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‘MANIKARNIKA’ Movie Review

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What say’s Mr. Ahwaan about ‘Manikarnika’

“The film goes bahu-ballistic in the revelry of the fierce queen, with an outstanding Kangana Ranaut but is overlong and exhausting”

Period films have always walked the sword-edge and their journeys from the making to the release and verdict have always been arduous. This is because they are under constant scrutiny of various forces who debate over the veracity of facts and also over the cinematic depiction that can be deemed worthy.

Manikarnika, co-directed by Kangana Ranaut, the much-anticipated period drama on the life and times of the much revered Queen of Jhansi had its share of turmoil and faced several obstacles – the Sonu Sood exit, the Kangana- Krishna feud and the usual Karni Sena opposition to its release. And the outcome, if not supremely satisfying, works at several levels.

I was awed with the initial promos of the film – a blood-splattered Kangana astride a horse, galloping towards the swarm of enemies with a clarion call “Har Har Mahadev” and her naked sword shining and twirling in the air. You will get the same goosebumps when you see the eponymous protagonist fighting for freedom with an unflinching ferocity against the British army – she dutifully reflects the bravura and resolute strength of the female warrior, epitomizing the valor, commitment and passion of the woman of mother India who left an indelible mark on its history and its struggle for freedom.

A flamboyant and tomboyish Manikarnika aka Manu(Kangana) who is raised by the Peshwa of Bithoor(Suresh Oberoi) and her father Moropant, gets a marriage proposal from Jhansi – the princely state under a precarious condition, crippled under a non-robust King and absence of a heir.The feverish narrative unfolds with the transformation of Manu to the revered queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmi Bai who witnesses a sea of upheavals – at personal and regime level. She soon finds herself at loggerheads with the East India Company, and the obnoxious British officer, Gordon.

Her portrayal of Rani Laxmi Bai also stands vindicated against the current positioning in Bollywood – here is an actress who is unabashedly challenging the Khan Brigade, the nepotism and favoritisms with her firebrand feminism. From that perspective, Kangana ticks all the checkboxes. But the writing by KV. Vijayendra Prasad, who is known for films like Bahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, doesn’t hold enough meat to captivate the audience. His screenplay works only at surface levels – clearly demanding more imagination and insights.

Manikarnika offers us a grand visual spectacle – the set pieces are majestic and the cinematography by Kiran Deohans and Gnana Shekar is exquisite and the action, supplemented with a superlative backgroumd score, is top-notch. Note the extended sequence involving the queen’s escape from the fort under the sudden invasion of the British force – it is a seething exhibit of urgency and fastens your pulse beats. The first half is crippled with flabby portions with some lapses into incoherence and inconsistencies – The Raja of Jhansi,Gangadhar Rao(Jissu Sengupta), was wearing bangles needed deeper reasoning, and the Queen de-throning the King of Gwalior – is poorly executed. Consequently, I was drawn into the beauty of Neeta Lulla’s ornate costumes, flourishing with intricate designs – a clear nod to the film’s range of emotions on display – from joy to solemnity.Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics coupled with Shankar Ehasaan Loy’s music, if not great, is soulful.

The film offers no qualms about admitting that it’s an Kangana vehicle from start to finish. She does a terrific job in heavy-lifting its weaker portions, surrounded with a host of veterans whose appearances on celluloid have thinned down – Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Suresh Oberoi and Danny Denzongpa – do much justice to their respective parts. Jissu, who plays the Rani’s husband, portrays the softness and sensitivity effectively and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub plays an antagonist without depth. From the women brigade – Ankita Lokhande, who plays Jhalkari Bai, performs with elan and shows promise. Mishti, whose last venture Kaanchi had doomed, brings in grace to her miniature part. The Firangis are mostly one-note , except Richard Keep who plays General Hugh Rose, throws some impact.

At one point, Kangana says she wants to set herself as an example for those who have fire in their bellies for freedom – I agree, she enacts it with flair and fervor. Despite its flaws, Manikarnika emerges as a body of work that infuses national pride, but the film needed more intrigue and depth.

Rating : 3/5

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