Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi comes at the right time as India gears up to celebrate Republic Day. Three-time National Award winner Kangana Ranaut not only plays the lead role of Rani of Jhansi but also turns director, sharing credits with Radha Krishna Jagalramudi aka Krish. So will Kangana bag her fourth National Award with the period drama? Read here
The story starts in 1828 Varanasi with visuals of a baby girl being named Manikarnika, tipped by a priest to attain glory in her life. The girl grows to be skilful in horse-riding, sword-fighting and archery. Impressed by her talents, Dikshit Ji, an official from Jhansi asks her hand in marriage from Bittoor's Peshwa for their king. She gets married to King Gangadhar Rao to become the queen of Jhansi and is named Rani Lakshmibai. The couple has a son, but Sadashiv, a person greedy for power, in conspiracy with the Britishers plots to kill their son and also leaves the king on the brink of death. Expected to shave her head and live as a widow after the death of her husband, Lakshmibai defies patriarchy by refusing to do so and takes over the throne.
The plot of the movie traces Manikarnika's journey from her youth to become Rani Lakshmibai aka Rani of Jhansi, one of bravest warriors of India's first freedom movement in 1857. From beating the men in sword fighting to convincingly riding the horse and skilled use of the bow and arrow, Manikarnika has something other women in the region do not have.
From refusing to bow down to the British general to raising her voice against the unjust actions against the Britishers, the queen is the most dignified. The death of her son impacts her deeply and they even adopt a son, giving him the same name as their first child, Damodar. However, the death of her husband, who spurs her to showcase her warrior spirit, takes up the mantle of the rule of Jhansi.
After taking charge of Jhansi, she is faced with the challenge of thwarting the Britishers who are devising ways to capture Jhansi by hook or by crook. How she goes about this mission by motivating the villagers, training them and strategising the attacks while dealing with the scheming Sadashiv forms the rest of the plot.
Rani of Jhansi is one of the most known warriors and the movie could have been the perfect tribute to her, but the movie fails to do so. One of the main reasons for this is the screenplay which fails to make you feel for the characters. The depiction of the incidents neither make you cheer for Kangana nor does it evoke anger against the Britishers. Her battle gets lost between personal vengeance and love for country, both of which did not come out properly. A lot of scenes are just happening, without eliciting emotion and does not go with the flow of the story.
The lead actress Kangana is inconsistent in her performance. While she is decent is displaying subtlety in some scenes, her expressions seem over the top particularly during the action scenes and her dialogue delivery is unconvincing sometimes. However, her hard work comes across well and she seems very much at ease and convincing with the sword in her hand, while riding a horse or displaying her archery.
Ankita Lokhande makes a fine Bollywood debut as the fiery Jhalkaribai. Jisshu Sengupta is impressive with his dialogue delivery and truly looks like a king, making his chemistry with Kangana work to an extent. A veteran like Danny Denzongpa plays an irrelevant role. Another talented face Atul Kulkarni is wasted, while other veterans like Suresh Oberoi and Kulbhushan Kharbanda are adequate in their brief roles. Mishti and Nihar Pandya don't have much to do while Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub as Sadashiv has performed a lot better before.
The battle scenes have been pictured well and are one of the highlights. Special mention to the sequence when Kangana single-handedly slices the British officers. However, the use of slow motion towards the end derails the process. The VFX and the visual effects are good in the way the firing of cannon shots and explosions are shown.
Some of the dialogues, written by Prison Joshi, are too heavy and the Britishers using big Hindi words are unconvincing. Amitabh Bachchan is ever dependable is his voiceover to bring back memories of Lagaan.
The album is not one of Shankar-Ehsaan Loy's best, but two songs 'Bharat' and 'Vijayi Bhava' stand out. Lyrics and background music are good.
You might be reminded of Baahubali with a scene of baby above water, Katappa-like Danny Denzongpa or the scene of killing an animal. On the other hand, how Kangana becomes queen, motivates women and climax might just bring Padmavati to your mind. Overall, Manikarnika is not a bad film but falls short in evoking the patriotic spirit in you on Republic Day that much-loved films on similar themes successfully do.
What works: Action sequences, visual effects, music
What doesn't: Screenplay, over the top performances and dialogues.
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande, Jisshu Sengupta, Mishti Chakraborty, Suresh Oberoi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Nihar Pandya, Vaibhav Tattwawadi