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Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi Movie Review

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a 2019 Indian epic biographical period dramafilm based on the life of the Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. It is directed by Krish and Kangana Ranaut and produced by Zee Studios in association with Kamal Jain and Nishant Pitti. The film stars Ranaut in the title role.

A special screening of the film was organized by Zee Entertainment for Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Cultural Centre on 18 January in presence of Kangana Ranaut and her team before release of the film on 25 January 2019. After watching the film the President felicitated the artists and crew of the film.

Manikarnika movie Box Office
Manikarnika movie Box Office

The film released on 3700 screens worldwide in 50 countries worldwide in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on January 25th. The film was received well by the critics and the audiences.

Manikarnika Movie Review

60 years after Rani Laxmibai died on the battlefield during the 1857-58 mutiny against the British, directors Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut present us with a film on the brave queen, Manikarnika, whose life was tragically cut short. Sadly, the 148-minute Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, which is a collaborative effort from the two, fails to give Laxmibai’s character some substance and more shades. What Manikarnika turns out to be is thus something straight out of a Class-8 history textbook; at points, even an Amar Chitra tale.

Manikarnika the film kicks off with viewers being introduced to the strong and independent Manikarnika (Kangana Rananut), who is well-versed in archery and sword-fighting. From taming a wild horse, to shooting a tiger from afar, or hop, skip and jumping to her elephant, it seems like she is the champion of stunts. There’s a constant flurry of expository dialogues on how fearless she is; enough to make your head spin.

Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie box office
Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie box office

Manikarnika is married off to Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar (Jisshu Sengupta) of Jhansi. He is more than impressed by her fearless behaviour. The Rajmata of the house isn’t, and strongly reprimands her. A woman’s place is in the palace and the kitchen, she tells Manikarnika, who pretty much rolls her eyes at her. This doesn’t stop Manikarnika (now renamed Rani Laxmibai after marriage) from roaming around town freely. Clouds loom over her seemingly-blissful life after her first child dies, and shortly later, her husband. The British officers are eager to capture Jhansi, and don’t accept her adopted son as the heir to the throne. Laxmibai’s fight against the British forms the rest of the story of Manikarnika.

Apart from blowing historical accuracy to smithereens, Manikarnika suffers from lazy writing, stilted dialogues, shoddy visual effects and bizarre caricaturing of the English. Some scenes are downright ridiculous, like when Kangana storms into British grounds to rescue a calf for her friend Jhalkaribai (Ankita Lokhande), and then gives an unblemished speech in English, when British officers try to take a dig at her for not knowing the language.

Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie cast and crew
Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie cast and crew

In earlier films on freedom struggle, like Lagaan or even Mangal Pandey for that matter, filmmakers had still tried to make the British officers of the East India Company more nuanced, or to put it in fewer words — more believable. In Manikarnika, the evil and conniving British officers are straight out of an Ekta Kapoor serial. There’s no subtlety, they outright voice their plans of taking over Jhansi and you wonder if this is a potboiler from the 90s or taking place in 2019. All that’s needed is the signature evil ‘dhoom tananana’ in the background. Not just this, the makers have fallen for cliches, hook, line and sinker. The English officers seem to be wearing top hats in every scene. Worse, they sound as if they’re reading their dialogues off a teleprompter.

In short, the scenes with the British officers make you want to scream into a pillow. They spout dialogues like “Rani ka sar jhukega!” Interestingly, Manikarnika the film seems to unintentionally be about a war between Laxmibai and a very vengeful and vindictive Sir Hugh Rose (the man who led the army against the queen in 1858). He’s such a bitter soul that he even kills a young child for sharing her name with Laxmibai. (What?)

Kangana as the actor shines all through the first half of Manikarnika. She brings her feminist views into the story, which is one of the better points about the film. However, she seems to get complacent and settles into a comfortable and altogether predictable pattern. In the second half of Manikarnika, she seems to be relying on exactly four to five expressions and emotions. When she’s being snarky to the British officers, there’s a slight smirk on her countenance. When she’s in a state of fury, her eyes tear up and her voice gets tremulous and rises a few notches. She stares back unflinchingly when spewing homilies on patriotism and national pride.

Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie stills
Manikarnika, the queen of jhansi movie stills

Yet, she is the life of this exhausting drama, as even other class-actors like Atul Kulkarni recede into the background. Ankita Lokhande is determined to prove her worth as Laxmibai’s faithful companion Jhalkaribai on the big screen, and does a fair job of it.

The background music aids the storytelling when Manikarnika reaches its climax, but is soon painful to your ears. The songs blend into the story but there’s nothing to write home about. The film wins hands down in the departments of cinematography and set design.

But despite Kangana’s best efforts, Manikarnika fails to bring Rani Laxmibai to life in this exhausting and over-exaggerated drama.

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