Manikarnika - Kangana's ONE WOMAN SHOW all the way
Manikarnika and Padmaavat have many things in common. The epic the stories are, the undying conviction in the tales, the set designs, the cinematic approach in war scenes, of-course.. in its lead characters.. both being warrior queens, martyrs, sacrificing for the sake of their nation. Even the way how these characters takes their own life towards the end comes across as parallels hand in hand. Yet Kangana Ranaut starrer, Manikarnika - The Queen of Jhansi, lacks that gut punch Padmaavat had. 80% of it had to do with the lack of vision or auteurness of someone like Bhansali. Yet.. for a debutant.. Kangana moulds a terrific show in her one woman show as Manikarnika.
One thing that puts you off while watching the film is it keep on shrinking itself into below par limits when can it be way much more. You want the saga to unfold as this unstoppable, breathtaking epic on screen.. while the film happily remains to be a high-budget teleserial of a period drama. There are midshots and more midshots. Even the powerful dramatic moments get reduced into an archived history docu with the restrained sets and visuals.
The casting comes weak, sore and sober at times. Especially with the role of Maharaj Gangadhar Rao (played by Jisshu Sengupta). It is painful to be forced to believe the depth of the character who plays Lakshmi's husband, with an actor who looks very much 45ish. An older artist could have still played it aptly. Say a Manoj Bajpayee or someone.. But here the casting just doesn't work. So is the king of cliché, casting of Atul Kalkarni as Tatya Tope, a war general. With someone else playing it, it could have added a bit of flavour given how he comes as a ray of hope in the last act when everything falls apart. But Atul? Again? Why can't our filmmakers offer him anything exciting anymore?
Still.. the film, despite being directed by two - three people, (Kangana, for major parts.. Krish, few parts and action, by someone else) is surprisingly consistent in its narration and flow. The colossal fall of events that happen one after the other in her life is cohesively brought out with a tone of tragedy.
Shankar Ehsaan Loy's background score superlatively elevates the film notches ahead. The soundtrack is brilliant on its own. But the way it has been woven into the narration is even more powerful. Look at the scene where the soul song of the album, 'Bharat' comes towards the end. We are cut to the visuals of Lakshmi, with her child in her back, riding in utmost hopelessness and rage leaving the country amidst enemies, fire and riots.. And we are flash cut to the times when she was received with the warmest of welcome by the same nation. Just this simple literal metaphor gets supremely underlined when you hear.. "Main rahoon ya na rahoon Bharat yeh rahna chahiye"
Kangana Ranaut is maverick in the role of Laxmi Bhai. Initially, it did look a bit uneasy to see the queenness of the character in her. She more or less comes across as a happy, confident princess. But as the film progresses, she vigorously embraces the character and its warrior traits in all its glory. The film solely stands on her. The presence, the aura she brings in when the support keeps falling down in soul menacing situations is incredible.
In the flooding season of biopics and period dramas.. Manikarnika, for major parts surely looks like a rushed up, 'been there done that', caricaturistic film! But what strikes about is its the enormous emotional depth Kangana brings in to the character.
Rating : 3/5