Film Review: Manikarnika-The Queen of Jhansi

Kangana Ranaut’s brilliance blazes the screen with unbelievable fire and ferocity!

By

Sharada Iyer

The bravery of Rani Laxmibai is a story known to every Indian and the image of this young warrior queen in all her regal finery mounted on a horseback with a sword in her hand and her child tied to her back is an image etched deeply in our minds. The film does full justice to her bravery and is a fitting tribute to this extraordinary queen who played an important part in our 1857 mutiny against the British.

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My tryst with ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ began many years back when as a young 7-year old I had the rare opportunity to recite some verses of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s memorable poem titled JHANSI KI RANI on stage as part of my school program. And the line which had stayed with me since then was– ‘Khoob ladi mardani woh toh Jhansi waali rani thi’ (she fought like a true man among the warriors)! I could never forget the meaning of the forceful words of the poem…

…And yesterday in the cinema hall when I got to witness the life and times of this warrior-queen in the film Manikarnika, my heart was once gain filled with a patriotic fervour difficult to put down in words. The film is very well written, superbly directed, lavishly mounted and the stunning visuals of the sets and battle scenes transport us back in time to the 1800s to witness the heroic battles fought by this young queen who gave up her life dreaming of an India free from the British.

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She was just 29 years old when she was killed. The film encapsulates the brief but memorable life of Rani Laxmibai. Born as Manikarnika and referred to lovingly as Manu by her father and her friends, she gets the name Laxmi after marriage when as per custom the king gets to choose a new name for his queen. Her life had lots of unexpected twists which she or anyone else could have never dreamt of but she faces every adversity with great resoluteness and dignity.

There could not have been a better choice than Kangana Ranaut to bring to life the spirit of one of our bravest warriors in history- Rani Laxmibai. Her transformation from an innocent, playful and feisty daughter well-versed in all forms of warfare to the loving wife of Maharaja Gangadhar Rao and finally to the widowed yet resolute queen going all out to defend ‘her’ Jhansi, Kangana gets everything right. She truly imbibes the spirit of this brave-heart queen and completely invests herself in the character as she lights up the screen with a myriad emotions. The film is worth a watch just for her earnestness, spirited determination and flawless performance!

The detailing in each and every scene is laudable and costumes by Neeta Lulla are magnificent! The story and screenplay by Bahubali writer Vijayendra Prasad keep us engaged throughout. Dialogues by Prasoon Joshi are spot on and there are many lines that are simply outstanding! The action scenes are just too good. Such authenticity and detailing in battle scenes has not been witnessed in a long time.

In a movie like Bajirao Mastani, Ranveer hardly had any fighting scenes but does a victory song/dance number nevertheless, but here the thrilling battle scenes get enough screen time for us to feel the emotions. It was like actually being on the battlefield with the characters. Kangana goes all out and has performed the fight sequences with a zeal, flourish and fluidity that make it look very convincing. The skillful choreography of the fight sequences leave us speechless and make for compelling viewing.

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So move over Akshay, Ranveer, Ajay and Salman for here comes the true action star! Just watch the scene where she fights three of the court’s men with amazing deftness, does somersaults, jumps over horses and finally lands atop an elephant! Prabhas of Bahubali definitely has competition!

The supporting cast also do their job very well. Suresh Oberoi as Peswa Baji Rao II, Atul Kulkarni as Tatya Tope, Danny Denzongpa as Ghouse Baba, Jishu Sengupta as Maharaja Gangadhar Rao, Mohamed Zeeshan Ayub as his brother Sadashiv Rao, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Jhansi’s minister Dixit are all very good. A special mention for Anita Lokhande who makes her debut in the film and her brief role as Jhalkari bai is memorable. The actors playing the British looked their part.

The introductory narration in superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s magical baritone is an added bonus! Music by Shankar Ehsan Loy is also very good and camerawork and VFX also need special mention. Kangana looks stunning in all the scenes and the camera  captures her beauty and personality in every frame. The film by the way has two directors and Kangana herself is one of them. It is her name which appears first in the end credits as director and is followed by the name of the second person Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi.

So take a bow Kangana both as an actor as well as a director!!! The unit held a special screening for President Ram Nath Kovind before the release of the film and the President felicitated the entire team.

This film deals with patriotism and has the right mix of emotion and action scenes. Yet it does not seem to be getting the kind of promotion which URI-The Surgical Strike got both from the government and the industry people! Not many tweets and social media promotions by any of the ‘so-called’ big stars and directors of the industry! Is it because much like the Queen of Jhansi, Kangana too refuses to bow down to the industry bigwigs and instead prefers to fight her own battle?

