Manikarnika & the Silence Around It

Main Rahun Ya Na Rahun, Bharat Ye Rehna Chahiye‘ becomes the defining song of the film Manikarnika.

That should be reason enough for Tukde Tukde Liberals to avoid the film – they turn up their noses at the word Bharat. And rightly enough, Manikarnika’s release has been met with radio silence too. It’s not the usual script – normally one would expect someone like a Karan Johar at least to use the opportunity to grab a few headlines but not this time.

Not at the time of Kangana’s directorial debut. This is a woman who has made it purely on her acting chops (ya… ya… everybody has a past) and a knack for ticking off some of the biggest names and decision-makers in the insufferably nepotistic confines of the Hindi film industry. Her weapon? Her personality and her truth. Also, her inability to stay quiet and do as told. She’s the veritable Manikarnika of the Hindi film industry.

Perhaps this is why (and how) she took up the task of portraying The Rani of Jhansi, Laxmibai.

Problem is, no liberal media has even started writing things like ’10 things you didn’t know about Rani Laxmibai’, ‘Manikarnika sets off a trend of biopics on women freedom fighters’… that is all now left to us guys, people like me who are branded as right-wingers in a total copy-cat move that’s as irrelevant as it is inaccurate, as far as ideological imports from the US go.

Kangana is called crazy by people who know people who know her. They usually hint at her weird affair and legal fight against Hrithik Roshan… but Kangana has already made it pretty clear in one of her interviews that ‘normal’ she ain’t and can’t even hope to be – given all the challenges she had to overcome and the industry she belongs (sic) to. She’s upfront about it. It’s people like Karan Johar, Saif Ali Khan et al who have to jump through hoops to admit it’s daytime when it’s day.

But the interesting thing is, Kangana reigns over hearts. She continues to make films, and notable ones at that. She is now a film director and she has done a good job with her debut. I’ll talk about Manikarnika the film, the way I saw it. The first 20 minutes are a strange drag. The research value is probably there but a Manikarnika in a velvet blouse stringing a bow to kill a wild cat is something too… well, far-fetched for me. CGI wild cat sucks. And Manikarnika seems to understand that.

Kangana’s would-be husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao (played by Jishu Sengupta) who is an arts & culture exponent, opens with a dance sequence on a set that looks like borrowed from some mythological TV serial of today too is a bit of… a letdown. Having said that, the actors are fantastic, led by Kangana. Especially, Gangadhar Rao.

If the screenplay wasn’t so good, I doubt I’d find it so easy to excuse below-par lighting & strange costumes. The film portrays Rani Laxmibai’s strengths really well – sword work is nifty. Action scenes left a lot on the table though. And then suddenly, around the interval, the whole look, treatment, performances, everything just changes for the better. I have a feeling that there’s a point where Kangana (& her team) took over. There’s a change (for the better) in camera angles, direction, even costumes & jewellery, everything looking a lot more authentic than before. And that changes carry the second half of the film well past the victory line.

To note, the credits show a never-ending line-up of post-production agencies, reflecting the scale of challenges Kangana must have had to surmount in getting this film finished and released. It also indicates that the film probably struggled to get out, for reasons not known to us.

Be that as it may,

Kudos, Kangana! If you ever end up reading this, know that we do understand why industry acknowledgment won’t be coming for your film that has just crossed 50Cr collections in five days. Because, acknowledging your film would be to appreciate your success, that of the character you portrayed – Rani Laxmibai, and that of a nation that’s trying so hard to stay in one piece despite your fellow Bollywoodiyas’ tukde tukde disposition. They know that talking about you & your film would only drive more crowds to watch your film and they don’t want to risk it. Not in the current political climate. In this country, you smash Brahminical patriarchy by defending those who attack its inherently, organically secular nature toward monotheistic cults.

Best moment of the film for me: 

When Manikarnika’s father tells her she is to become the Queen of Jhansi, she says, “I may have been raised a Kshatriya, I don’t know how to be a Queen”.

To which, her father replies: You love your Bharat. You’ll find a way.

So here are a few historical facts about Rani Laxmibai that were quite faithfully portrayed in the film: 

  1. Her name was Manikarnika Tambe – Her father, Moropant Tambe and Mother, Bhagirathi Bai. Her father worked for the Peshwa of Bithoor.
  2. She learnt shooting, horsemanship, fencing, and Mallakhambe as a child.
  3. She was 14 when she got married to Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, who was some 25 years older.
  4. After becoming the Rani of Jhansi, she had formed and trained her own army of women, from her friends at the court.
  5. She lost her husband when she was 18.
  6. The Maharaja had, at the adoption ceremony of their son, which was also attended by a British officer, in his letter said that ‘his widow Laxmibai be given the government of Jhansi for lifetime’.
  7. She had strategised & led the occupation of Gwalior fort while the Scindias escaped to Agra.
  8. She died 29 years old. In the battlefield, fighting the British. This was after she had made them taste defeat twice earlier.
  9. British officer Hugh Rose said about the Rani that she was: personable, clever, and beautiful. And that she was ‘the most dangerous of all Indian leaders’.
  10. Rani Laxmibai was NOT the first such woman in the history of the great land of Bharat.

The great queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal was. She came to be known as Abhaya Rani as she successfully defended Ullal from the Portuguese for 40 years. This was some 300 years before Rani Laxmibai came to be.

Now that’s a film waiting to be made, a story that’s waiting to be told to a generation that can’t see ‘why we don’t bin our space programme so that more kids can go to school’.

2 Comments

  1. Zalak Namaskar, I am Lt Col Manoj Kumar Sinha,SM(Retd). Came to your company on the eve of republic day i.e. 25 Jan 19. Remember having a brief interaction after the talk.Just stumbled across your blog. I must compliment you for your thoughts and great writing skills. मैं बहुत प्रभावित हुआ | बधाई |
    Lt Col Manoj Kumar Sinha,SM (retd) Mob: 9419278782

    1. Sir, you are an inspiration to me. Your kind words mean the whole world. Thank you, very very much. Keep sharing the light. You have the right ideas, and the right words. Jai Hind! The nation is indebted to people like you. Best, Z

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