Tag Archives: Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

Manikarnika vs. The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

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.

Movie Review: Manikarnika — The Queen of Jhansi (2019)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Watch Manikarnika on Amazon Prime
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As pure spectacle, the historical epic Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is top notch, with thrilling battles, dazzling sets, and gorgeous cinematography. However, its narrative fails to make meaningful connections between the protagonist and her supporting characters.

The film is based on the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai, nee Manikarnika, who ruled the Indian state of Jhansi in the 1850s. (A note at the start of the movie admits to taking some cinematic liberties with the story.) From her youth, Manikarnika (Kangana Ranaut) was raised on patriotic ballads that sang of spilling one’s blood for the sake of the motherland. She was taught to fight with swords and to tame horses.

That feistiness is just what the bachelor King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta), needs in a potential bride, according to his advisor Dixit Ji (Kulkhushan Kharbanda). Jhansi is one of the last independent kingdoms that hasn’t ceded to rule by the British East India Company or been taken over outright. Gangadhar is a pragmatist, but he’s not happy kowtowing to the Brits. He marries Manikarnika, renaming her Lakshmi Bai in the process. When British officers come to the palace to pay their respects, Manikarnika refuses to bow to them. Gangadhar is delighted.

Manikarnika is unwavering in her judgement of right and wrong. Her character grows as her elevated position allows her to witness a greater spectrum of British cruelty, and she takes responsibility for counteracting it. Ranaut plays Manikarnika as clear-eyed and determined. Her posture is taut, as though she’s always ready for a fight. She’s only at ease when she’s with Gangadhar, who loves her and admires her spiritedness.

Trouble comes not just from the British lurking outside the gates, but from a traitor within: Gangadhar’s brother, Sadashiv (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub). The Brits have promised to name Sadashiv king if he helps depose Gangadhar. Granted, it would be a title in name only, without the limited independence Jhansi currently enjoys.

When the tension between Manikarnika and the Brits turns to all-out war, the movie is at its best. Co-director Krish (more on him to come) previously directed Telugu historical epics, and it shows in the scale of the world he creates. The battles are impressive in scope and require a lot of skilled horsemen and other extras. CGI effects — from injured animals to explosions — are well-integrated, and the fight choreography is exciting.

The plot isn’t complicated, since the Brits are obvious bad guys and the good guys just have to fight them. However, it’s not always clear exactly who the good guys are or how they fit into courtly life in Jhansi or the larger Indian political landscape. When Dixit Ji first proposes a marriage contract with Manikarnika, she’s sword-fighting with three characters who I thought were her brothers–but perhaps weren’t (one of them is played by Atul Kulkarni in a microscopic role). Also present are her biological father and the man who raised her, who is some kind of politician, maybe? She eventually helps one of her probably-not-brothers take the throne of another kingdom, and it would’ve been nice to know why.

There are several female supporting characters who are either from her original home (like Kashi Bai, played by Mishti), from a nearby village, or appointed to take care of her in Jhansi. All are so underdeveloped and shown so fleetingly that they blur together.

This shoddy organization is largely a result of a behind-the-scenes battle for the director’s chair. Krish left the film when it was nearly finished — purportedly pushed out by Ranuat — who re-shot portions of the film herself and recast Ayyub in a role originally played by Sonu Sood. Ranuat is the first co-director listed in the end credits, ahead of Krish, who is credited by his birth name, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi. According to Krish, many of the scenes filmed with Mishti and Atul Kulkarni were left out of the final film. Perhaps those scenes would have helped to flesh out the characters and their relationships with Manikarnia.

One other complaint is the direction of the characters playing the British officers. The dialogue delivery throughout the film is quite slow, but the British officers speak with an especially unnatural cadence. It’s so strange that I was surprised to discover that Richard Keep, who plays the villain General Hugh Rose, is actually English. I’m not sure which of the co-directors deserves the blame for that, but it’s an unfortunate distraction in a movie that really has a lot going for it.

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Streaming Video News: March 22, 2019

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with dozens of recent additions to the streaming catalog. Kangana Ranaut’s January theatrical release Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi now available in the original Hindi as well as Tamil and Telugu.

