Most of us know the story of Rani of Jhansi – we either read about it in history books and comic books, heard the folklore about her valour or seen the 1953 film or various television serials. It must have been a challenge to make a film that tells a story already so well-known. However, Manikarnika presents history in a way that makes the story come alive making the viewer feel the passion of the times. Once the film holds your attention, it never lets it go until the end credits roll.
Manikarnika, as Rani of Jhansi was called before marriage, was a woman who was raised as a warrior. Temperamentally too, she was a courageous woman, choosing to be not bound by customs when the need arose. Married at a young age to Gangadhar Rao, the king of Jhansi, she quickly lost both her child and husband. Waiting for an opportunity, the British moved to annex the territory, which led the Rani to rise in rebellion. The film touches on the other complex politics that the region was facing with some rulers siding with the British for paltry gains while others trying to use the Company powers to gain influence for themselves.
The film has some weak moments in the first 30 minutes but once the song and dance routine is over the film focuses on the politics of Jhansi and the complex relationship with British masters. The narrative is extremely tight, pulling the viewer right in the middle of the first war of Independence. The scenes have been created beautifully and authentically, making the audience “feel” the fight rather than just watch a piece of history.
Kangana Ranaut is a Rockstar. It is hard to think of any other actress who could have brought to life the character of Manikarnika as she does. The steely resolve and the raw rage she portrays has the power to rouse the viewer, no easy feat and critical for the success of a historical. If for nothing else but for her powerful portrayal, she deserves the lion’s share for the success of the film, which is sure to come. Other actors provide ample support. Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao portrays the gravitas of a well-read royal of finer tastes but who is also silently bristling under the Company rule. Danny Denzongpa, Richard Keep, Atul Kulkarni, Suresh Oberoi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Ankita Lokhande have all performed well but the film maintains laser-like focus on Kangana. Cinematography is excellent and editing smart, never dwelling on a scene longer than needed, keeping the pace of the film brisk.
Credited with two directors, Krish and Kangana, it is hard to say who deserves the kudos for this magnificent film. That it will be a hit is a foregone conclusion, how big a success the film will be, remains to be seen. Manikarnika is a beautiful homage to the queen of Jhansi.