Towards the end of the film, they show us a line from Sir Hugh Rose’s memoirs where he wrote that of all the people whom the British fought against, he considered the Queen of Jhansi to be the bravest and the only true man among the warriors!

Whether the film will make box-office history or not only time will tell but the film has been painstakingly crafted and is a fitting tribute to the contribution of women in our freedom struggle. At 2 hours and 38 minutes the film is long and a few cinematic liberties have been taken but the glimpse into this unique chapter of our history is definitely worth watching!

Here is a lovely song from the film titled ‘Vijayi Bhava’:

 

 

 

 

THE ACCIDENTAL PRIME MINISTER: Movie Review

Akshaye Khanna is brilliant but Anupam Kher falters in this familiar political drama

By

Sharada Iyer

As the title suggests, the film is based on the book of the same name written by Sanjaya Baru, the journalist who became the media advisor to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2004. The film wastes no time and takes us immediately into the heart of the political scenario prevalent in our country right after the UPA government wins the 2004 elections with a thumping majority.

The narrative seems to have been put together by some of the incidents taken from the book and clearly pinpoints as to where the true power lay during this government’s reign. Much of what is shown is already known to the general public but the timing of releasing the movie just before the upcoming elections is clearly to refresh the memories of voters and maybe bias their views at least to a certain extent.

In this respect the movie offers nothing new and does not add anything by way of a gripping plot or a brilliant screenplay but definitely familiarizes us with the powers lurking in the corridors of the highest authorities and how they play their subtle games to get things done. The film thus reiterates how and why Dr Manmohan Singh came to be referred to as the accidental PM.

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PERFORMANCES:

There are only two main protagonists in the film- The Prime Minister played by veteran actor Anupam Kher and his advisor (and author of the book) played by Akshaye Khanna.

As always I feel a biopic can be brought to life only if the actor playing the main character is able to imbibe and convey the spirit of the character. Though Anupam Kher gets full marks for clinching the looks, the same cannot be said about his performance. He has concentrated so much on modelling himself on the external appearance of Dr Manmohan Singh that he forgot to feel like the character. His high-pitched voice was quite irritating and that walk he tries to copy was bordering on the ludicrous. He fails to capture the humility, dignity and intelligence of our ex-Prime Minister and ends up being more of a caricature.

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On the other hand, it is Akshaye Khanna who makes the film worth watching. He is the heart and soul of the film and keeps the viewer engaged from beginning to end with his breezy presence, natural dialogue delivery and an innate charisma which is endearing. The novel technique used in the film whereby Akshaye addresses the audience directly is highly entertaining and is the USP of the film. He establishes a direct connect with the audience and so it is through his eyes the audience also views Dr. Manmohan Singh’s tenure as the PM of this country, his thoughts, his actions and the problems he faced and how he deals with them.

There is a warm friendship between the two which comes across very nicely and their fallout is also shown which is unexpected. The film does comes to life when these two stalwarts are there together but we really have to make an effort to tolerate Anupam’s voice modulation. Maybe a less familiar actor would have looked more convincing in the role. Anupam Kher is too well-known a face and everyone knows his real voice also; so the voice modulation ends up making the whole get-up quite artificial.

The actress playing Sonia Gandhi looks like her wax statue and her character comes across as a cold-blooded conniving politician. The actor playing Rahul looks lost and Priyanka has hardly any screen time.

What works for the film

-The political content: Any film dealing with politics is like an elixir for Indians and with the kind of drama we have in our country such films will always be welcomed and enjoyed. So it is safe to say the movie is entertaining and it is good to know the reality of the people we vote for. It is always good to watch and then interpret in our own way how much of what is shown could be the absolute truth and how much is fabricated.

-Akshaye Khanna’s superlative performance: He is easily one of the most talented yet underrated actors of our industry and here he lifts the film several notches higher with his convincing portrayal of the author of this political drama.

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-Anupam Kher’s physical transformation: Kher has definitely worked hard to look the part physically.

What does not work for the film

-The one-sided linear approach of the script. Nowhere in the film is any interaction shown between the PM and any of his ministers. The sole concentration is to show his problem with the PMO’s office which made it look like Dr Singh never did anything except the nuclear deal and in the second term was surrounded by scams.

– Anupam Kher’s unnecessary voice modulation and that nonsensical walk which made the PM look like a physically and mentally challenged individual.

-The wig and trousers of the actor playing President APJ Abdul Kalam!

-The real footage in the end where Naraendra Modi claims that the era of mother and son is over was a direct hit at the opposition for the 2019 elections.

