Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
Director: Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi
Kangana Ranaut's Manikarnika is, perhaps, surprisingly better than what its shoddy trailer made one believe it would be. Is it a flawless film? Actually, quite far from it but the movie manages to hold your interest till the strange ending. Ranaut as the fierce Rani Laxmibai, one of the bravest warriors the country has ever known, is mostly on point. There are also parts where she falls flat but Ranaut who takes up most of the screen time cannot be ignored, whereas the supporting cast is reduced to mere cogs in the machine, working tirelessly to extol Rani Laxmibai.
Much of the slow first half is spent on showing Rani Laxmibai's brave, kind, fair, progressive and independent nature. She shoots a tiger only to heal it and save the villagers, she can take on three sword-wielding men, hop and jump to mount an elephant and the only one who can domesticate the untameable horse, Badal. Ranaut does all that with great ease.
However, charged with the love for her country, Ranaut's Laxmibai starts giving sermons on patriotism at the drop of a hat. One would wonder if the actual Rani ever had so much time in hers hands in the midst of a bloody rebellion against the British Raj. Coming to the British, they are nothing we have never seen before. They are portrayed as evil, greedy and scheming officers who laugh at people for not knowing English, require everyone to bow to them and hang little girls out of spite. They do all that and more while shooting off dialogues in the funniest Hindi accent you will ever hear. You will once again ask yourself - why do British officers in Bollywood films speak amongst themselves in Hindi and once again you will be left with no answer.
There is a scene where Rani Laxmibai herself goes to a British camp to rescue a stolen calf. On the tent is the signage - Dogs and Indians not allowed. Then there is another scene where General Hugh Rose, tormented by Rani Laxmibai's rebellion against the Company has a nightmare where he sees Goddess Kali. Then there is this time when Rani speaks in fluent English and says that is a mere language. "Words without culture have no meaning," she adds. It is in awkwardly executed scenes like these that one wonders if there was any deliberation on them at all.
One of the best parts about the Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi-directed Manikarnika is the choreography. Ranaut as well as her fellow actors do a great job of wielding swords.
However, one of the biggest flaws of Manikarnika and one that will leave you confused is its take on women empowerment. On one hand, Rani Laxmibai is waging war against the British and on the other hand her husband, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar wears bangles as a token of shame and calls them shackles. It is confusing to see the same movie applauding a woman's bravery and looking down upon women accessories.
The VFX used in Manikarnika is not its strongest point and is quite jarring at times. The screenplay too is chaotic, with the film jumping from one scene to another in a rather haphazard manner. The underutilisation of actors like Ankita Lokhande, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub indicates that the Kangana Ranaut-directorial was made with only one person in mind - Kangana Ranaut.