If there is one thing that you hear about Manikarnika – the newly released movie from Zee Studios; that is, its all about Kangna Ranaut. Not only in direction but also by her mesmerizing acting in all different roles of a woman – a mother, a wife, and a leader, she is excellent. In fact, her presence in the movie is so overwhelming that every other actor in Manikarnika is overshadowed by her. There is no wonder why that has happened. When we know that she herself was the producer of the movie, we know why her character of Rani Laxmibai is over-glorified as if there was no one else during that time who was important for India’s freedom struggle.
Apart from many award-winning dialogues in this movie, the narrative that took center stage was that ‘she (Rani Laxmibai) was the only mardani (masculine) among all the Indian rebels’ is kind of derogatory statement to all other freedom fighters during that time. This statement also shows that showing of strength is inevitable in wars and brings an interesting perspective about the feminist narrative of ‘leadership styles in females.’
In a 2001 study, Mary Caprioli of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and Mark A Boyer of the University of Connecticut did a study on the role of women leaders in “Violence and International crisis situation” and based their study on the premise that ‘women work for peace and men wage war’. This study, however, found a completely opposite picture when they tried to verify their hypothesis. They found that in crisis situations, female leaders could, in fact, be more violent. The paper also had an explanation for this purportedly masculine behavior in females. They said, “in a male-defined and male-dominated political environment” women may be more aggressive (masculine) because displaying any feminine qualities, may be considered as weak.
In this aspect, Manikarnika teaches a good lesson to feminists. Manikarnika shows how in the 19th century India an Indian Queen performed her different women roles well. When feminists attack India for her patriarchal values and oppressing women, this film shows that when there was a need, India raised a woman in Jhansi to fight out the mighty British. Feminists probably could not even think about that happening in a different country.
Even though traditional Indian society didn’t recommend and rather stopped women from becoming leaders (as it is said that women leaders are not successful), there are many exceptions like Manikarnika in Indian history. But the feminist rhetoric that girls were not taught skills equally as boys in traditional India is wrong. We find that even in the Mahabharata, where Kshatriya (the warrior class) women were taught lessons of war tactics but don’t see them becoming leaders in-spite of knowing all rules of the game. It was because Indian society used to consider that women needed protection and just needed to follow their husbands in life.
So, in case of Rani Laxmibai, even though we find her breaking the norm of women not joining leadership roles, we do find that she followed her stree-dharma (dharma of a wife) of following her husband. It was Rani Laxmi’s husband, Gangadhar Rao who wished that she took Jhansi’s leadership and saved the state from the mighty British.
In ShreeMadbhagavatGeeta, the ultimate scripture of Hindus, Bhagawan Sri Krsna has said this –
सन्न्यासः कर्मयोगश्च निःश्रेयसकराबुभौ l
तयोस्तु कर्मसन्न्यासात् कर्मोयोगा बिशिस्यते ll
(!! Chapter V !! Sholka 2 !!)
This means, कर्मयोग or performing one’s selfless duties is the best responsibility. We need to remember that Bhagawan Krsna said this to inspire Arjuna – a Kshatriya leader, to perform his noble duties of fighting the war for saving his dharma. As Indians believe everything is pre-decided by the Bhagawan (god), humans only need to act on his behalf and to safeguard the dharma. Dharma here does not mean ‘religion’, it means duties. Thus the noblest duty of a kshatriya person (man) is to save his countrymen.
Manikarnika in our recent history was just performing her Kshatriya (warrior) duties towards her state. It was a selfless duty for Rani Laxmibai and was also the need of the hour. So, even though it violated Indian traditions, it was not against it.
Feminists claim India has always oppressed women. They show women’s traditional gender role of bringing up children and not making everyone like Rani Laxmi as a sign of their oppression. But what they overlook is Indian culture of saving women from dying in wars and hence prohibiting them from leadership roles that also needed going to war and dying for the country.
