‘Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi’ Review — A Feminist Story for the Ages

[Photo Source: Screenshot / Zee Studios]

When you think of Hindi cinema’s unofficial “Jhansi ki rani,” Kangana Ranaut likely comes to mind. Often portrayed in the media as a frank, fearless actress who sparks larger conversation on issues ranging from slut-shaming to nepotism, casting Ranaut as “Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi” was a natural choice.

One of India’s early freedom fighters, Rani Laxmibai’s valor on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. Unlike previous films on icons of Indian independence like “Mangal Pandey: The Rising” and “The Legend of Bhagat Singh,” which made serious attempts at historical accuracy, “Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi” takes the route of fantastical folklore. Dates and locations appear on frames to make the tale more believable.

[Photo Source: Screenshot / Zee Studios]
This film is apocryphal, and it celebrates the Queen of Jhansi in the style of today’s India, immersed in nationalism. Case in point: Early scenes show Manikarnika, Rani Laxmibai’s name before marriage, striking a tiger with a single arrow and jumping across shielded men onto an elephant.

Ranaut is the lifeblood of the movie. After her career-changing role as Rani in “Queen,” she proves her supremacy as an actress yet again. It’s impossible to imagine another leading Hindi film heroine conquering such a challenging role. Ranaut’s portrays Manikarnika as larger than life while fighting on the battlefield, but when Laxmibai suffers personal setbacks, she is painfully human.

[Read Related: ‘Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi’ Trailer: YAS QUEEN!]

From carrying a child with the ease and familiarity of a mother to mustering every ounce of strength after losing her beloved husband and kingdom, Ranaut delivers with nuance, passion, and brilliance. Every scene where Manikarnika asserts herself is electrifying. Both the writing and Ranaut’s portrayal show the Queen as confident and self-assured, but never arrogant. Her spirit and physicality, especially while wielding weapons and standing tall against oppressors, is commendable.

Courageous, moral, and progressive, this feminist depiction of Rani Laxmibai and the celebration of Nari shakti (woman power) is more relevant than ever. Three scenes illustrate this beautifully — when she delivers a speech to the women of her kingdom saying the gender of power is more than capable of serving in an army, and two moments related to her not believing in societal shackles of widowhood, including a very touching scene with her speaking to a widowed girl.

Battle scenes include multiple frames show women riding horses and fervently fighting with guns and swords, proudly sacrificing their lives in the name of freedom.

The theme of girl power continues behind the camera. Krish Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut divide credit for directing the film, with Ranaut claiming she shot up to 70% of the finished product. The movie doesn’t keep the viewer continuously engaged; who knows if that is Jagarlamudi or Ranaut’s doing (or both).

Flat and uninteresting supporting roles cause a large chunk of the disengagement, the British characters are particularly annoying. Veteran actor Danny Denzongpa and film debutante Ankita Lokhande bring much-needed charisma to their scenes. Otherwise, much of the acting and angles resemble daily soaps based on Hindu mythology.

[Photo Source: Screenshot / Zee Studios]
Writer Prasoon Joshi creates some clap-worthy moments, and the screenplay by KV Vijayendra Prasad is good, but it fails to reach the level of excellence seen in his previous works “Baahubali 2” and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” Cinematographers Kiran Deohans, Sachin Krishn, and Gnanashekar V.S. create a lovely canvas, and sets designed by Sriram Iyengar and Sujeet Sawant are rich and exquisite. The computer-generated imagery gets the job done, but it certainly isn’t the finest seen in Indian cinema.

Almost 20 years since its release, “Lagaan” remains the gold standard when it comes to British characters and their costumes. Other than General Hugh Rose, played by Richard Keep, British characters in “Manikarnika” are mostly caricatures.

[Photo Source: Screenshot / Zee Studios]
Neeta Lulla does a fine job with the Indian garments, but again falls short when it comes to clothing the angrez. Their hats look poorly constructed, and pants seem as though they were bought off-the-rack. Did nobody else see her questionable European period costumes in “Veer?”

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy composed the music; the stand-out songs include “Vijayi Bhava” — showcased during the war preparation montage — and “Bharat,” which returns multiple times in the film and remains with you even after credits roll.

[Read Related: ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ Review: The Josh is High With This Film]

“Manikarnika” is chock full of Hindu imagery from beginning, and especially, to end. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine a future with Ranaut joining Indian politics. Dialogues like “You want to rule, I want to serve my people” provide perfect content for rallies and ads.

“Manikarnika” is another feather in the cap of Ranaut. If politics isn’t in her future, earning a fourth National Award seems forthcoming.

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi on ‘Ghoomer’

“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.

“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.

[Read Related: 5 Tidbits About Bollywood Royalty Abhishek Bachchan For His 41st Birthday!]

Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.

And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.

Take a look!

The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global. 

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›