On Monday, February 4th, we went to see Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, a film from India about Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who famously led her kingdom in rebellion against the British in the time of the Sepoy Mutiny. We were somewhat amused by the disclaimer at the beginning admitting that liberties were taken with dates, places, persons, and costumes (usually true of any historical film), but, based on Georgie’s research, she said that the movie was 75% true, and true to the spirit of Manikarnika’s story.
Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut) was the given name of the woman who would one day become Queen of Jhansi. As a revered freedom fighter in Indian history, she is given a saintly background. The soothsayer who reads her destiny lines shortly after birth says she is destined for great things. When we first see her as a young woman, she is fearlessly hunting a tiger with bow and arrow, and when the tiger falls over inches from reaching her, we learn that she has only drugged it, so the troublesome beast can be transported to the “deep jungle” rather than being killed. We also learn that she is a swordswoman who can take on her two foster-brothers AND their teacher with the sword and beat them to a standstill. Also, when she comes to Jhansi as the bride of the Maharajah (Jishu Sengupta ), she is the only one who can tame and ride the Maharaja’s fierce stallion. She refuses to bow to the British agent, Captain Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) when he comes to call, and takes back livestock stolen by soldiers from poor villagers. (The British are the major evil guys in this film, and nastier about it than they were in real life.)
Everything doesn’t go her way, though. Her newborn son dies, and her husband soon after. They have adopted the son of the Maharaja’s poorer cousin as substitute heir, which upsets his other cousin, who thinks he has a better claim, and goes to connive with the British. After Maharaja Gangadar’s death, the British troops surprise the palace, evict Lakshmi and her adopted son, and burn her library out of spite. (See, I said, evil--.)
She is able to reclaim her palace once the Mutiny breaks out, and her nemesis, Captain Gordon, is killed by mutineers. The movie is honest in that British women and children are murdered by the mutineers and other rebels, but shows that this is in part done by Lakshmi Bai’s enemies in order to discredit her.
Manikarnika raises a militia, including women, to defend Jhansi against the much bigger British force, and does well until treachery exposes a weakness in the fortress defenses. In order to escape, she leaps from the battlements on her horse, carrying her foster son. (This did, in fact happen. Unlike in the movie, however, the horse did not survive it. She and the boy were picked up by loyalists who spirited them away.)
She continues to rally resistance, until Indian and British troops meet in pitched battle at Kotah-ki-Serai. Wounded and surrounded, Lakshmi Bai steps into a fire in order to deny the British their goal of displaying her head on a pike. (Again, loosely based on history: she is reputed to have lit her own funeral pyre, so that the enemy could not desecrate her body.) The movie ends with a quotation from the memoires of her foe, General Sir Hugh Rose (Richard Keep), who wrote that she was “the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among mutineers."
This epic movie was very grand and beautiful to watch, with great spectacle, handsome settings, and beautiful costuming and makeup. The acting is very good as well. Ms. Ranaut in particular makes an excellent action hero, and I was impressed with her willingness to growl and glower in battle (Western actresses do not seem to like making “ugly” faces, no matter the situation--.)
The film is not without its flaws. Scripted in Hindi, the dialog given to the English speakers is very stilted, and extra points to actors like Mr. Keep for being straight-faced. The cannon in the battle scenes do not recoil--. Oh, well--.
The subject matter was of interest to us as Georgie had researched Lakshmi Bai for a presentation at TeslaCon, and we found the film interesting and entertaining.
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