Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi Movie Review: A big yawn

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In spite of Kangana Ranaut’s magnificent performance, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a tedious watch.

It all started with a small yawn. Not that I was sleepy but nothing really interesting was transpiring initially. I waited. Then, a bigger yawn came through. And by the time intermission arrived, it got so mind-numbing that the biggest of all yawn happened and it kept on coming through thereafter until the end. Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is dullsville.

The best thing that has happened to this film is the title. What better title can you give than Manikarnika? (It is the name of the protagonist and hence, the movie as well) Other than that, this is a soulless tribute to one of the most legendary heroes of India’s struggle for freedom from the British rule. The story of Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut) is not something unheard of. It is one of the most referenced heroes of all time in Indian history. Directed by Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kanaut Ranaut, the movie exhibits the developments leading up to the revolt of 1857, where Manikarnika, who later adopted the name of Rani Laxmibai, led from the front.

Visual effects are below par. When Manikarnika is pointing her arrow at a fast-moving tiger, you can apparently judge that it’s not a real tiger because of not so great graphics work. Also, some of the stunts performed by Kangana Ranaut clearly looks like a CG work (she climbs over an elephant as if some external force has picked her up from the neck and dropped her off over the elephant).

The movie is plagued with dramatic dialogues trying to enhance the wrath, gutsiness and patriotism that are associated with particular scenes. They made it look like watching an Indian soap opera. A British officer mocks at Manikarnika by saying that she can’t even speak English and chuckles along with other officers (Oh! Very funny) to which she presents a stagy response. The duel that Manikarnika had with Captain Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) consisted of a theatrical exchange of dialogues that never looked impressive.

Some of the characters never developed into an interesting part of the film. Sadashiv (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub looks convincing in this role) is an ally of British officers but his character never bowls you over as it intends to. Even the character of Jhalkari Bai (Ankita Lokhande) did not have any impact at all. She shows some moves in a song called ‘Dankila’ (The music of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is not likeable either) and comes out in support of Manikarnika but I was not moved by her emotional yells.

Kangana Ranaut shines all the way. She looked like she belonged there. When she keeps a stern face to show that she has got the pluck to talk to a British officer and declines to bow her head before him, she does look menacing.

Some of the scenes really look emotional (but they were so few that it couldn’t alter the fate of the film). Captain Gordon enters the village with an army and everyone kneels down except an old man who is unable to. It was horrifying to see a British officer hitting hard at that old man’s legs as he falls down in pain. The animal love of Manikarnika was beautifully brought out when we get to know that she has not killed the tiger with her arrow but only made it unconscious so that it can be sent back deep into the forest. She also forbids her husband from killing a deer as we see a mother deer feeding milk to a baby deer. It was great to see when Manikarnika mobilises women and trains them. Even the fight that transpires towards the end was high on emotions.

In the beginning, there is a mock sword fighting among some of the family members of Manikarnika as she joins them in the process. Excluding Kangana, that whole sequence looked so unprofessional (devoid of swiftness and agility). It seemed like they have picked the sword for the very first time in their life and are just flashing it around. Maybe that was a hint that sort of foretold how dull the movie will turn out to be. In spite of Kangana Ranaut’s magnificent performance, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a tedious watch.

Zero Movie Review: An enchanting romantic drama

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Zero is a dreamy romantic drama which is marred by sluggishness post the interval

In a romantic relationship, you do not have to act, talk or behave differently with the person you love. You can be yourself. You are loved for who you are. No matter what sort of ailments your lover has or even if they are differently-abled, you talk to each other just like any other romantic couple who are in perfect physical condition. You can even try and do anything to please the love of your life. All these are echoed in Director Anand L. Rai’s Zero which is an enchanting romantic drama where we dive into a marvellous love story involving Bauua Singh (Shah Rukh Khan), who is vertically-challenged, and his ladylove, Aafia Yusufzai Bhinder (Anushka Sharma), who is a scientist but is confined to her wheelchair due to a medical condition called cerebral palsy.

