BOLLYWOOD’S newest swashbuckling, Brit-bashing offering hits cinemas on Friday (today), a patriotic epic heavy on martial arts which tells the story of a warrior queen dubbed India’s Joan of Arc. Released just in time for Republic Day, the Hindi-language Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi is not without controversy, with its star Kangana Ranaut threatening to “destroy” protesters who say the film alludes to an affair with a British officer. Rani Laxmibai was a leading figure in the failed 1857 uprising against Britain’s East India Company, which led London to impose direct control, and is also revered for defying gender stereotypes. Killed in the Battle of Gwalior in June 1858 that ended the rebellion, she has lived on as an independence icon and is usually depicted brandishing a sword while leading her troops to war on a horse. “Her story is one that all Indians have grown up listening to, whether it’s at school or from our mothers and grandmothers,” said trade analyst Akshaye Rathi.
Indian media reports say fanatical groups belonging to India’s Rajput caste have held protests against what they believe will be a scene alluding to a relationship between Laxmibai and a British officer. They also say that images of her dancing go against the community’s tradition. Ranaut, the award-winning star of hits such as Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, said in a statement last week that she had received threats from the fringe group Rajput Karni Sena. The organisation famously tried to disrupt the release of Padmaavat last year over its portrayal of a legendary Hindu queen. “Four historians have certified Manikarnika, we have got censor certificates as well. Karni Sena have been conveyed this but they are continuing to harass me,” said Ranaut. “If they don’t stop then they should know I am also a Rajput and I will destroy each one of them,” the actress added. A national spokesman for the Rajput Karni Sena said later that the group was not against the movie, blaming “vested interests” for using the organisation’s name to further their own agenda.
Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2019