QUEEN. Director: Vikas Bahl. Players: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkumar Rao, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Chee Eng Ho, Marco Canadea. Hindi w/ Eng. Sub-titles. Theatrical release (Viacom).
Rani (Ranaut) has a problem, you see. Well, two problems actually. Problem No. 1: Jilted by her would-be-suitor Vijay (Rao) on their wedding day, Rani succumbs to a deep funk. What to do? She goes into seclusion hoping the pain will subside. No such luck. Caught in a life-changing vortex of emotions, Rani—only half-knowing her exact plans—emerges from her self-imposed prison and announces her next step. Remember that honeymoon she had planned with whatshisface, she reminds her anxious parents. Well, Rani intends on going on that honeymoon after all—and yes, tattling gossips be damned, she will make the journey by herself.
This inauspicious opening to Vikas Bahl’s seriocomic-but-mostly-comic Queen is the start of one of the most original and best Hindi comedies ever. Bahl is a relative newcomer to filmmaking. His only previous offering was Chillar Party, which smartly captured the underdog point of view of pint-sized kids who stand up to adult bullying in a residential subdivision. By gazing through a different lens here, Bahl now champions the impossible odds stacked against a shy, geeky suburban Delhi young woman suddenly unleashed on two unsuspecting European capitals Paris and Amsterdam. All we have to say is, Europe—batten down the hatches because Hurricane Rani is about to descend!
Through Rani’s misadventures first in Paris and then especially in Amsterdam, an amazing transformation takes hold as this endlessly awkward Indian misfit elbows her way into finding a groove as an ordinary, espresso-swigging Indian-Scandinavian accidental tourist. Did we mention that because the clash of cultures is staged in an anything-goes Eurozone setting, there is a sizable quotient of sex humor? Well, there is, so prep for what follows. Having built in plausible deniability for the sexual angle gives the story a quaint charm.
In Paris, Rani gets chummy with Vijayalakshmi (Haydon) who day-lights as a hotel maid and may or may not moon-light as an escort. In Amsterdam, crossed-signals result in Rani having to stay at a tourist hostel where living quarters must be shared with a trio of far flung globe-trotting young men—yes, gads, men who may or may not get fixated on Rani. While exploring the city with her roomies, the still-provincial Rani’s unknowing stop at a sex shop involving an adult toy is a singular, mega-trending moment of ginormous comic proportions. It is indeed a sight gag to behold.
Ranaut’s laudable turn as Rani/Queen is the embodiment of the ugly-duckling every girl that is picked last for the prom and yet, by never succumbing to being Victim, walks away with a crown. Ever since she nailed a break-out role as an underdog supermodel to Priyanka Chopra’s mega-model in Fashion (2008), Ranaut’s stock has continued to rise. From a forceful Interpol cop (Game) to chain-smoking would-be bride (Tanu Weds Manu) to shape-shifting inter-dimensional feline (Krrish 3) and now Queen, Ranaut stands out for on-screen individuality. She is also credited with scripting the dialog for Queen. Because Queen was made on a modest budget and turned into a sizable hit, Ranaut, along with Vidya Balan, is now that rare Hindi female lead that has delivered a solo lead critical and box office calling card.
The eclectic cast gives the story an intensely local flavor for each stop on Rani’s girl gone wild mini odyssey. Other standouts are Boyko as Rani’s Russian roommate, Chee Eng Ho as the Japanese roommate and Canadea as fish-shanty operator who cons Rani into cooking a big fat Indian dish. In the midst of an otherwise rip-roaring comedy, their experiences add global cross-section vignettes that have pathos not dissimilar to that of Rani’s.
On the move from city to city, Rani realizes that at some point she must confront the second of her two afore-mentioned predicaments. At some point she must reconcile where she has come from with where she has arrived. Secretly, more than a handful amongst us long to retrace Rani’s journey of self-discovery. Unlike Rani, we are held back —perhaps by the tattling gossips.