In conclusion

For our film industry the movie though tackily shot is quite a bold attempt as a political film. It is probably the first of its kind as all names of the ministers are retained as such. Most of the actors chosen are also look-alikes so that there is no confusion in the viewer’s mind.

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If you are in a mood to just enjoy what unfolds on the screen without being too judgemental then don’t miss it…

 

 

 

 

 

A quick recap of Bollywood 2018 and a sneak peek into a few upcoming films of Bollywood 2019

By

 Sharada Iyer

2018 will be remembered as an interesting year for the sheer variety of subjects tackled as well as for some superlative performances by many of our younger stars. While some much awaited big-budget films with top stars crashed at the box-office some unexpected films with unique concepts helmed by ‘gen-next’ hit the bull’s eye reiterating the changing taste of the audience and their thirst for something new and novel in every script.

The topics ranged from biopics (Soorma, Gold, Padman, Sanju) and real-life incidents (Paltan, Parmanu) to love stories (Manmarziyaan, Kedarnath, Loveratri, etc.) and family socials (102 Not Out, Badhaai Ho), from horror and dark comedy (Stree, Blackmail) to murder thrillers (Andhadhun) and spy thrillers (Raazi), from historical (Padmaavat) and fantasy fiction (Thugs of Hindostan) to spectacular action films with mind-blowing special effects (2.0).

Top 10 films of 2018:

 Andhadhun, Raazi, Padman, Blackmail, Karwaan, Gold, Padmaavat, Badhaai Ho, Soorma, Stree

Next rung of top films:

102 Not Out, Sanju, Manmarziyaan, Sui Dhaga, 2.0, Paltan, Raid, Parmanu, Hichki, Mulk

5 films which were appreciated for overall good music:

Padmaavat, Kedarnath, Padman, Manmarziyan, Soorma, Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety

5 Totally senseless films:

Zero, Race 3, Kaalakaandi, Thugs of Hindostan, Satyamev Jayate

TOP PERFORMANCES

The younger generation stars did exceedingly well in all their films. Ayushmann Khurrana in the path-breaking Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho, Rajkummar Rao in Stree, Varun Dhawan in October and Sui Dhaga, Vicky Kaushal in Raazi, Manmarziyan and Sanju, Diljit Dosanjh in Soorma and Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat and Simmba were lauded for their excellent performances. Vicky was also appreciated in the Netflix films- Love per Square Foot and Lust Stories.

Some other performances which found resonance with the audience were Irrfan Khan in Blackmail and Karwaan, Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out, Rishi Kapoor in Mulk and 102 Not Out, Gajraj Rao in Badhaai Ho, John Abraham in Parmanu, Anil Kapoor in Fanney Khan and Race 3, Manoj Bajpai in Satyamev Jayate and Aiyyary, Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju and the ever dependable Akshay Kumar in Padman, Gold and 2.0.

Among the heroines also there were a number of memorable performances. On the one hand we had young Alia Bhatt’s stunning performance as the spy in Raazi and on the other there was the veteran Tabu in Andhadhun giving yet another hair-raising performance. The audience was left spellbound by these two. We also had Tapsee Pannu adding life to her characters in Manmarziyan, Mulk and Soorma. She was also seen in a short film Baarish aur Chowmein on the online entertainment channel Zee 5 opposite Amit Sadh. Radhika Apte also had a good year with three films- Padman, Bazaar, Andhadhun and two online shows- Sacred Games, Ghoul and a film Lust Stories on Netflix. She was appreciated in all her outings.

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Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat and Rani Mukherjee in Hichki were also superb in their respective roles. Neena Gupta in Badhaai Ho was the surprise of the year. As the 50-plus woman who has grown up sons and much to her embarrassment ends up getting pregnant, she was excellent. Her chemistry with Gajraj Rao rocked! Swara Bhaskar in Veere Di Wedding, Sonam in Padman, Nusrat Barucha in Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety, Anushka Sharma and Yamini Das in Sui Dhaga and Renuka Shahane in 3-Storeys were also well appreciated for their acting.

End of the road for the Khan trio?

The year also seemed to be significant for the three Khans- Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh – as their waning popularity and absurd choice of films left them at the receiving end of a lot of flak from the critics and fans alike. It is most decisively the end of their ‘superstardom era’ and unless they move over to playing interesting characters, there is not much future for the three stars if they continue to pamper their images without accepting the tides of change.

