Film Review: Manikarnika

Six-and-a-half decades after Sohrab Modi’s technicolor epic  but commercially disastrous ‘Jhansi ki Rani’ hit the screens, comes a modern-day version with Kangana Ranaut in the lead of Manikarnika (Manu). The common runtime of 148 minutes could be a mere coincidence though.

The story begins in 1828 in Varanasi where great fame is predicted for a new-born girl. Cut to 1842, when Peshwa Baji Rao (Suresh Oberoi) is persuaded to let Manu marry the King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao (Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta). But when a son, Damodar, is born, Gangadhar’s brother Sadashiv (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), a puppet in the hands of the British, has other plans. It’s double tragedy as he poisons the baby in the hope that his son would be crowned king, especially so since Gangadhar too suddenly passes away. Add to that the evil eye of the ‘goras’ on the kingdom of Jhansi and we have a defiant, brave Rani emerging to take on the British.

A few stray one-liners (dialogues by Prasoon Joshi) do not a historical make. Neither do a plethora of VFX-aided action scenes with a generous dose of sword-fighting. Although Kangana’s casting cannot be faulted, it’s the script which is responsible for a lacklustre first half which fails to hold the viewers’ attention. Well known characters playing minor characters (Danny Denzongpa – Ghulam Ghaus Khan; Kulbhushhan Karbanda – Dixitji; Atul Kulkarni – Tatya Tope) are wasted in their short screen-time. Too many British characters with their laborious Hindi dialogues do not help either.

‘Liberties have been sought’ at the cost of ‘historical accuracy’, says the introduction to the film, with Amitabh Bachchan’s voice-over. Strains of ‘HarHar Mahadev’ accompany the soldiers each time they are on the battlefield. There’s a bit of a history primer too – when one of the ‘gora’ says that they do not work on Sundays, the Rani proceeds to enumerate a list of their uncharitable acts towards Indians – all of them on Sundays.

The film is all about the 19th century rebellion in which Ranibai of Jhansi made herself immortal. There are a few plus points though – Ankita Lokhande, in her Hindi film debut, has great screen presence and shows promise. The sound design by Nihar Ranjan Samal (Mom, Pink) is noteworthy, while Sanchit Balhara’s (Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani) background score adds to the onscreen action.

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