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An impassioned Manikarnika movie review by Surbhi Rastogi that speaks of how she much she loved the movie, recommending this as a must watch.
I had to watch Manikarnika, ‘coz bachpan se, Jhansi Ki Rani is like the woman icon of all times. It was Republic Day, and this was the most patriotic thing we could do as a family in a big, bad city, besides standing up and singing the National Anthem played before the movie.
Sigh. I still remember as a little girl of 9 or 10 years visiting the Jhansi ka kila in Uttar Pradesh, and standing there on top of the fort as the guide narrated the story of how the powerful and rebellious queen riding a horse jumped from that fort with her son tied on her back to make sure that she and her child did not fall in the hands of the horrible British. I remember looking all the way down the wall of the fort and thinking, how could anybody have done this? What would’ve motivated her? In my photographic memory, I can still see that little girl standing there. And I am so proud Kangana decided to tell this story. Because it is powerful. It is motivational. It is rebellious. It will bring change.
The movie starts slow… honestly I cringed at few of the initial scenes, as I felt it to be too dramatic with some forced acting. In the initial part of the movie the budget constraints show. But in the second half of the movie, Kangana takes over.
And how! Her acting, dialogue delivery, fight sequences, expressions – every single thing is amazing. That scene when she portrays postpartum depression when her son dies… amazing. Then again her denouncement of rituals post becoming a widow. So powerful, it keeps you at the edge of your seat. She chooses duty over tradition. And breaks all the moulds.
The scene where she gives haldi-kumkum to a girl widow? The colour, the cinematography, the expression! Cannot get over it. The scene replays in my mind again and again with my eyes open. Since how many years have we meted out injustice to widows? Just made them dissolve into oblivion? Losing her husband finishes her life, is it? She can’t wear colour? Or laugh her heart out? Why? What did she do? Kangana goes on to mouth a powerful dialogue, ‘Tumhe pehli baar haldi-kumkum kisne lagaya tha?’ (Who had applied haldi-kumkum to you first?)
The girl replies, ‘Maa ne.’ (My mother.)
‘Toh jo hakk tumhari Maa ne tumhe diya hai, woh tumse koi nahi cheen sakta.’ (So the right that your mother has given you, no one can take away from you.) I just died with pride.
Also amazing is the relationship between her and Rajaji. Here is a man who is comfortable with his masculinity. Who feels that she is a breath of fresh air, and he must let her fly. He indulges her in books, art, culture, horse-riding and sword-fighting. He does not see her only as an object of desire who must be tamed, much as he desires her, and makes her feel like a woman. In fact, he is the one who makes her promise that she will be that Manu who used to fly, and fight the patriarchy and the British, when he could see his end is near. Such a beautiful relationship this must be! At least we can imagine it so, right, Kangana?
The fag end of the movie has some brilliant fight sequences by Kangana. She is strong and powerful and beautiful. It does get a bit gory at times, I did look at my daughters a couple of times to see if they were scared. They weren’t. In fact the 4 year old totally loved Jhansi ki Rani because she is so strong. That is a side-effect I am willing to live with. I guess when something is real, it connects with the larger audiences – young and old, male and female, irrespective of caste, creed, religion and other biases.
The movie also shows that the woman was betrayed by her closest ones. Ones she trusted, otherwise she would’ve been instrumental in bringing the change much sooner. But then, it is always lonely at the top. Another side-effect any strong woman, or man for that matter, must be ready to live with. The last battle where Rani was badly injured, and finally succumbed to her injuries is beautifully shot. The anger which she ignited in Field Marshal, Hugh Rose due to his humiliation on the battle ground, and his subsequent desire to kill her in the most gory manner. The fact that she did not let him have this pleasure, and chose to let fire consume her instead. If this scene cannot move you, nothing can.
And Kangana is the original rebel girl of Bollywood right now. I love her, and her choices. She came from a small town, with a funny Hindi accent and did not speak English well (the language that’s ‘very important’ to get acceptance in our high-handed Indian society, ironical isn’t it? We are still ruled by the British. They are having the last laugh after all. Ghulami runs deep.) She had no connections, no family money to back her up, and was quintessentially not typically beautiful in ‘Indian’ sense. But God, she is beautiful. If anyone has doubts, watch this movie. Here is a woman who has realised her own. And she is very, very attractive. I think wrong has been done to her. I wish she gets her justice soon, honestly. Coz otherwise life won’t be fair. And life must be fair to good, hardworking people. How will mankind have the faith otherwise?
A must watch. Meanwhile, Jhansi Fort, I am coming back to visit.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: a still from the movie Manikarnika.
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