Swordfight ke liye nahi Jewelry ke liye jaani jaayegi
Manikarnika ko bore kaha toh main anti national maani jaayegi!

2 stars

Mini Review:

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan's poem about the fearless warrior queen Laxmibai of Jhansi is one my favorites, tells the story of a woman who chose to fight the outsiders than be subservient like most principalities. This legend has been so awfully Bollywoodised, that the chest thumping patriotism which most people will mistakenly call 'pride in all things Indian' needs one tight slap rather than kudos which the heroine of the film deperately seeks.

Main Review:

Manikarnika ne har situation mein gorgeous dikhne ki thaani thee,
Khoob ladi mardani woh toh Jhansi wali rani thee!

First things first. The jewelry that Manikearnika wears earns a star on its own. Supported by the brooches and necklaces that the other royal men wear. The jewelery is so good you will want to trawl the net to buy copies.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Manikarnika's hair. 

Kangana Ranaut plays the title role, and it is said that she directed too. Sigh. Wrong move. Because the audience wants to tear their own hair out when they see blatant mistakes. Her hair goes from curled elegance to French braids to a bun within a single scene. Perhaps her salon service was riding with her in war. I must admit that I stopped counting these errors and allowed my inner Lata Mangeshkar to sing:

Kabhi Curly Kabhie Bun!

Kangana wears sarees irl rather well, and so it wasn't difficult to see her look beautiful in her outfits. But people need to realise that the camera is mean when it takes close ups. Stray threads show us how tacky the finishing of the outfits sarees were. But we are blinded by her mile long eyelashes and eye make up that gets accentuated when she glares. Chest thumping patriots will call that glaring 'acting', but what to do. She yells, 'Azaaaaadeeeee!' so well it could become someone's caller tune!

Her histrionics when her baby dies are controlled, an we thank our stars for that, but ye-gads! An item song with peasants? 

Lawaris ka waris ban kar British jajya Jhansi aaya,
Angrezi bhoolkar unhone Bollywood Hindi ko apnaya!

The British soldiers are by default shown to commit lots of Hindi films. They are a trope: Ill fitting uniforms and blonde wigs and they speak an accented Hindi which is hilarious. 

But in this film they speak English like the writers were at some Biblical convention: Let us eat the tender flesh of the calf we took today. 

I choked on my coffee chum! Because Manikarnika shows up on a rescue mission and declares all sheep and goats and livestock as the king's property and that the farmers are just caretakers. The three cowering British soldiers then hand over the calf to 'Her Majesty' (seriously? Who wrote that?) and the queen then jumps into a happy dance with the peasants.

Of course when she sort of faints, a peasant pronounces her pregnant. Dammit! I was hoping for a jhingalala hurrr from a witch doctor and all...

But I digress. The Brits are fed up of this proud Rani 'jo sar nahi jhukati!' (so are we because the narrative has not moved forward at all!) and decide to bring in Voldemort. But they can afford only gareebon ka Ralph Fiennes, and so we have bring in cannons that fire at the fort of Jhansi from behind the temple. When he rides out with her cannonsthe bad Angrez says, 'What is this woman doing?!' and what follows is incredulously bad special effects battle.

You even forget the special effects guy made her jump on to an elephant's back who does not move an inch. Don't worry, I flinched, and then laughed to see her float over the elephant...

Behen Chhabili ne kar diya Ran Chandi ka prakat avhaan
In the movie it gets translated to a nightmare mahaan!

Of course the writer read the poem too, and he decided that the first line of this subhead would be perfect in cinema... The big bad Hugh Rose is so scared of this unpredictable queen that he sees (and alas we see) Kangana with body paint and a dressed up as the avenging goddess Kali. I laughed so much I almost missed the tropes of good peasants dying for motherland and greedy prince wanting to be king at any cost.   

The poem gives us a history lesson in 126 lines, but the movie takes 148 minutes... and still leaves us confused about what the film was trying to say. To add to the confusion, they take really awesome actors like Danny Denzongpa and put him in a weird leather costume which looks like a leftover from Pirates Of The Caribbean. Atul Kulkarni who plays Tantya Tope is reduced to mouthing, 'Aazaadi!' too. The poor Pathan chief and his bunch (Muslim) end up saying, 'Har Har Mahadev!' 

But who cares, right? They made a patriotic film and we need to clap because we are Incredibly Indian. 

Tera Smarak tu hee hogi, tu khud amit nishani thee
(says the poem, immortalising her)
Lekin Manikarnika apne dimaag se mit jaaye yahi prayer hamari thee!

Wait for the film to show up on your TV screen. Or if you like period films, watch Bajirao Mastani or something or another re-run of Lagaan.

Author: Manisha Lakhe

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