’t good. She is goddamn hard to look away from. Her stance and body language complement action sequences. Everything, including sword swagger, is perfect. In emotional scenes too, Kangana is exceptional. But everything and everyone else around her seem to be crumbling.
The story begins in 1828 as an astrologer predicts that the new born Manikarnika “ka itihaas ke panno mein naam jeevit rahega (will be remembered in history).” She grows up beautiful and brave. Her alliance with Gangadhar Rao is supposed to help both Jhansi and the immoral ruler.
The British try every tactic to lay claim over Jhansi but Manikarnika refuses to back off.
Kangana single-handedly keeps us invested in the story but a film, after all, is a collaborative effort.
Gaping holes in the screenplay, cardboard cut-outs that other characters are reduced to, and the distractingly-perfect contouring of Kangana’s character eventually seem to be the film’s undoing .
Jeeshu Sengupta as Manikarnika’s husband has Sanjay Suri dubbing for him. It somehow reduces his impact considerably.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub who stepped in to play Sadashiv Rao, the disgruntled brother, has an extended cameo as does Ankita Lokhande.
Atul Kulkarni as Tatia Tope and Danny Denzongpa as Ghulam Ghaus Khan – both are capable of so much more – but they, too, are reduced to mere props.
As for the British officers, the most unintentionally funny and cliched dialogues penned by Prasoon Joshi are reserved for them. Richard Keep, who plays the role of General Hugh Rose, says: “Usse aasman nigal gaya ya dharti kha gayi (the sky or the Earth swallowed him),” and one frankly doesn’t know which way to look.
While Kangana doesn’t disappoint as an actor, as a director it’s important to lift every aspect of filmmaking.
That’s where the ‘Queen’ looses out. ‘Manikarnika’ doesn’t come together as a composite whole. No doubt, Kangana stands tall but the film remains an average affair that works only sporadically.
If only everything else was at par with Kangana, ‘Manikarnika’ would have been a much more powerful film.
But as things stand, I’ll go with 2.5 quints out of 5!
. Read more on Movie Reviews by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsPodcast: VVS Laxman on the 281 That Created Indian Cricket History . Read more on Movie Reviews by The Quint.