Tag Archives: Manikarnika

Best Hindi Films of 2019 on Netflix and Prime

Article 15 (Netflix)

You can’t go wrong with Anubhav Sinha’s crime drama Article 15, with box office magnet Ayushmann Khurrana. City-bred and conscientious, Khurrana plays Ayan Ranjan, an Additional Superintendent of Police in Laalgaon, a small village, which operates eerily in an oppressive, caste-dominated political setup. Ayan faces resistance from Day 1 as he gets embroiled in the rape and disappearance of two Dalit girls and takes on the caste system trying to trace clues and solve the mystery. With a fantastic supporting cast and performances, Khurrana shines. Although grim and gritty, it’s also heartening and reaffirming. Keep a warm chai or a stiff drink within reach. Rating: 5 out of 5

Gully Boy (Prime)

Hell yes, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, which released February 14, soared sky high this year. A perfect Friday night or weekend watch for a kick of fun and energy. The movie pays an ode to real-life Indian street rappers Divine and Naezy and is filled with textured, crackling characters to the brim. Ranveer Singh‘s Murad, an aspiring street rapper from Dharavi, the slums of Mumbai, finds his professional voice after meeting a local rapper Shrikant aka MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi). Street hustler Moeen (Vijay Varma), failing father Aftab (Vijay Raaz) hang on the sideline. Witness some wonderful and varied women create magic, Albina Dadarkar (Srishti Shrivastava), Razia Ahmed (Amruta Subhash) and Alia Bhatt‘s Safeena Firdausi. The writing, direction, and music shines bright. The angst and aspiration speak loud with a deft rhythm and foot-tapping emotions. Dive in and be dazzled. Rating: 5 out of 5

Section 375 (Prime)

Like it or loathe it, Section 375, a September 12 release, is one for the watch list. A filmmaker Rohan Khurrana (Rahul Bhatt) is arrested when a costume assistant Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra) accuses him of rape. The movie plays out in a courtroom, setting the stage for Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) to step in and defend the accused while Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chaddha) fights for the survivor. There are compelling arguments and pertinent legal information. Both points of view are represented well until the final tilt and twist, which divides the audience. Talks about law vs justice appear futile when one thinks about the responsibility of the makers towards a society that is unfair to a majority of women. Does presenting the oppressed gender as oppressor work for or against the rape problem? You decide. Rating: 4 out of 5

Badla (Netflix)

A perfect movie to watch on a day when you don’t know what to do. Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu face off yet again in Badla, which released on March 8. They play Naina Sethi and Badal Gupta. She is a sharp businesswoman and he is an effective defense attorney. She faces a murder charge and narrates her side of the story, he tries to find loopholes so that he can defend her in court. The victims are her secret lover, Arjun (Tony Luke), and a stranger Sunny (Antonio Aakeel) whose mother is Rani Kaur (Amrita Singh). The treatment is like a chess game, but predictable. The ending is too convenient, but the performances and drama keep the narrative on point, making it a compelling view. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Manikarnika (Prime)

Take a ride into herstory with Manikarnika which caused much controversy when it was released January 25, it’s fiercely outspoken leading actor Kangana Ranaut had a lot to say off camera about her decision to co-direct the movie. Nevertheless, Ranaut’s on-camera performance is glorious as she pays homage to Rani Lakshmibai from the first frame to the blazing end comparable to Nargis in Mother India. The movie methodically unravels the mardaani perception by focusing on the woman within and steers clear of ostentatious drama and emotion, striking a fine balance between fiction and facts and retaining Rani Laxmibai’s identity as well as the fervor of the freedom movement. The narrative is simple and stays with her journey. It’s a winner. Rating: 5 out of 5

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was originally published on November 23, 2019 and was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain.


What Makes a Biopic Tick?

Biopics are very much the fashion now in the Indian film industry. From Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) and Sanju (2018) doing fairly well to last year’s Manto (2018) not proving a great commercial hit to the most recent ones to hit the halls in 2019, Manikarnika and Thackeray, getting muted responses, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. It makes one wonder just what makes a biopic tick.

A biopic basically dramatizes the life of a real person and puts it on the big screen with all the glamor of a feature film. They are not films ‘based on a true story’ or ‘historical drama films’ in the sense that they try to trace a single person’s life story comprehensively, or at least the most important years of his or her life. A whole generation grew up with a view of Gandhi based almost entirely on Sir Ben Kingsley’s spellbinding 1982 portrayal.

For many young Americans, it is not the old photos of Abraham Lincoln that come to mind when they think of the 16th U.S. President but Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 biopic. Films like Lawrence of Arabia, Raging Bull or The Social Network have always made a huge impact. But for every biopic that enthralls, there are countless others that fail. And critics have a field day dissecting the reasons for the failure. That doesn’t stop biopics from being produced steadily. Since 2010, there have been over 225 biopics released worldwide, and that only includes those with Wikipedia pages.

Trying to find out what makes a biopic triumph is like searching for a jewel in the deep sea. Usually, biopics eulogize their subjects, seldom taking the road less travelled to deliver a story without illusions and including lived experiences that might be ‘unflattering’.

