A journalist for over a decade, I am also the author of Vinod Kambli: The Lost Hero, a biography of the former India cricketer. Apart from my love for news and writing, I am passionate about cricket, movies and music
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi has had a glorious start at the box office. Since its theatrical release on January 25, the Kangana Ranaut-starrer earned over Rs 50 crore in five days in India and Rs 11 crore overseas. In the process, the historical period drama surpassed the actor’s Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015) to become her highest single-day grosser (Rs 18.1 crore) on January 26.
Some films are beyond the numbers they amass. Manikarnika is one of them. It’s a spectacle for its sheer grandeur and Ranaut’s phenomenal performance in the lead role. That apart, the film rides entirely on her shoulders, a rarity in the Hindi film industry, infamous for men calling the shots. But while the audience and critics have been effusive in their praise, a section of Bollywood—which is otherwise vocal—has been silent on both the film and Ranaut in particular. If this was a standard practice it followed for everyone, it could have been understandable. Clearly that isn’t the case.
One constantly sees the film industry generous with its words on Twitter after the launch of garish posters, remixed songs, ordinary trailers and mediocre movies. Passable performances are called path-breaking. At times, they give their verdict even before watching the film. These are retweeted by those for whom it’s meant as a badge of honour with praise from some bigwigs touted to be the equivalent of a National Award. The fraternity even goes into a tizzy whenever one of their own tags them in a Twitter challenge (mostly for film promotions). There’s ample time at their disposal to come up with replies more original or funny than the movies they make or star in.
Why, then, the bias against Manikarnika? It may well be because of Ranaut. The actor, who has given a string of successful movies since her debut with Gangster (2006) has made many uncomfortable with her no-holds-barred statements and devil-may-care attitude. Filmmaker Karan Johar’s angst against her is an open secret since she called him a “flag-bearer of nepotism” on his show, Koffee with Karan, in 2017. The omission of Ranaut’s name from the choice for ‘Best actresses today’ to his guests in each episode this year cannot just be an oversight. It is a deliberate ploy to keep distance from associating with her. That does not augur well for a fraternity that insists ‘we are family’.
Had any other actor played the titular role in Manikarnika, she would have been positioned as a game-changer for pulling off an ambitious project. The same yardstick must apply to all. An artist and their work must be viewed objectively. The industry need not show the same ‘josh’ (passion) to Ranaut’s work that they showed while promoting Uri on a flight while on their way to meet the Prime Minister earlier this month, but this prejudice is uncalled for, especially given that she speaks highly of her contemporaries.
This is not to say that Ranaut does not have flaws. Her penchant for landing in controversies is not funny anymore. And there are enough stories of her interference, wanting to hog the limelight and making reckless remarks. If indeed there is truth to these allegations, Bollywood must use the ‘in-your-face attitude’ like her and use a social platform to showcase the reality instead of sticking to slander/gossip on WhatsApp groups. If there are shortcomings in her film or performance, they must be adequately critiqued and spelt out. But to pretend that she does not exist does more harm to the industry’s credibility than hers. This isn’t about being a man or woman, or hits and flops.
As the film industry has come to know, the audience has an evolved taste. Last year, it rejected two films belonging to two superstars. The collections of Manikarnika show that it is already a winner. As for Ranaut’s performance, even her fiercest critics agree that it is one of her finest. It’s time Bollywood acknowledges that.