As I watched this week’s big-ticket release, Manikarnika, I wondered how much of it is a Kangana Ranaut directorial and how much of it can be attributed to its first maker, Krish Jagarlamudi. Starring Kanagana Ranaut in the titular role as Manikarnika aka Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Manikarnika seemed like a half-cooked product, focusing on the valor and might of one of the biggest freedom-fighters of India, without delving enough into her emotional construct. (Note: small spoilers ahead)
Most of us have read about Jhansi ki Rani in school and hence, know the premise. Therefore, it becomes even more pertinent to develop the characters with required emotions, rather than just blood and flesh. This is where the story by Vijayendra Prasad, dialogues by Prasoon Joshi and direction by both its directors ends up disappointing us. Right from the onset, we are shown of a brave and strong girl, Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut), being raised amid books and swords in Marathwada. But, instead of letting the audience develop a bond with the character, the makers blatantly try to push their point. There are no subtle nuances, but everything is over-the-top. For instance, when a naïve Manikarnika expresses her inhibitions about getting married, the Peshwa (played by Suresh Oberoi) replies, “Har cheez seekhi nahi jaati mani, matrubhoomi se prem ho, toh sab ho ajega” and this is followed by a patriotic song. Not exactly the way you would allay a girl’s apprehensions before her wedding! As I said, the makers go overboard in establishing Manikarnika as the bravest woman on the planet. All I wished was revering Manikarnika in moderation, with better dialogues. That would have helped connecting with the character.
It was not just excessive praise for Manikarnika that was problematic, much like Krish’s other movies, Manikarnika went overboard in making a point. Like loads of melodrama to show the atrocities by the British. Or the fact that a submissive King is shown to be wearing ‘choodi’ – symbolizing his inability to go against the British. And the choodi are referred to quite often – in case the audience forgets how incapable the King is. Or my favorite – an English officer dreams of Manikarnika in Kaali avtaar – does he even know Indian Goddess Kaali?! Having seen some of Krish’s previous works, including the recent NTR Kathanayukudu, Manikarnika seemed to bear his stamp in certain parts – inconsistencies in the narrative, beautiful canvas yet lack of connect and a climax fight scene reminiscent of Krish’s Gautamiputra Satakarani. Similarly, Vijayendra Prasad leaves a few trademark motifs of his – exaggerated common-man scenes, a people’s queen (like people’s king Bahubali) or an out-of-the-blue item song! As I said, it is difficult to point out which part of it was directed by Kangana Ranaut, but she can certainly share the onus for the incoherence.
All things aside, some of the things that worked in favor of the movie were the art design, the costumes and the lead! Kangana Ranaut is feisty and digs her teeth into the character. She is a delight to watch, especially in combat sequences in the second half. She may not have a regal aura like Aishwarya Rai in Jodhaa Akbar or Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat, but she is believable as the people’s queen. A fine actor that she is, she does not disappoint, except in delivering her dialogues which I felt were not powerful enough. Two of my favorite scenes were her confrontation with her mother-in-law and her sword-fight scene with a bunch of British soldiers in front of a Kaali statue. The music felt more contemporary than belonging to that era and the graphics felt like cheap videogames. The rest of the cast was fine, but were over-shadowed by the tall performance by Kangana Ranaut. Though I would like to mention that Zeeshan Ayub was the most underutilized actor in the movie!
In the end, Manikarnika feels largely like a lifeless canvas, painted with rich colors. Kangana Ranaut has been shouldering her movies single-handedly in her last few outings. And much like them, despite a stellar Kangana Ranaut, the movie does not really work.
My Rating – 2/5