Zero sketches romance between an unusual pair and still makes it so fascinating to watch. The romance that builds up between Bauua and Aafia arrests you up until the intermission. From there on, it feels like the film is grappling with a humdrum phase until it again gets back on track towards the end. Bauua is a lively character in his late 30s (The spectacular performance of Shah Rukh Khan is a treat to watch and is definitely a testimony of his greatness in Bollywood). The film’s title symbolically refers to Bauua who is nothing but a ‘Zero’. He is a son of rich man and fools around with his friends (like the scene where he and his friends play around with rickshaw puller or the one where he throws off bank notes off his balcony) and is obsessed with a popular actress called Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif). In contrast, Aafia (Anushka Sharma’s performance in this role is commendable) has helped a space research agency in finding water on Mars and is very successful on her own efforts.

With characters of such opposing nature, it was astonishing to see the romance blossoming between them. As Aafia gets down from her wheelchair, crawls on the floor and picks up the pen upon the challenge posed by Bauua, the expression of admiration and appreciation on Bauua’s face resonates with our own. I felt myself being dreamily lulled off into a musing fit as Bauua sings ‘Mere Naam Tu’ to impress Aafia outside her door (this is the only song in the composition of the duo of Ajay-Atul that I liked in this film which was complimented well by colourful choreography). In another instance of winning the heart of Aafia, we see him dancing to a song called Humko Tumpe Pyaar Aaya from Shashi Kapoor’s 1965 film Jab Jab Phool Khile. This was quirky yet so enjoyable. As Aafia explains how she feels like a ‘normal person’ around him when he talks to her without ever feeling sorry for her medical condition, we understand why she felt the affection towards him. When Bauua gets selected to travel in the spaceship for Mars exploration, it was heartrending to see the emotional interaction between him and Aafia moments before the spaceship takes off.

Cometh the Babita Kumari phase, cometh the feeling of boredom. Call it an underwhelming performance by Katrina Kaif as Babita Kumari or sluggish pace of narrative with the commencement of the second half, there was a definitive feeling of languidness. When Babita calmly asks Aditya (Abhay Deol), her boyfriend, to leave her house and says that she can convey that in different ways, it almost felt like a reflection of my inner thoughts when Aditya retorts by asking her that in how many different ways that can be conveyed by her. There were two instances involving Katrina Kaif which were really good (but not because of her). In a song called ‘Husn Parcham’, Katrina Kaif does look glamorous but it was Shah Rukh Khan as Bauua who stole the show where he energetically dances inside the movie theatre. And when Babita tells a fake story of her parents to Bauua, it was Shah Rukh Khan’s exemplary and expressive act that brings out the sentiment in us.

The friendship between Bauua and Guddu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) was invigorating to see. The interactions between them remained funny throughout the movie. When Bauua decides to go to the U.S. and asks Guddu (who follows Islam in the film) to join him, it was insightful and jocular when Guddu promptly says that if a ‘Musalmaan’ can somehow get to America, then he is definitely ready to go with him. In another scene, outside the building of the space research firm, it was amusing when Guddu reminds Bauua that they are from Meerut (India) who eat Parle-G biscuits with tea. We sense the feeling of separation when Guddu starts crying and hugs Bauua moments before spaceship takes off.

Zero is one of those films where you do not want to dwell on the logic and you are happy to recuse yourself from doing so or else it would erase the fun out of the movie. So, as the title of the movie appeared on screen at the beginning against the backdrop of stars, it makes you fantasize and anticipate that the film would have something related to stars. And the movie is replete with instances of shooting stars. With a flick of Bauua’s finger, we see a shooting star in the sky and the beauty gets magnified as it comes during those beautiful romantic portions. Zero is a dreamy romantic drama which is marred by sluggishness post the interval.

Thugs of Hindostan Movie Review: A mind-numbing voyage

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Thugs of Hindostan suffers from a poor script leaving a yawning audience… Spoilers ahead

Khudabaksh Azaad (Amitabh Bachchan) has his hands tied in a prison and asks Firangi Mallah (Aamir Khan) if he is going to kill him with his speeches or will break the shackles and set him free. I almost felt like my inner thoughts were spoken by Amitabh Bachchan. This scene comes somewhere towards the end when my patience has already been fully tested. No matter what they are charging to get inside the cinema hall, it’s worth more to get out.

