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Manikarnika teaser: Kangana roars in this epic masala period entertainer

While woman power comes to the fore, the teaser does seem to be a little over-the-top. The film itself could suffer from the recent spurt in period films.

Mayur Lookhar

It has been a long struggle for Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi. Many delays and a few controversies later, it looks like Ranaut's queen is finally ready to conquer the world.

Fans got a taste of the much-hyped film when the makers released a teaser on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti today.

Based on tales of the heroism of the 19th century warrior queen, Manikarnika promises to project the rani of the erstwhile principality of Jhansi in present-day Uttar Pradesh in a larger-than-life avatar.

Born Manikarnika, the princess was renamed Laxmibai after her early marriage to Gangadharrao Newalkar, the ruler of Jhansi. Laxmibai went on to become a revered historical figure for her valiant fight against the British in 1858.

Indian epic films in recent years such as Magadheera (Telugu, 2009), Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017) have projected their protagonists in larger-than-life avatars. All of them were penned by KV Vijayendra Prasad and helmed by his son SS Rajamouli.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali also made two films based on historical figures, Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Pamdaavat (2018). They, too, were high on visual appeal, though, unlike Rajamouli’s films, they did not go over-the-top as far as the action was concerned.

Interestingly, Vijayendra Prasad has written the script for Manikarnika, too. Where this film scores over his earlier scripts is that it is a real story.

Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi is not the first film to be made on the great queen. That honour belongs to the legendary actor-filmmaker Sohrab Modi, who made Jhansi Ki Rani (1953), starring his wife Mehtab in the title role.

Jitendra Srivastava and Dharmesh Shah co-directed Ek Veer Stree Ki Kahaani... Jhansi Ki Rani (2009-2011) on Zee TV. However, never before has one projected Jhansi Ki Rani in a more grand manner than what we are likely to see in Manikarnika.

So, how does the teaser fare? Well, first of all, Ranaut has no co-director credit. Telugu filmmaker Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi, better known simply as Krish, enjoys solo credit. End of controversy.

What works for the teaser is the grand palatial setting and the costumes. This is a story of female power, so we barely get to see any male faces clearly. From wielding swords to using bows and arrows and firing rifles, women are at the forefront of the battle here with the men only seen in the background. We don’t even see the faces of any of the British opponents of the queen who even pulls off a Matrix-style move in 1858.

Ankita Lokhande, who plays Jhalkaribai, has a blink-and-miss appearance in the teaser. It’s only fair though that your protagonist shines all through the teaser.

The little child of Laxmibai looks very cute. One thing that surprises you, however, is that unlike what we have read in history books and seen in paintings, we don't see Laxmibai carrying her child, the crown prince, on her back while battling the enemy. We only see her holding her child on two occasions.

While Ranaut looks glamourous, you are put off the moment she cries “A-z-a-a-d-i.” Later, with her face bloodied, she literally yawns, ‘Har Har Mahadev!' Isn’t that melodramatic? While none of us was around in 1858 to know how Laxmibai sounded, Ranaut’s war cries in the teasers are just so Ranaut. The tone and aggression are closer to the crazy characters Ranaut has played in films like Gangster (2006), Rangoon (2017) and Simran (2017).

Ranaut looks fierce and agile in the action sequences inside the fort, but the ones taking place outside on the battlefield don’t make for great VFX. Indeed, the VFX looks tacky in the teaser, and poor VFX has often proved to be the Achilles heel of many a would-be epic Indian film.

The background score isn’t refreshing and seems a little out of place for an epic historical. One reason why the Padmaavat trailer was so appealing was its gripping background music. The score that we hear in Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi is more suited to a Neeraj Pandey action-espionage thriller. Also, the scene in which Ranaut strolls around in her fort in a red saree is reminiscent of Rani Padmavati in Padmaavat.

While Amitabh Bachchan still has a great voice, it is perhaps overused now for period films. Having seen the Thugs Of Hindostan trailer last week, the last thing you would have wanted to hear was the voice of Bachchan again in Manikarnika.

The lines given to him are elementary. Add to it the suggestion that Bachchan plays a krantikari {revolutionary) in Thugs Of Hindostan and it is hard not to get a feeling of deja vu when Ranaut screeches ‘Azaadi’. Perhaps Manikarnika would have been served better if the film's makers had unveiled the teaser a few weeks later. 

Overall, the teaser has its moments, its visual appeal, but you hope Manikarnika does not turn out to be a period masala entertainer like Magadheera or the two Baahubalis. Given the alacrity with which period films are being made, you also hope Manikarnika does not become a victim of overdose. 

Watch the teaser of Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi below and tell us if you will be watching this film in the theatres. Manikarnika is scheduled to be released on 25 January 2019.

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