The performances of Shah Rukh Khan in Zero, Salman Khan in Race 3 and Aamir Khan in Thugs of Hindostan were thrashed mercilessly by the audience.  Zero with its bizarre script was definitely one of the worst films of the year. It failed on all counts- the story, the characterization of the protagonists, the absurd and ridiculous narrative, the dialogues, the acting, the songs, the unnecessary cameo by so many heroines and above all the direction. The much hyped special effects to present him as a dwarf were also not up to the mark and that probably was its biggest failing. 

Should such films be made?

Two new star kids were introduced this year amid much fanfare and unprecedented publicity- the late Sridevi’s daughter Jahnvi Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh’s daughter Sara Ali Khan. But sadly their launch vehicles happened to be regressive love stories which makes us ponder whether such films with so much violence against women should be made at all and worse still used as glamorous launch vehicles for star kids!

In both the films the violent treatment was physical, emotional as well as psychological. Will the fathers in this country ever treat their daughters as human beings with a thinking mind? There was a time in the early 1900s, as depicted in films like Achchut Kanya and Devdas, where caste played a major role and parental pressure was prominent. But by showing such stories in today’s times we are only stating that nothing has changed in society for our daughters and that their lives are still at the mercy of their fathers and brothers. The terror induced by them in their daughters’ psyche for just falling in love with a person of a different caste was scary.

In Dhadak, the heroine runs away with her lover to escape her father’s wrath and after a lot of hardships the two manage to get married and even have a kid. But the brother somehow tracks her down and to avenge them for their defiance and audacity he reaches her house with his goons and unleashes violence of an unbelievable kind. The ending was changed from the Marathi original Sairaat and was even more shocking and terrible.

There is a scene in Kedarnath where Sara Ali Khan’s father, a Hindu priest, holds her head and forcibly immerses her head in the ice-cold river water to purify herself- just because she dared to befriend a Muslim boy and enter his house! Soon after this horrible purification ritual she is married off to a useless fellow much against her wishes.

Satyamev Jayate propagated senseless violence of another kind. In the film, John Abraham’s dad who is a police officer is suspended on false corruption charges. Instead of finding out a solution and getting to the core of the matter, he decides to abandon his young children and commits suicide by immolating himself in front of them. This affects the psyche of the children and one of the sons grows up to take revenge by burning all corrupt police officers. All these scenes were revolting and nauseating.

UPCOMING FILMS OF 2019:

There are many interesting films lined up for 2019 with unique stories and scripts. January itself has two biopics coming up: The Accidental Prime Minister where Anupam Kher will be playing Dr Manmohan Singh with Akshaye Khanna playing a journalist and Thackeray which will have Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the role of Bal Thackeray.

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Vicky Kaushal will be seen in URI- The Surgical Strike which will show the events which led to the Indian Army’s retaliation for the Pakistani attack in Uri, Kashmir in 2016. Kangana Ranaut in the role of Rani Laxmibai will bring to life the story of the brave Jhansi Ki Rani in Manikarnika. Emran Hashmi will be seen in Cheat India which will address the problems in the education system. The trailers of all these films look awesome!

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Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga will have Sonam playing a lesbian and for the first time a mainstream heroine takes on the challenge to portray such a character. Giving her support in this will be Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao. Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh will team up together for the first time in Zoya Akhtar’s musical drama Gully Boy. The film also stars Kalki Koechlin.  Alia Bhatt has two more interesting films releasing this year- Kalank, a multistarrer period film starring Madhuri Dixit, Sunjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Dhawan and Aditya Roy Kapur as well as Brahmastra- a sci-fi film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Mouni Roy and Telugu superstar Akkineni Nagarjuna Rao.

 

 

2019 9Akshay Kumar will be seen in Mission Mangal, a film about India’s Mars mission. The film has an excellent cast of Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sharman Joshi and Sonakshi Sinha. Akshay Kumar will also be seen in Kesari- a period war drama which deals with the Battle of Saragrahi. Student of the Year 2 will introduce two new heroines Tara Sutaria and Ananya Pandey opposite Tiger Shroff.

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2019 films

Southern superstar Prabhas will be seen in Saaho– a big-budget extravaganza being shot simultaneously in Hindi-Tamil-Telugu. Starring opposite him will be Shraddha Kapoor. Salman Khan will be seen in the ambitious Bharat which will have Katrina Kaif as his heroine. John Abraham will be seen in an action thriller Batla House based on the encounter case of the same name.  

These are only a few of the films which are in store for us in 2019 and from the looks of it the year seems to be a promising one! The magic of cinema is indeed overpowering and irrefutable and so as the Friday fervor catches on, we look forward to every new release with enthusiasm and excitement…