By Surga Thilakan (Guest Author)

“It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is. What forces our interest is Cezzanne’s anxiety, the torments of Van Gogh – the actual drama of the men behind the art”


It is hard to review Manikarnika without a conversation about Kangana Ranaut. Kangana is a polarising figure in popular culture today. For some time now, she has represented the outsider who broke in, creating a parallel movement to the clique, the flag bearer of the non elite, fearless in both her talk and thought. Until a couple of years ago, she represented a fiery brand of unhinged feminism, cutting through the clutter of the film industry misogyny. Kangana also has a flawed public persona, megalomaniacal, arrogant and many times just plain offensive. That combined with inconsistent performances and box office duds has alienated a good segment of the audience and her opportunistic use of the feminist card in the last couple of years also lost her some ardent fans like me, who felt that the talk was starting to ring false.

Manikarnika is Kangana’s answer to her detractors on both counts. She is supremely fabulous and carries all the notes of this epic production with a savage intensity that represents the best parts of her mad courage in real life, just like the Queen of Jhansi. She is fierce, her eyes speak volumes of her fiestiness of spirit. She is a brave queen who wears her emotions as a badge of honor around her neck and wrestles with the various conflicted roles women find themselves in with a quiet, thoughtful confidence.

This is Kangana’s career best performance and with Rani of Jhansi, she has brought to life a much needed feminist icon for the ages, feeding her character with courage and charisma, beauty and vulnerability. Unlike Padmavat for instance, when the battle closes in, she gathers the women of Jhansi and conducts extensive training camps in sword fighting to join her military in fighting the British. All delicious and something to expose our daughters to.

Manikarnika, the film however has way too many technical holes – an utterly awful, hammy and dissappointing dialogue by Prasoon Joshi, caricaturish depiction of the British, poor edits, inconsistent cg and a poor act from the supporting cast. The film however does get the scale and imagery correct, some of the sequences such as Kangana on a horse with her child strapped to her will stay for long after the film is over. Production design is gorgeous, though not at Bhansali level of aesthetic. Music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy complements the story telling well.

Manikarnika is worth a watch, primarily as Kangana dominates most of the screen time and overrides a lot of the film’s flaws with the brilliance of her performance. I was inspired by Rani Laxmibai’s courage and thoroughly enjoyed Kangana’s retelling of it.

Surga Thilakan is an entrepreneur, movie fan, and amateur painter.