Today’s viewers expect some semblance of authenticity rather than manufactured reality. The age of free information has made it virtually impossible to tell a life story and not be questioned about its authenticity. From a filmmaker’s point of view, stepping into biopic territory means unleashing a Pandora’s box of complications, be it poor casting, weak storytelling or conflicting views on the film’s artistic vision.

Because the biopic’s protagonists are real people, whose actions and characteristics are known to the public (or at least documented), these roles are considered the most demanding by actors. Kingsley as Gandhi, Johnny Depp as Ed Wood (Ed Wood, 1994), Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman (Man on the Moon, 1999), Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar, Ranbir Kapoor as Sanju, Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati (Padmaavat, 2018) and Sonam Kapoor in and as Neerja (2016) all gained respect as dramatic actors after their roles.

Scripting a biopic usually comes down to what works best for the ‘character’ and the story. Traditionally, biopics follow the ‘cradle to grave’ structure that follows the character’s life chronologically, with the most well-known accomplishments providing the drama. There’s also a framing device of sorts that gives a glimpse of what’s to come right at the beginning. Although the most common trick has been to begin with the present and then reflect back on the character’s past, it has been subverted in recent years with non-linear structures that leave out large chunks of the character’s life. As a result, the film is more a character sketch than chronological documentary. Of late, such biopics with a smaller but tighter focus have become increasingly popular. Hitchcock (2012), for instance, only tells the story of the making of the 1960’s hit Psycho.

The Oscar-winning Alex Gibney, hailed as one of America’s most prolific documentary makers, believes each biopic must have a specific approach or point of view. In Lincoln (2012), the moot point was whether or not the President could bring about the end of slavery, while The King’s Speech (2010) was about a British monarch who prevailed despite his stammer. Bandit Queen (1994) was a revenge drama and Dangal (2016) traced the fulfillment of a wrestler’s dream.

A critical issue is deciding how much to deviate from facts and take creative liberties to create drama. The idea is to tell a good story in an interesting way and not be a slave to the truth. On the other hand, meddling with facts can boomerang. The challenge is in knowing how to strike a balance. Look what happened to Sachin: A Billion Dreams (2017), a biographical docudrama directed by James Erskine. The director tells the story of the cricketing legend with an unnatural amount of reverence and fails to add anything new to the already well-known narrative. Despite Tendulkar’s huge fan following, the film failed. Whereas M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) gave his fans much more to chew on.

Casting is the other big challenge. It’s generally a balance between similarity in physicality and looks and the ability to portray the role. In Paan Singh Tomar, where the protagonist’s persona was largely unknown, Khan carried the film off with his acting talent, whereas in Sanju, Kapoor’s physiognomy played an important part.

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, often called the best biopic of all time, explores age-old themes of love, loyalty and the pursuit of greatness. Released in 1980, the iconic B&W film was based on the life of middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta and is less cinema and more documentary disguised as movie. The conventionality of the plot could have easily led to a hackneyed storyline were it not for Scorsese’s unflinching camera, De Nero’s outstanding turn as LaMotta, and a carefully written script.

Jamie Foxx’s unforgettable role as musician Ray Charles (Ray, 2004), Philip Seymour Hoffman’s visceral portrayal of Truman Capote (Capote, 2005), and Halle Berry’s mesmerising rendition of Dorothy Dandridge (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, 1999) are other performances that made the biopic stand out. Freshness of approach, something unexpected in the way the story is narrated, or a new structure — it’s these that make the biopic click. Like The Dirty Picture (2011, on South Indian actor Silk Smitha) or Ladies First (2017, on archer Deepika Kumari). Unlike the straight documentary, a biopic always has an eye on the box office with its beguiling mix of fact and fiction. And clearly Bollywood has seen the potential. Nearly 30 biopics have been announced: including Batala House, Tanaji, The Gulshan Kumar Story, Chanakya and Mithali Raj.

O.P. Srivastava is a banker-turned filmmaker who won the National Award for his 2015 feature documentary, Life in Metaphors: A Portrait of Girish Kasaravalli.

This article was originally published in The Hindu on Feb 10, 2019. It is reproduced here with permission.

This article was edited by Media and Culture Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Manikarnika of Jhansi: Kangana Ranaut Claims Her Throne

Jhansi aap bhi chaahte hai aur main bhi. Farq sirf itna hai ke aap raaj karna chaahte hai aur main apnon ki sewa.” (You want Jhansi and so do I. The only difference is that you want to rule and I want to serve my people.)

This defiant line delivered by Kangana Ranaut sets the stage and tone for Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (Manikarnika) as well the kind of values Rani Laxmibai stood for. As a bonus, Kangana plays the role of the Rani, etching herself once more into the history of Hindi cinema with a refined, fiery and visceral performance. She also makes her debut as the co-director of the movie.

The legend of Rani Laxmibai dwells on the fact that she was mardaani or brave. Yet how many of us understand the woman beneath and why the warrior princess chose to pick up the sword and fight? What drove her to violence? How did she become one of the iconic faces of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also called the First War of Indian Independence) who charged up the common people enough for them to fight and gain independence less than a hundred years after that?