Manikarnika also shows another different gender role in the King Gangadhar Rao. When his kingdom was under close monitoring of the British, the King was unable to perform his kshatriya dharma and wore bangles as a mark to remind him of his failure. As a Kshatriya, he didn’t like to go on war but rather liked music, dance, and arts. That is why he spent his days engaging in those activities. If India was so much in the grip of masculinity that feminists often claim, such a King would not have sustained his position of power for long. Thus contrary to the popular belief about the masculine Indian culture, both these characters show us the real India and her multifaceted gender roles.
That is why when Jhansi felt the need, they got an able queen Manikarnika to save the state and didn’t hesitate to unite under her leadership. If this shows anything at all, that is the immense respect Indians had for women. The very fact that Indian women were not only taught right lessons (for example, of war tactics for the warrior class women) and was also accepted in leadership roles, negates the feminist narrative of women’s oppression in traditional India.
Another important point that comes out of the history of Manikarnika is her foresight of including women in her army. So, contrary to the modern feminist narrative that women depend on discussions to resolve crisis situation, she knew that it was impossible to win a struggle for power and independence only by discussions and strategies. She knew that showing of power was needed to win independence. So, it was Rani Laxmibai who planned for a bigger retaliation by including women in her army and strengthening her army.
In terms of war strategies, we find very poor strategies adopted by her. Normally when the size of an army is small compared to its enemy army, we find those wars are fought by adopting winning strategies. Also, when a writer from a film like Bahubali was involved, we expected at least some imaginary war strategies that could blow our minds. But attacking the enemy from the front and not thinking of the weakest wall of the fort to safeguard Jhansi seemed like biggest mistakes. Hence, the feminist narrative that women leaders depend more on strategies and discussions rather than showing violence in conflict situations, seems to be merely an imaginary statement farthest from the truth.
Even though the film Manikarnika shows various aspects of a woman’s role in our society, it highlights the role of a warrior more than anything else. The over-dramatized presentation of the mother Laxmibai running amidst an ongoing war and jumping off the fort walls with her son tied to her back is only a conceptualization by the Bahubali writer K V Vijyendra Prasad and evidently very much imaginary. This action may glorify Laxmibai as a valiant personality but definitely doesn’t glorify her as a responsible mother.
Manikarnika as a movie has all recipe of success, like mind-blowing dialogues that people will remember for some time, awesome conceptualization of war scenes and top-rated cinematography. Film’s music, however, doesn’t make so much impact and I forgot all songs within one hour of watching the movie. Dance sets were however prepared well. We need to remember that this movie was not made to be known for its music but for its display of patriotism and history and hence the failure of music doesn’t bother the audience that much. A queen dancing with common people of Jhansi, however, is unnecessary imagination of the creative team which is in a way demeaning for Indian culture. Queens in India were always placed in highly respected positions and would have never danced in public (like no king would have consumed alcohol with common men).
In terms of acting, as said in the beginning, Kangana Ranaut overshadows every other actor. In a way, this movie was a one-sided affair of over-glorification of the historical character of the queen of Jhansi even at the cost of equally heroic historical warriors of the same time – Nana Saheb and Tantia Tope. There is no doubt that Kangana would have worked really hard to prepare for this movie as her role was not easy. The fight sequences she performed, especially fighting with swords in both her hands would have required intense practice and development of skills.
After a lot of negative news about her, there was a time when many like me had vowed not to watch her films. When her reputation was at its nadir, Kangana has made a stunning come back that has forced me to watch the film in the initial days of its release. This is nothing short of achievement for her. Even though the fact that the Bahubali writer was the writer of this film too, was another major contributor.
The film Manikarnika has all the necessary recipes of success despite its failed songs. But this movie hardly needed any music or dance sequence. All memorable dialogues of the film came only from Rani Laxmibai, is a disappointment to many viewers. It was undermining efforts of all other characters in the movie. Since Rani Laxmibai in this movie overshadowed all other characters on screen, this movie couldn’t represent Indian history well. Manikarnika undermined all other Maratha brave hearts of that time and her council of ministers who would have helped her in her way to success. This tells us that Kangana might be desperate for a stunning comeback through this movie and again start ruling in Bollywood. So, she not only produced this movie but made sure all positive points go to her.
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