There is something really alluring about powerful female characters. From being mere aberrations to helming entire projects on their shoulders, strong female protagonists have come a long way in trailing a blaze in the hitherto male-worshiping Bollywood. Indian history itself has not been kind to female bravehearts who have been reduced to the end pages of historical chronological document. Eulogies of the Kings and Nawabs are taught and shared with verve from one generation to another, but there have been some indomitable, yet forgotten female figures who deserve equal recognition.
Therefore, I am taking the liberty to mention 3 of such lionhearted women born on our soil with a hope that some director would be kind enough to bring them to life on celluloid.
- Ahilyabai Holkar (1725-1795) : after her husband was killed in war and father-in-law died of old age, this Holkar Queen of the Maratha Malwa kingdom took the reins of the Malwa herself. She personally lead her armies into battlefield and defended against plundering foreigners.
- Chand Bibi (1550-1599) : one of the few great warriors who dared to go against the diktat of Emperor Akbar. She successfully defended the Ahmednagar fort against the marauding Mughals.
- Kittur Chennamma (1778-1829) : before Rani of Jhansi, there was the Rani of Kittur, who lead the rebel armed forces against the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ of the British East India Company.
The legend of Laxmi Bai, the ruler of Jhansi shines the brightest among the women warriors who have graced our land. Even the Britishers have called her the bravest of the brave rebels who mutinied against their rule. Manikarnika : The Queen Of Jhansi is an attempt to show the events of her life and her struggle against the British forces which ended in the Ultimate Sacrifice. However, the movie does not elevate from being a stunt show and a disjointed sequence of events. This was one of the rare occasions where the Curse of the first half was evident. The movie tries to establish the valour of Manikarnika (renamed as Laxmi post her marriage) that it uses the typical motifs of taming animals and cliché ridden dialogues of ‘Matrubhumi prem’ which makes it a tedious watch for the first half.
The movie is a love child of first time director Kangana Ranaut, who wears the Director’s hat after the unfortunate departure of Sonu Sood from the movie, forcing them to reshoot his scenes with Mohammed Zeeshan Aayub. Kangana hogs the centre light fully, but makes sure that she owns the character. With a better script, this movie had the potential to become a defining film in Bollywood with a historical female character at it’s centre. Alas! The movie remains a series of could-have-beens. The war scenes are grand and Kangana delivers one of her most earnest performances, but that remains the only positive in the movie. Jisshu Sengupta as Gangadhar Rao, the king of Jhansi is solid in his role as the king who is enamoured by his rebellious wife, yet, guilt ridden by his own incapability to rise against the invading Britishers.
A lot of strong characters are left without completed arcs and they work simply as enablers for the central character to show her bravery. And the biggest let down is the inconsequential song and dance routine which takes up at least 15 minutes of the already long movie. It is as if the director did not know how to transition from one scene to another, and so includes a song in the interim.
Manikarnika is watchable for Kangana. She is one actress who has always treaded her own path in Bollywood, this time even directing the movie when production delays and exits were imminent. The fight scenes are grand and that should itself make you want to visit the nearest theatre once. Also, the story of Jhansi ki Rani is etched in our memories since childhood, and to watch her life on the big screen is nostalgic in itself.