Freedom fighter and poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote these immortal lines describing Laxmibai which became a war cry for India’s Independence Movement.

“Chamak uthi san sattavan mein, yeh talwar purani thi,
Bundeley Harbolon ke munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardaani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi…”

(The ancient sword that caught the light in 1857, the story goes, belonged to one who fought like a man —  the valiant Queen of Jhansi.)

Hugh Rose said, of her: “She was the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among mutineers.”

“The Rani is remarkable for her bravery, cleverness and perseverance; her generosity to her subordinates was unbounded. These qualities, combined with her rank, rendered her the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders,” said Lord Cumberland when describing Laxmibai.

Manikarnika methodically unravels the mardaani perception by focusing on the woman within, through some effective long shots, well-written scenes, sequences and often minimal dialogue. It steers clear of ostentatious drama and emotion, striking a fine balance between fiction and facts and retaining Rani Laxmibai’s identity as well as the fervor of freedom movement. The narrative is simple and stays with her journey. I also loved that it is called Manikarnika, her maiden name. Even though it is part fiction, her spirit remains true to the Queen of Jhansi and effectively shows her contribution in lighting the fire of independence in 1857 mutiny.

Kangana took over the direction because of creative differences with the director Krish (born Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi), as she felt the movie was more about the 1857 Rebellion and less about Rani Laxmibai. It was the right call, and the movie is subtle and gentle despite its violent content. I cannot wait for her solo directorial debut, if her introduction scene is any indication.

The stunningly shot sequence shows Manikarnika aiming an arrow at an errant tiger ferociously attacking villagers. She pats the tiger softly in the neck even as she renders him unconscious. Jhansi’s minister Dixitji watches her and is impressed by this gentle warrior. Swords and arrows were her allies since childhood — she has been fostered by Peshwa Bajirao II (Suresh Oberoi, sublime) despite being born to commoner Moropant (Manish Wadhwa, effective). Soon after, a hesitant princess finds her way into the palace with her prince Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta, outstanding).

Her initiation into her grand new home is a contrast between her disapproving mother-in-law Raajmata and liberal husband Gangadhar. Bangles are not her forte, and while her husband understands that, the Rajmaata doesn’t. Her relationship with Gangadhar is beautifully slow and steady; he woos her with a library of books and prides in his wife’s sword skills. Their romantic sequences are stunning and languid.

When the time is right, Gangadhar hands her the baton of Jhansi, leaving the sorrowed widow saddled with a mission. I found this part well done, and was surprised that even though one expects a woman wielding swords and aiming arrows to be confident of assuming the throne, she is not. She takes on the mantle reluctantly.

Great care has been taken to make sure people around her lift her potential up. Peshwa doesn’t confirm her Jhansi proposal until after a chat. Right before he changes her name, as per the tradition during their wedding, Gangadhar seeks her approval. Jhalkaribai (Ankita Lokhande, sterling), Tatya Tope (Atul Kulkarni, solid), and Ghulam Ghaus Khan (Danny Denzongpa, excellent), her pillars of support are spot on as the supporting leads.

Her character traits are displayed through her actions and dynamics with people around. In a quiet moment, Gangadhar tells her, “You never asked why I wear bangles. Thank you.” She refuses to accept food from Jhalkaribai unless she places it on her hand. In a defiant moment, she declares to her mother-in-law, “I am still married to my land and will not dress like a widow.” She stands with her head held high against the British even when her husband chooses to bow. The scene when Gangadhar seats her on the throne, her bathing ceremony after his death, the confrontation scenes with the British officers, her fight training scene with women, and her speeches, the war scenes, the sword fights… are all evocative.

Considering the modest budget given to a period film of this stature and the double shooting, the production values are excellently toned, with taut direction, robust cinematography, crisp editing, authentic set designs, and elegant costumes. K V Vijayendra Prasad and Prasoon Joshi do a fine job with the script. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Prasoon Joshi rock and roll with the rousing songs.

The special effects are not as smoldering, however. Kangana’s erect spine more than makes up for it. She is a joy to watch in every frame, and all woman in her sword and glory. Be it romancing her husband, taming a horse, giving birth, holding her child, mourning, igniting rebellion, sitting hesitatingly or confidently on throne, cutting a soldier’s head with all her strength, or finally and defiantly perishing in flames.

Right from the first frame to the blazing end, Kangana is glorious. Her eyes, face, gait, spine, and her body language are superbly controlled and in tandem with Jhansi Ki Rani. She proves without a doubt that she is the best among current and past generations. The kitty of her expressions is unbelievable, comparable to Nargis in Mother India. Credit or no credit, the Queen has claimed her throne.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019). Directors: Kangana Ranaut, Krish. Writers: K. V. Vijayendra Prasad, Prasoon Joshi. Players: Kangana Ranaut, Jisshu Sengupta, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni, Ankita Lokhande, Suresh Oberoi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Theatrical release: Zee Studios.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.