Zee Studios, Kamal Jain and Kairos Kontent Studios’ Manikarnika – Jhansi Ki Rani (UA) is a biopic of the great woman warrior, the queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai, who fought valiantly against the British Raj to secure India’s freedom. The film traces her fight to first save her own Jhansi and then, her struggle to make India independent of the British rule.
The story begins with the birth of a young girl whom the sage christens Manikarnika. She grows up to be a beautiful girl (Kangana Ranaut) who is well-versed in warfare and self-defence. She gets married at a very young age to Gangadhar (Jisshu Sengupta) who is more or less like a slave to the Britishers because he finds himself helpless. Soon, Manikarnika delivers her first child but he is poisoned to death by Gangadhar’s power-hungry brother, Sadashiv Rao (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub). Gangadhar also becomes a victim of the evil machinations of Sadashiv Rao and soon passes away. How Manikarnika, instead of crying over her fate, rises to the occasion and takes care of Jhansi and its people is what the following part of the story reveals. Major General Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) throws Manikarnika out of her palace in a bid to put an end to the formidable opposition she poses to the Britishers. How Manikarnika launches the Indian Rebellion in 1857 which is considered a major uprising and the first war of independence against the rule of the East India Company that functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown is what the latter part of the drama is all about.
Not satisfied with just saving Jhansi with the help of her army as well as by training housewives in warfare, Manikarnika now begins to fight the internal enemies to make India strong. She first captures Gwalior from the Indian ruler but while putting up stiff opposition to the Britishers, Manikarnika lays down her life for the country. She never once thinks of running away from the battlefield and, in fact, poses a tough challenge to the British Raj despite being a woman and in spite of a far smaller army.
Vijayendra Prasad has written the story of Rani Laxmibai as we know it from our history books but, of course, with far more details thrown in. His screenplay is also more detailed but the fact remains that the drama is a chapter out of history books of 1857 and thereabouts. The relevance for today’s youth, therefore, is limited. That may not have been such a major problem had the screenplay been more interesting, engaging and dramatic. But because there aren’t too many emotions – family as well as patriotic emotions – the impact is diluted. Rather than exploiting the women-centric emotions of Manikarnika, Vijayendra Prasad has concentrated completely and absolutely on showing her as an extremely brave and ruthless warrior who cares not for herself. Even her contribution to the freedom struggle fails to inspire the patriotic feelings in the viewers to the extent it should have. Furthermore, every film drama requires a protagonist and an equally strong antagonist to become enjoyable. But Prasad, while making a hero out of Manikarnika’s protagonist, has not really given the audience an equally solid antagonist. The British army and the British rulers apart, what the viewers needed were some solid names and faces.
The drama is also too long-drawn and gets repetitive at places. The last half an hour, which should have been the most dramatic and exciting, is simply not that.
Of course, that does not mean, there’s nothing for the audience in the screenplay. Manikarnika’s bravery and firebrand attitude are praiseworthy and will especially be loved by the womenfolk, more so the 30-plus and 40-plus ladies. Her selfless fight for the country does excite the viewers at places but if only that had been given a fantastic dash of emotional embellishment, the drama could’ve worked wonders.
Prasoon Joshi’s dialogues are very good but only at places. A film of this kind needed at least 10 to 15 clap-worthy dialogues with lots of punches packed in. Frankly, with Manikarnika not having too many dialogue-laden confrontation scenes, where was the scope for clap-trap dialogues?
Kangana Ranaut does an extraordinary job in the title role. She acts with effortless ease, proving that she has worked hard to play the warrior so smoothly. She looks stunning, and her costumes and jewellery will be topics of discussion among the ladies audience. Danny Denzongpa is pretty effective as Ghulam Ghaus Khan but gets limited scope. Suresh Oberoi, in a brief role, stands his own as Peshwa of Bithoor. Atul Kulkarni leaves a mark as Tatya Tope. Kulbhushan Kharbanda has his moments as Dixit-ji. Jisshu Sengupta (voice dubbed by Sanjay Suri) is fair as Gangadhar. Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub performs ably as the evil Sadashiv Rao but he does not have a substantive role. Ankita Lokhande makes a fair big-screen debut as Jhalkari. Mishti Chakraborty looks very beautiful and acts well as Kashi. Unnati Davara (as Mundar) and Priya Gamre (as Sundar) are good. Suparna Marwah lends decent support as Rajmata. Vaibhav Tatwawaadi (as Puran Singh), Nihar Pandya (as Rao), Vikram Kochar (as Nana), Anil George (as Pir Ali), Tahir Mithaiwala (as Sangram Singh), Edward Sonnenblick (as Major Genral Gordon), Richard Keep (as Hugh Rose), Manish Wadhwa (as Moropant), Romit Puri (as Sadashiv Rao’s man), Lata Shukla (as the old lady), Kristina (as Gordon’s wife), Aditi Gupta (as village girl Laxmi), Ravi Prakash (as king Scindia), Nalneesh Neel (as Teer Singh), baby Katelyn Rodrigues (as little Manikarnika), baby Alexandra (as Gordon’s daughter), Rajiv Kachroo (as Gul Mohammad), Amit Behl (as Dinkar Rao), master Aarav Jaiswal (as little Damodar Rao), Rajveer Singh (as Teer Singh’s assistant) and the rest provide fair support.
Kangana Ranaut and Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi’s (Krish) direction is fair. Their narrative style needed to be far more humane to strike a chord in the hearts of the viewers. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is not as good as it should’ve been. At least two to three songs should’ve been hits. No doubt, a couple of songs are good but that’s just not enough. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics are suitably inspirational where necessary. Song picturisations (by Brinda, Bosco-Caesar, Ganesh Acharya and Saroj Khan) are good but could’ve been more exciting. Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara’s background music is fairly nice. Camerawork (Gnana Shekar V.S. and Kiran Deohans) is very good. Action scenes and stunts have been choreographed effectively by Nick Powell, Todor Lazarov and Riyaz-Habib. Production designing (by Murlidhar J. Sabat, Ratan Suryawanshi and Sukant Panigrahy) is of a good standard. Rameshwar Bhagat’s editing needed to be sharper.
On the whole, Manikarnika – Jhansi Ki Rani is a below-average fare which lacks a strong patriotic flavour and a strong antagonist. It has Kangana trying very hard to take it to the victory post but that’s a tall order because of the relatively slow start and absence of entertainment value for the youth. Collections will jump tomorrow (26th January) due to Republic Day national holiday but that won’t be enough to ensure that the film reaches the safety mark.