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Kangana Ranaut Swings From Gentle to Fiery in ‘Manikarnika’

Hear all about Kangana’s performance.

Updated
Bollywood
4 min read
<i>Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi</i> also marks Kangana’s directorial debut.
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Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi opens with Kangana aiming at a tiger trying to catch it’s prey. She stands erect, with a glint in her eyes as villagers around her shiver in the background. She hits the bulls eye, and the tiger prances towards her ferociously only to collapse at her feet. She then takes some medicine and applies it on the tiger, and we’re told that the idea was merely to sedate the animal and not kill it. With this, she’s established as a fabulous archer but also as someone who is humane and compassionate.

Kangana Ranaut starts off wonderfully in the film.
Kangana Ranaut starts off wonderfully in the film.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube)
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The story of Manikarnika is one of bravery and grit, and the striking visual of her charging on horse with a baby strapped to her back gave me gooseflesh as I thought about it. She goes from being a playful girl, who’s actually brought up in quite a liberal atmosphere for the time that she grew up in. Her unusual upbringing saw her learn sword-fighting and other skills that one mostly saw men doing. She also gets married to Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi again a liberal man who encourages his wife’s pursuits and was himself interested in art and culture.

Kangana is effortless in the action sequences of the film.
Kangana is effortless in the action sequences of the film.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube)

It’s heartening to see a character like this, at a time when women are still fighting for fundamental rights and Kangana plays Manikarnika with a nice playfulness and zest.

In one scene when Tantia Tope the personal adherent to the Nana Saheb of Gwalior, where Manikarnika is brought up, tells a boy, “Why are you moving the sword like a girl?” Kangana jumps in with her sword and says, “Is this a good enough move from a girl?” This feistiness extends later as well, when her husband dies she refuses to bow down the rituals and expectations of a widow, much to the dismay of her mother-in-law.

Kangana Ranaut transforms from a ‘girl’ to a ‘woman’ in the film.
Kangana Ranaut transforms from a ‘girl’ to a ‘woman’ in the film.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

We see a woman who can be cheerful and feminine and take on the sword with great valour. But the film doesn't know what to say post that.

Manikarnika’s husband is seen wearing bangles through the film and he explains this by saying that, it was a ‘symbol’of being trapped by the Britishers. Why throw this archaic idea of wearing ‘choodiyan’ at us, when you’re showing a very liberated woman?

The film also ends with a quote from General Hugh Rose, who fought a battle with Manikarnika saying that, “she was the only man amongst the fighters”, why highlight that particular aspect?

Kangana switches from being a girl to a woman with ease. She’s pitch perfect in the action scenes, her posture and body language brings the rage of the character against the British effectively. If there are any missteps, they are thanks to the screenplay. Like a scene where she breaks into a perfectly framed sentence of English. Yes, she's shown as a voracious reader but at no point in the film do they explain where she learnt it from.

What’s also awkward is that in the second half, the emphasis shifts completely to the war, and so doesn't build on the interesting character they gave us in the first half. Someone battling against the British is bound to be angry, I get that but is that the only expression we ought to see?

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The aim clearly is to create this heightened sense of patriotism and nationalism, which I'm game for but you have to keep me invested. The narrative places too much focus on the titular character, which like I mentioned earlier, begins to get one-note as the film progresses. The other characters like Tantia Tope and Ghaus Khan played by Atul Kulkarni and Danny Denzongpa respectively have barely any scope. But, the biggest misfire which seems to be in the case with most Hindi films these days is the portrayal of the British. When you have a brave heart like Manikarnika, give us villains that are convincing and at least remotely interesting?

Her character Manikarnika, refuses to toe the line when she's widowed.&nbsp;
Her character Manikarnika, refuses to toe the line when she's widowed. 
(Photo courtesy: YouTube)

The British actors spend their time mouthing dialogues in the most bizarre fashion in Hindi. Sometimes even talking to each other in Hindi (because they suddenly forgot English?!)

I would have liked an insight into Manikarnika’s mind, her equation with her adopted son because you have an actor like Kangana who can pull it off. She speaks so beautifully with her eyes, each time she has to convey an emotion. When her husband is forced to bow his head down to the Britishers, she looks at him with pain her eyes understanding his caged feeling and then immediately gives a ferocious look to the Britishers.

This is also her directorial debut, and one assumes she had her hands full but in a bid to whip up a feeling of nationalism, we may have lost out on a nuanced understanding of one our bravest fighters. What I take back though is her compassion, her rebellion and her sense of justice- values we are all grappling with and striving to achieve.

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