One strange bit of Amazon housekeeping is that Yash Raj Films added new versions of several movies that were already on Prime, and the old links no longer work at all. It’s not that the listing remains and says the movie isn’t available on Prime — you get a “Page Not Found” error when you follow the link. I updated my list with the new links I’ve found, but here they are just in case you’ve got the old links in your bookmarks (if you find any other YRF Amazon Prime links in my list that no longer work, please leave a comment and let me know):

I also updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with a new original Hindi series to binge this weekend: Delhi Crime, starring Shefali Shah, Adil Hussain, and Denzil Smith.

Bollywood Box Office: March 8-10, 2019

Badla had the second-best opening-weekend per-screen average for the year so far in North America. From March 8-10, 2019, the thriller earned $596,446 from 94 theaters ($6,345 average), according to Box Office Mojo. That opening-weekend per-screen average ranks just ahead of Uri: The Surgical Strike‘s $6,249 but well behind Gully Boy‘s $7,927.

Luka Chuppi held steady in its second weekend, per Bollywood Hungama’s reporting, earning $179,166 from 103 theaters ($1,739 average) and bringing its total to $814,426. Last weekend‘s other new release — Sonchiriya — continued on its tragic path, holding over just 5% of its opening weekend business. Box Office Mojo reports earnings of just $2,880 from eight theaters ($360 average), for total earnings of $85,148.

Other Hindi movies still showing in North American theaters:

  • Gully Boy: Week 4; $192,665 from 106 theaters; $1,818 average; $5,117,529 total
  • Total Dhamaal: Week 3; $156,180 from 118 theaters; $1,324 average; $2,020,732 total
  • Uri: Week 9; $13,020 from nine theaters; $1,447 average; $4,173,302 total
  • Manikarnika: Week 7; $204 from one theater; $1,385,664 total

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Bollywood Box Office: March 1-3, 2019

The two most recent Hindi releases had very different opening weekends in North America. The Kriti Sanon-Karthik Aaryan romantic comedy Luka Chuppi did well, taking in $440,705 from 144 theaters ($3,060 average), according to Bollywood Hungama.

On the other hand, Sonchiriya did really poorly, especially considering the number of theaters it opened in. The bandit drama earned $60,170 from 70 theaters ($860 average), per Box Office Mojo. Sonchiriya‘s per-theater average is half that of the next-worst opening weekend average this year: Thackeray‘s $1,729. I’m a fan of director Abhishek Chaubey — the man responsible for great films like Udta Punjab, Ishqiya, and Dedh Ishqiyaso this is a big bummer.

Other Hindi films still showing in North America:

  • Total Dhamaal: Week 2; $439,983 from 209 theaters; $2,015 average; $1,736,909 total
  • Gully Boy: Week 3; 411,409 from 164 theaters; $2,509 average; $4,783,800 total
  • Uri: Week 8; $34,511 from 15 theaters; $2,301 average; 4,155,109 total
  • Manikarnika: Week 6; $775 from two theaters; $388 average; $1,385,664

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Bollywood Box Office: February 22-24, 2019

Total Dhamaal made nearly $1 million in its opening weekend in North America. From February 22-24, 2019, the comedy sequel earned $989,387 from 202 theaters ($4,898 average), according to Box Office Mojo.

That was just enough to steal the crown from Gully Boy, which earned $976,466 from 269 theaters ($3,630 average, and eleven more theaters than last weekend). After eleven days, Gully Boy has earned an impressive $4,216,437.

Uri: The Surgical Strike also crossed the $4 million mark thanks to the $73,360 from 38 theaters ($1,931 average) in nabbed in its seventh weekend. It’s North American total stands at $4,098,102.

Manikarnika closed out its fifth weekend with $9,066 from thirteen theaters ($697 average; $1,382,558 total), while Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga earned $1,557 from three theaters ($519 average; $1,172,088 total) in its fourth weekend, per Bollywood Hungama.

The first two months of 2019 have been terrific for Bollywood movies in North America. All of the titles above have made over $1 million here (assuming that Total Dhamaal made more than $11,000 on Monday), with two having earned more than $4 million. Besides these titles, the two biographical political dramas that released here — The Accidental Prime Minister and Thackeray — both earned over $100,000. (25% of Hindi films released here last year failed to hit that benchmark.) The only flop has been the horror movie Amavas, which only played in seven theaters. This year is off to a heckuva start!

