Movie review: Celebrating the Warrior Queen of Jhansi

Film: The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

Cast: Devika Bhise, Ben Lamb, Rupert Everett

Director: Swati Bhise

Rating: ***1/2

Meticulously researched but underwhelming as an epic tale, this historical drama must be commended for its themes of freedom and justice and commemorating a brave, pious, kind and fiercely independent noblewoman. A lesser known actress essays the titular heroine alongside A list heavy weights from the UK. She has also co-written the script. It helps that the director is a very close blood relative.

As we all Indians know, the titular Queen is the legendary Jhansi ki Rani who led her army against the British East India Company in what the British term the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, and Indians call the First War of Independence.

It is a time of unrest and turbulence with colonisers battling for spoils where rich pickings can be had. The East India Company came to trade and stayed to rule.Masters of the sea, the British vie with other European nations for greater control of fabulously rich Indian sub continent. Rani Lakhshmibai has suffered a double tragedy: widowed very young after marriage to the Maharaja and the loss of an infant son.

A nephew had been adopted before the Maharaja’s unexpected death but corrupt colonials deny the legitimacy of adoption which results in the annexation of Jhansi. Daylight robbery! As bad as patriarchal chauvinists/ who misuse religion to exploit and subjugate women. Rani Lakshmibai challenges the annexation around the time that Indian sepoys employed by the East India Company rebel on learning that, as every Indian school child knows, the cartridge grease on their rifles contains pork and beef fat, a violation of both Muslim and Hindu religious dietary laws. On her part, the Rani forges a coalition with other bluebloods and the mutineers and trains women to fight alongside the men.

Unsurprisingly, the colonials see her as a threat ‘even if she’s a woman.’ In England, Queen Victoria (Jodhi May) doesn't want violence and with Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (Derek Jacobi) looks for a negotiated peaceful settlement. Which is easier said than done given the condescension of Sir Hugh Rose (Rupert Everett), and snarling civil servant, Sir Robert Hamilton (Nathaniel Parker)

Sadly, talks fail and war ensues. As a character sums it, “She will never surrender! She needs to be broken and destroyed!”

Still, the Brits are not that awful. Rose subsequently revises his opinion. And Major Robert Ellis (Been Lamb) is sweet on Lakshmibai. Many of the characters though are flat, but the production design is good and the battle scenes adequate without being adrenaline-charged. Worth a watch all the same.

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Also Read: Inspired by ‘Manikarnika’? Here are 10 lesser known warrior queens of India