The title of the movie – Thugs of Hindostan – is perhaps the best thing that I can think of which is very apt in the context of the movie. Long story short, Azaad, Firangi, Zafira (Fatima Sana Shaikh) are the Thugs and the leading characters in the film who fight against the British East India Company officer Clive (Lloyd Owen). Directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, this movie does have a great potential of becoming a magnum opus and an epic movie that it intends to. It has a few fabulous moments to savour and but with 2 hours 44 minutes long, it fails miserably with jejune storytelling.

Amitabh Bachchan as Azaad looks fierce and powerful. His aggressive expressions render so much strength to his character when he bawls “Hamla!” (Attack!). He looks magnificent riding a horse. He looks agile while climbing down a rope and shooting the British forces on the ship. While pulling a thick wooden block using the ropes over the shoulders, he really seems to be using all his force. Whatever tricks and techniques that were applied with CG works, Amitabh Bachchan defies his age and never allows his real age to bog down the action sequences. John Stewart Eduri’s background score does well to make the presence of Amitabh even more majestic. There is also a softer side to Azaad. He calms down Zafira, who has woken up from a nightmare, by hugging her and singing a lori (lullaby).

Aamir Khan as Firangi is outstanding in this role but again the problem lies in the narrative. Firangi is selfish and helps Britishers for money. He rides on a donkey and calls it Nawab (Oh yeah, it was hilarious). He blows his flute as a signal to the British officers and helps them loot his fellow Hindostanis. He winds up helping the Britishers to catch their most wanted enemy – Azaad. And when Azaad actually finds it out, it is hardly exciting to see that happen. It is an epitome of predictability when Aamir Khan tricks everyone to save Azaad from the prison.

Suraiyaa (Katrina Kaif) is an indispensable character in the film who dances to a song before the intermission and dances to another song after the intermission. Add to this the underwhelming soundtracks from the duo of Ajay-Atul for an all-important character of Suraiyaa. Oh wait, she removes a blanket and dramatically appears yet again in the end to surprise Firangi and his friend Shanichar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) on the ship (That’s the last thing we wanted!). Katrina Kaif is not done with all that as she annoys us with her brilliant dialogue deliveries.

Fatima Sana Shaikh as Zafira is quintessential but a banal plot does not help her cause. As a child, she is unable to pick up a heavy sword but this scene has no relevance after she has grown up as we do not see anything happening to remind us of that. She goes hammer and tongs while fighting the Britishers but with Aamir and Amitabh taking the centre stage for most of the time, she sort of remains unnoticed like the shadow. I felt like watching an Indian soap opera with the camera circling around Zafira and Clive when she is about to kill him. The scenes of Clive killing Zafira’s parents flashes on the screen as if we are so dumb and cannot deduce that it is an act of vengeance.

I do not know what was more exasperating than British officers speaking Hindi. It is okay to see them conversing in Hindi with Firangi. It was intolerable to see them saying dialogues like “Soorat to insaan ki hai, lekin dil jaanwar ka hai aur tabiyat firangi” which roughly translates to “He has a face of human, is animal by heart, and is a foreigner by nature). Even more rebarbative was to see them conversing in Hindi to themselves and not in English. They do speak two or three lines in English when Clive orders his men to kill Azaad’s people may be to show that they do speak English. Nevertheless, Lloyd Owen as Clive looks ominous on screen with a terrific performance.

This movie suffers from insurmountable cliches and dull moments. We are hardly surprised to find that Azaad is alive and has not died in the ship explosion. How can anyone not foretell that he may have jumped off the ship and might still be alive? There is no feeling of astonishment when Firangi helps Zafira by providing the location of Azaad’s people to Clive. It is not surprising at all to discover that it was a fake location since we would have already figured that out. It looks so leaden when the father of Zafira, Mirza Sikander Baig (Ronit Roy) warns Britishers that they cannot rule this place and asks them to run away in a very lacklustre manner.

There is a scene where a sort of human pyramid is shown with people standing on top of each other covered with black dust. It rains and the black dust gets washed off. We see that Azaad, Zafira and their people tap a foot on the shoulder of another, break the pyramid and attack the British ship. It’s a marvellous scene which comes early in the movie but it leaves us yearning for more as the movie is devoid of more of that. Thugs of Hindostan suffers from a poor script leaving a yawning audience. It is a film which should have been much bigger in every sense with the presence of two of the iconic actors of Bollywood whose remarkable performances does not save the film from its humdrum writing.