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

Opening February 22: Total Dhamaal

The latest release in the Dhamaal franchise — Total Dhamaal — hits Chicago area theaters February 22, 2019. Series regulars Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, and Javed Jaffrey are joined by Madhuri Dixit Nene, Anil Kapoor, and Ajay Devgn in this adventure comedy.

Total Dhamaal opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Arclight Chicago in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, Arclight Glenview in Glenview, Buffalo Grove Theater in Buffalo Grove, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 6 min.

After a stellar opening weekend, Gully Boy carries over at the River East 21, MovieMax, Niles 12, South Barrington 24, Rosemont 18, Cantera 17, Naperville 16, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Uri: The Surgical Strike keeps going strong at MovieMax, South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18. Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi carries over at MovieMax and the South Barrington 24, which also holds over Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend (all titles have English subtitles):

*The first film in the NTR series — NTR: Kathanayakudu — is available on Amazon Prime.

Bollywood Box Office: February 15-17, 2019

I’ve missed a few North American box office reports in recent weeks due to some family health problems, so let’s catch up on the big stories:

Gully Boy just had a monster opening weekend, bringing in $1,833,035 from 255 theaters ($7,188 average) from February 15-17, 2019, according to Bollywood Hungama. Including opening day returns from February 14 makes its total officially $2,129,483, but Monday’s Presidents Day holiday in the United States surely pushed that past the $2.5 million mark.

What the heck is going on with Uri: The Surgical Strike? It just finished its sixth weekend in North America with earnings of $169,506 from 51 theaters ($3,324 average), per Box Office Mojo. Wanna know how many 2018 releases earned more than $100K in their sixth weekend? Zero. Uri‘s continued popularity is remarkable. It closed out the weekend with total earnings of $3,958,534, but it’s past $4 million now thanks to Monday’s holiday.

On the flip side, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga fell off FAST. With Uri still making good money for exhibitors, Ek Ladki dropped 150 theaters going into its third weekend in order to make room for Gully Boy. As a consequence, Ek Ladki earned just $50,000 from 43 theaters ($1,163 average) over the weekend. With total earnings of $1,172,088 (including Presidents Day), it looks like Ek Ladki will struggle to hit $1.2 million here.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi trailed just behind, with $30,625 from 24 theaters ($1,276 average) in its fourth weekend. It has total earnings of $1,358,850 thus far.

Simmba stuck around in one theater, adding $72 to its $5.1 million total.

And while I know Amavas played in at least one US theater over the weekend, I don’t have any earnings numbers for it. Suffice it to say, the numbers would certainly be worse that the horror film’s opening weekend last weekend: $606 from seven theaters ($87 average). Truly terrifying.

Sources: Bollywood Hungama and Box Office Mojo

In Theaters: February 8, 2019

One new Hindi film opens in Chicago area theaters on February 8, 2019, and it’s up against stiff competition from early Bollywood releases. Nargis Fakhri stars in the horror movie Amavas, from Alone director Bhushan Patel.

Amavas opens Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 14 min.

Last weekend’s big hit — Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga — holds over at MovieMax, AMC River East 21 in Chicago, AMC Niles 12 in Niles, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi gets a third week at MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, and Cantera 17.

Uri: The Surgical Strike carries over for a fifth week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, and AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend:

Opening January 25: Manikarnika and Thackeray

Two new Hindi films hit Chicago area theaters on January 26, 2019. The wider release of the two goes to Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, starring Kangana Ranuat. In response to right-wing threats leveled against the period drama, Ranaut said: “If they don’t stop then they should know I am also a Rajput and I will destroy each one of them.” Awesome.

Manikarnika opens Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, AMC Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, AMC South Barrington 24 in South Barrington, Marcus Addison Cinema in Addison, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Naperville 16 in Naperville. MovieMax is also showing the film in Telugu and Tamil at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Manikarnika has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 53 min.

The weekend’s other new release is Thackeray, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the far-right political leader Bal Thackeray.

Thackeray also opens Friday at MovieMax, Cantera 17, and the AMC Niles 12 in Niles. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

Uri: The Surgical Strike carries over for a third week at the River East 21, MovieMax, Rosemont 18, South Barrington 24, Cantera 17, and the AMC Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

The South Barrington 24 also holds over The Accidental Prime Minister and Simmba.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend: