One image from the trailer of Kangana Ranaut’s latest film, Manikarnika, that will stay long after you’ve switched off is probably of a woman fleeing with her infant on the back of a horse. Having tied the child to her back while riding away from (what looks like) her own palace, one cannot help but be reminded of the opening scene of Baahubali: The Beginning, where Sivagami is seen fleeing with the heir of Mahishmati.
It’s great that the makers have immediately positioned Manikarnika as the story of a mother (a la Bharat Maa), which makes the conflict worth empathising with. And it fits right into the heart of mainstream Indian cinema, which doesn’t believe in risking anything to subtlety. So much so that when Rani Laxmi bai declares war on the angrez with the customary ‘Har Har Mahadev’, it’s hard to not be reminded of Ramya Krishnan’s kohl-laden eyes as she announces the name of the new heir – Mahendra Baahubali.
Manikarnika feels based on the same template as Rajamouli’s Baahubali films, that was recently used by the likes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Padmaavat and Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Thugs Of Hindostan. But while those Bollywood films only seemed to be superficially replicating the rich-ness of its Telugu counterpart, Manikarnika seems to have nailed the high-pitched mass cinematic language of the Baahubali films. It helps that the film was majorly directed by Telugu director, Krish.
It’s impossible to ignore Kangana Ranaut’s hyper-nationalistic sentiments voiced on more than one platform, that seem to be feeding off the jingoism currently overflowing in the country. And thus, it is also impossible to ignore the broad statements made in the trailer, which sees a King sermonise on how everyone’s pehla pyaar should be their matrubhoomi. There’s another scene where Rani Laxmi Bai cuts through an English flag with her sword in slo-mo, in case anyone forgot who the ‘enemy’ was. It also seems to be romanticising monarchy with the line, “Aap Jhansi chahte hai aur main bhi. Fark sirf itna hai ki aap raj karna chahte hai aur main seva…” Ummm… really? Maybe it is foolish to expect restraint from a loud, mainstream Hindi film.
The film pulls together an intriguing cast including the likes of Danny Denzongpa, Jishu Sengupta, Atul Kulkarni, Ankita Lokhande… apart from the centre of this universe, Kangana Ranaut. Shouldering most of the film’s weight, Kangana Ranaut looks equally comfortable as the vulnerable mother with an infant in her arms and the sword-wielding warrior queen looking to avenge her husband’s death. After her many eventful interviews and brain-fart statements, maybe Ranaut can reclaim her credibility as an actor and a star if the film turns out to be a success.
Here’s the trailer for Manikarnika:
Manikarnika releases on January 25, 2019.