2019 has seen two theatrical releases about legendary revolutionary Rani Lakshmibai hit North American theaters: Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi and the international production The Warrior Queen of Jhansi. Warrior Queen completed its principal photography almost a year before Manikarnika, yet even with extensive re-shoots, Manikarnika debuted nearly nine months ahead of Warrior Queen. How do these two different versions of the same story compare?
Manikarnika is truly an epic. Its battles are large in scale, with lots of extras and horses and smoky battlefields. Ranaut gets a number of slow-motion shots as Manikarnika rallies her troops and dodges her enemies’ swords. Warrior Queen‘s battles are by contrast drab and sparsely populated, opting for realism over awe-inspiring visuals. The film highlights just how beaten down the British troops and Indian revolutionaries are from years of fighting, so nothing moves especially quickly. It’s an effective choice given what the story wants to emphasize.
The looks of the films are governed by their differing agendas and target audiences. Manikarnika‘s protagonist is depicted as an Indian national hero and martyr. Her glorious battles and fiery rhetoric are meant to stoke the fires of patriotism. With an A-list actress like Ranaut in the lead role and notable supporting actors from various industries, Manikarnika aims to appeal to a wide swath of Indian film fans.
Warrior Queen takes a more global approach. The biggest names in the film are British screen veterans Derek Jacobi, Rupert Everett, and Nathanial Parker, with comparatively unknown Indian-American actress Devika Bhise (who co-wrote the screenplay with her producer-director mother, Swati) in the title role. The story paints Lakshmibai as a progressive feminist pioneer who refused to accept the social limitations of caste and gender while fighting capitalist aggression.
Despite aiming for a wider, less diaspora-dependent audience, Warrior Queen fared much worse than Manikarnika in its opening weekend in North American theaters. Warrior Queen opened in 276 theaters on November 15 and earned $112,208, for an average of $406 per theater. Manikarnika released into just 152 theaters on January 25 but earned $571,130, or $3,757 per theater.
It’s safe to say that The Warrior Queen of Jhansi had quite a bit working against it, coming out less than a year after a big budget Bollywood version of the same story which is currently available for at-home viewing on Amazon Prime. On top of that, the title may not have drawn in the Victoria & Abdul crowd (i.e. white seniors who enjoy British costume dramas) as easily as if it had been called something more generic — maybe “India’s Warrior Queen” or something like that. Would Warrior Queen have fared better with an earlier release date or slightly different title? Maybe. I found both films to be similarly enjoyable given their differing styles and objectives.