Manikarnika, a film directed by Krish and Kangana Ranaut, is a period drama based on one of the most iconic warrior and legend from our history Rani Lakshmibai. Her name has gone into history and is also used as a metaphor even today for all the empowered women who stand for themselves. Her very name generates a visual of a woman warrior fighting fiercely with a child strapped on her back. The poetess Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem Jhansi Ki Rani summarizes the whole life of Lakshmibai. These two lines of the poem are so famous:
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वः तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी I
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi does justice to the character Rani Lakshmibai. As a movie lover, I did enjoy Manikarnika, but when I looked at the film as a critic, I was wondering about two things. First, the film talks about the warrior Lakshmibai, but not much about the person Lakshmibai. The screenplay does mention about her being an ardent book lover, fluent in English, a compassionate person, but nothing more than this. Second thing, the other characters in the film did not get due highlights and that is one of the major problem with the film. In History, other characters viz. Gangadhar Rao, Ghulam Ghauz Khan, Tatya Tope, Kashibai, Sadashiv etc. are also prominent but in the film, they turned into merely secondary characters without much highlights. And this is the same thing which happened in her last film Simran, where she was there in every frame reducing other characters’ sketching to almost negligible. In Simran, she had a major fall out with its writer Apurva Asrani (National award winner) and she brought so many changes to the original script that the film lost its sheen. Manikarnika was in controversy right from the time it went to floors. She had broken her commitment with renowned filmmaker Ketan Mehta whose dream project was to make a film on Jhansi ki Rani and he had researched heavily on the topic. Then she started this film Manikarnika with Krish but took the position of a director later on and even her name featured before Krish in credits. The articles with Krish’ interview are doing rounds in the media. According to Krish, his version was very much altered by Kangana. In fact, Sadashiv’s character was earlier played by Sonu Sood which was later done by Zeeshan Ayub. If reports are true, then Kangana would have to certainly grow beyond her own self-interest and be part of the team and ensure that creativity, story, presentation etc. takes higher positions than an artist. Her self-interest reflects in the film. Although Kangana shines in every frame of Manikarnika, but the film should not have been only about Manikarnika but also about how other characters became part of her journey or facilitated her journey to be one of the earliest patriots of our freedom struggle. This is where the film falters, but otherwise, accolades for terrific Kangana.
Rani Lakshmibai, originally born as Manikarnika Tambe in Varanasi, nicknamed as Manu, is being trained for shooting, horsemanship and other skills in warfare right from her childhood itself. Her father is an advisor to the Peshwa in Bithoor. She is being married to the king of Jhansi – Gangadhar Rao Newalkar (Jisshu Sengupta). The king chooses to wear bangles in his wrists but Manikarnika, rechristened as Lakshmibai post marriage, never chooses to question him. She is shown to be firm when it came to decisions in regard to Jhansi or not succumbing to the pressures of British. She does give birth to a boy child, but he soon dies and she loses Gangadhar also due to his sickness. Although both of them had adopted Damodar as son and had declared him the heir, the British refused to accept him as successor. And so as per the doctrine of lapse, any kingdom without a legal male heir was supposed to be under the control of East of India Company. Lakshmibai decides to fight for Jhansi. She fought so valiantly that British government sent their best people like General Hugh Rose to strategically fight against her. Lakshmibai’s emotional side is also shown when she wears the pearls gifted to her by Gangadhar and goes for the final war. Rest of the film unveils in regard to how Lakshmibai puts up a brave front till her last breath. She becomes a martyr at the mere age of 29.
Certain scenes are very beautiful as well as powerful. The scene where Gangadhar takes her to the library which he set up for her in the palace and also the scenes where he understands the power of Lakshmibai and silently gives approval to her. The scene where Ghulam Ghause Khan questions her decisions and integrity behind writing to the British government and pleading for her rights on the palace post Gangadhar’s death, then Lakshmibai responds calmly saying that there is right time for everything. It shows, how she was not impulsive in taking decisions. One of the most powerful scenes is where Lakshmibai walks out of the ceremonies of widowhood in order to fulfill responsibilities for saving Jhansi from British. The iconic scene, where she jumps from the top of the palace sitting on Badal (horse) and with her adopted child on her back is captured well. The climax scene gives goosebumps.
The war scene could have definitely been better picturized. Its CGI (Computer-generated-imagery) towards the end is not too impressive.
Kangana is certainly terrific in all the scenes, be it riding horse, fighting scenes, wielding swords, leaping on elephants, giving unblinking expressions to the British people, not ready to bow her head before the general.
But other characters’ sketching is not at all great. Screenplay and editing are moulded in such a way that other characters lose their power. Great actors like Danny Denzongpa, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Atul Kulkarni, Mohammed Zeeshan AYub, Jisshu Sengupta, Ankita Lokhande (who makes her film debut) are actually not utilized to their optimum and reduced to mere caricatures. They have nothing much to do. Even amongst artists who played British Characters, Richard Keep as General Huge Rose does stand out but he also gets less screen time.
Dialogues by Prasoon Joshi and music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is good with patriotic fervour.
Although Kangana shines in every frame of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi but the film should not have been only about Manikarnika but also about how other characters became part of her journey or facilitated her journey to be one of the earliest patriots of our freedom struggle. This is where the film falters, but otherwise, accolades for terrific Kangana.
Rating: 3/5 (Good)
Cast and Crew Details (Source: Wikipedia page)
Cast: Kangana Ranaut (Manikarnika aka Manu aka Rani Lakshmi Bai), Atul Kulkarni (Tatya Tope), Jisshu Sengupta (Gangadhar Rao), Richard Keep (General Hugh Rose), Suresh Oberoi (Bajirao), Danny Dengzongpa (Ghulam Ghaus Khan), Vaibhav Tatwawaadi (Puran Singh), Zeeshan Ayub (Sadashiv), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Dixit Ji), Ankita Lokhande (Jhalkaribai), Mishti (Kashibai), Nihar Pandya (Pran Sukh Yadav), Taher Shabbir (Sangram Singh)
Direction: Krish and Kangana Ranaut
Produced by: Zee Studios, Kamal Jain, Nishant Priti
Written by: Prasoon Joshi (Songs and dialogues)
Screenplay by: K. V. Vijayendra Prasad
Story By: K. V. Vijayendra Prasad
Narrated By: Amitabh Bachchan
Cinematography: Kiran Deohans, Gnana Shekar V. S.
Music by: Songs – Shankar-Ehsan-Loy, Background Score – Sanchit Balhara, Ankit Balhara
Edited by: Rameshwar Bhagat, Suraj Jagtap
Production Company: Kairos Kontent Studios
Distributed by: Zee Studios
Release Date: 25th January, 2019
Duration: 148 minutes