"Inspiring movie that has scale and soul. Kangana, take a bow."
Kangana Ranaut became a director for the first time with Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019). And what a debut it has been.
Many of us perhaps are aware of the valour and bravery of the warrior queen through poems, plays, stories, school books, films, and TV.
Subhadra Kumari Chauhan commemorates her in the poem, Jhansi Ki Rani with the ethereal description:
“Khoob ladi mardani, Wo toh Jhasi wali Rani thi.”
On the way to gracing the cinema screens with its presence, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi endured a lot of ups and downs, just like the protagonist.
There were quite a few delays. The director Krish left the film and Ranaut had to take over. Supporting actor Sonu Sood, also left the film. And the budget ballooned.
But everyone involved with the film; the producers, cast, and crew, all coalesced around the new director Kangana to make the dream come true on celluloid.
Then before the release of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, there were the usual protests from right-wing fringe groups. But they were no match for the sword of the Rani of Jhansi!
Before the film did release on January 25, 2019, a special screening took place for the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Cultural Centre.
Kangana and the Manikarnika team were in attendance at the special screening. Following the screening, the President did congratulate the crew and artists.
The film opened to good response from both the audience and critics, praising Ranaut for her valiant portrayal as the Queen of Jhansi.
The Story Retold Once Again
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi recounts the entire life span of Rani Laxmibai, from her birth in the ghats of Varanasi to her fiery death in the battlefield at the age of twenty-nine years.
The film begins with a young Manikarnika raised by Bajirao II, played by Suresh Oberoi, and her father.
Jhansi minister, Dixit Ji, enacted by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, sees her slaying a tiger and is enamoured by her courage.
He suggests her marriage with Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta), the Maratha King of Jhansi.
The marriage takes places with lots of festivities. It serves as the introduction of Jhalkaribai, portrayed by Ankita Lokhande, who later becomes a friend and staunch ally of the Rani.
The now renamed and newlywed Lakshmi Bai spends quality time with her husband. She does not follow traditional womanly duties but instead takes interest in Jhansi politics.
The Rani is furious when she finds that her husband, the king, has to bow down ahead of British officers.
Manikarnika, however, refuses to bow down to British officer Gordon when he visits Jhansi. This was her first of many altercations with the Imperial British rulers.
The Queen becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy Damodar Rao. This brings great joy in the palace and for the residents of Jhansi.
The joy is temporary as Damodar Rao is poisoned and killed by Sadashiv Rao with the help of the British. This leaves the king frail and on his deathbed.
After original choice Sonu Sood left the film, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub got the role of Sadashiv.
The king then adopts a child and names him successor to the Jhansi throne. The Rani instinctively calls by the name of Damodar.
Sadashiv revolts against the king and refuses to accept the child as the heir. He is subsequently banished from the kingdom.
After the death of the king, Rani Laxmibai refuses to live a widow’s life and takes over the reins of running the kingdom. The British find this unacceptable
The British force Manikarnika to vacate the palace. She leaves the palace and goes to live with the villagers. This is when she starts building and training her own army.
Sadashiv instigates a mutiny that results in the death of British officers, women, and children. He then blames it on the Rani.
The British lay siege to Jhansi and break into the fort with the help of Sadashiv. Ghulam Ghaus Khan, played by Danny Denzongpa, dies during this attack.
Jhalkaribai poses as the Rani and distracts the British troops. This helps Manikarnika escape with Damodar tied on her back.
The rest of the film depicts her valiant battles with the British at different places, till the last battle, where she gets shot. Damodar is left with her friend.
The wounded warrior queen steps into flames to prevent the British from desecrating her body.
The Making of Manikarnika
Zee Studios along with Nishant Pitti and Kamal Jain are producers of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Both Krish and Kangana will share credit as directors.
According to Ranaut around seventy per cent of the film is her direction. Shooting for the film came to completion during October 2018.
The poster, teaser, and trailer of the film were embraced by the audience.
The trailer achieved millions of YouTube views in just a day.
The music of the film is composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, with lyrics having been penned by Prasoon Joshi. The soundtrack features eight songs. The audio launch was held on January 9, 2019.
Reactions from Critics and the Audience
Despite the many controversies and the numerous hurdles in its path, Manikarnika has come up trumps, both critically and commercially.
Critics have lauded the performance of Kangana and have termed her as the conductor and soul of the magnum opus.
Film critic Taran Adarsh went on Twitter to share his thoughts:
“Inspiring movie that has scale and soul. Kangana, take a bow. You’re terrific.
“Second half awe inspiring. Climax brilliant. Power, pride, patriotism – this has it all.”
Critics have also heaped praise upon the magnificent cinematography, the exquisite attire and intricate jewellery, the fabulous stunts, and the amazing battle scenes.
However, critics do point out that Kangana has overshadowed the rest of the cast. No other actor gets to shine in his or her role.
Watch the trailer for Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi here:
Viewers had two major film choices on January 25, 2019, with most opting to watch Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. The collections bumped up on day two, which is a positive sign of audience approval.
Nearly all critics have offered ratings ranging between 3 and 4 stars.
In India, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi collected Rs. 8.75 crores (£935,000) on day one and Rs. 20.25 (£2.17 million) crores on day two.
The success of this film will surely elevate Kangana’s standing in Bollywood. Kangana has two more interesting films releasing in 2019, including Mental Hai Kya and Panga.