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MANIKARNIKA - Kangna's spirited show of her commitment towards cinema that largely works despite its flaws & a few avoidable insertions. (Review by Bobby Sing)

25 Jan, 2019 | ALL ABOUT INSPIRED MOVIES / Movie Reviews / Inspired Movies (Alphabetical) / M / 2019 Releases

To clear the doubts and controversies first, this is a fictionalized account of the life story of the warrior queen/Rani of Jhansi (taking many cinematic liberties), who fought with the British Empire and the neighbouring Kings in 1858 and died in her battle against the mighty at the age of just 29. We have all read the story in our school text books at an early age and the pictures are strongly engraved in our memories of a valiant woman strapped with a child on her back riding the horse with the text written as ‘Khoob Ladi Mardani Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi’. 
So the story is mostly familiar but this still is quite a different take from the more authentic JHANSI KI RANI directed by Sohrab Modi as the first Indian film made in Technicolour in 1953 in both Hindi and English versions (especially made for the foreign market) releasing together. Sadly the film couldn’t work despite its huge grandeur and the majestic efforts made by the visionary Sohrab Modi.
Secondly moving over all the widely publicized issues regarding its direction, Kangna rightly & respectfully gives credit to the original director too. And probably this is the first Hindi film with two different credits of ‘Directed By’ in the titles (not co-directed or two names coming together). So we see Directed by Kangna Ranaut and then Directed by Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi written on screen one after the other along with the voice over of Amitabh Bachchan coming both in the beginning and in the end of the film. But we cannot say whether the sequence of the direction credits is right or not, since no one knows at what stage of the film Kangna took over from Jagarlamudi.
Thirdly, the very first question which arises in such movies made on historical characters is that whether the lead actor looks like the icon and justifies the heroic persona on screen or not. Thankfully the answer to this question is pretty straight, positive and ideally should not have any contradictions as Kangna Ranaut simply kills it on screen playing the brave queen.
The lady is vibrant, convincing, powerful, fiery and brilliantly portrays the character of Rani Lakshmibai on screen, making you believe in every scene right from the likable introduction, which straight away looks like taken from a film of Bhansali or Rajamouli. Apart from looking stunning in the exquisitely designed attires (along with the makeup overdone at a few places), Kangna pulls it off with élan and enacts various stages in the life of a woman loving books, caring for animals, riding horses, leaping on elephants, becoming a wife, giving birth to a child, being declared the queen, planning political strategies, fighting with swords, firing guns and then dying in the battle field as a courageous revolutionary warrior loving her mother land.
Impressively playing the character Kangna wins over the viewers hands down but the film has its own issues of the making that don’t let the creation become an epic or a classic attempt to be honest.
But stating its other merits first, the two halves of the film depict two phases of her life. The breezy first half is about the journey of Manikarnika (interestingly nick named Manu) becoming Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and the second half is about her fight with the British empire supported by Kings of neighbouring states. The first half is mostly likable with many well-conceived sequences written by Vijayendra Prasad (of BAAHUBALI fame) and its all presented with simplicity without any layered structure that more or less works in the film’s favour.  The second half has the actual conflicting drama and the battlefield sequences which at times become intense and genuinely emotional with some well written, impactful dialogues by Prasoon Joshi like “Jab Beti Uth Khadi Hoti Hai, Tabhi Jeet Badi Hoti Hai”. Besides, a few scenes do leave a sudden impact on the viewers, as the one where the British officer hangs a young innocent girl, just because her name happened to be Lakshmi.
Though MANIKARNIKA is not equivalent to the scale seen in Bhansali or Rajamauli epics, the film still has its own worth appreciating grandeur framed well by the camera giving it the much needs royal touch. The costumes, art-set designing and background score also add their own value to the project. But the most pleasantly surprising element is its soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy having some finely composed songs with meaningful lyrics (by Prasoon Joshi) as “Main Rahun Ya Na Rahun Bharat Yeh Rehna Chahiye”, “Vijayi Bhava” and “Bolo Kab Pratikar Karoge”. In the action department, yes it could have been much better, but if you are only feeling ‘the lack’ as it’s a woman performing in the battlefield instead of any male star then that would not be fair at all looking at it with a biased perspective.
Among the downers, MANIKARNIKA’s biggest drawback is the absence of any depth in its characterization of the supporting actors. And it’s really painful to see superfine performers like Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub almost wasted in unexpectedly short roles. Personally I really wished to see a lot more of Danny as the major support of the queen in the battlefield. Ankita Lokhande making her debut on the big screen also doesn’t get much to do and as usual the actors playing the British are not competent enough and pretty weak as the mighty villains. On the other hand it was nice to see Kulbhushan Kharbanda back in a significant role after a long time.
The other major setback in the film comes in the first half, when you get to see the queen dancing on an item number with the villagers, which doesn’t look logical or acceptable in any manner and should have been edited out in the film’s final print.

MANIKARNIKA also suffers as it has too much of Kangana Ranaut in the story telling, in almost every scene of the script, which in turn hampers the  impact of the historical event, especially when the mutiny of 1857 is also hushed up quickly with a voice over. The over-length of around 150 minutes also becomes a major hindrance after a while, even if you try to ignore the occasional amateurish CGI work and less appealing battlefield sequences in the second half.
However, despite the above mentioned flaws, the film still largely works as a daringly conceived and boldly completed project (by Kangna calling the shots), who remarkably proves her commitemnt towards cinema as 'The Phoenix' rising from the ashes. The film might not be an epic, but is surely a more than decent attempt with enough nationalism and fighting spirit that deserves to be given a chance in the theaters. 

Rating : 3 / 5 (with the additional points for its few worth praising tracks, that is a rarity in the present era of music-less films) 

Tags : MANIKARNIKA Review by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, New Hindi Films Reviews by Bobby Sing, New Bollywood Movies Reviews by Bobby Sing, Kangna Ranaut Directorial Debut.
25 Jan 2019 / Comment ( 2 )

Totally agree with your review. Despite a few flaws, MANIKARNIKA hugely remains a film to be viewed on the big screen. You just can't forget the exquisite appearance of Kangana even after you walk out of the theatres. And hats off to her guts and resolve to swim against the tide and carry the project on her shoulders.

Bobby Sing

Thanks a lot for agreeing to the viewpoint and expressing your views here Jai Ji.
Keep Visiting and Writing in,

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