The Warrior Queen of Jhansi
Starring Devika Bhise, Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi, Ben Lamb, Jodhi May, Nathaniel Parker
The simple nature in which actress/producer and now first time director, Swati Bhise tells the epic story of Warrior Queen Rani Lakshmibai doesn’t do history or legend justice. The script pigeonholes the film somewhere between a Disney movie and a made for classroom educational video. Bhise might not have the qualifications to send this film in the direction it needs to go, however, it’s purity and goal is certainly in the right place. While a few European actors fill the supporting parts, the film is led by Devika Bhise ("The Man Who Knew Infinity"). Her portrayal certainly takes the story from one point of history to another, but there isn’t anything exciting or riveting about her performance. "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi" is an epic story played out on a very small scale, with hobbled cinematography, which might be among the year's worst.
At the age of 15, Rani (Bhise) was already married to the ruler of Jhansi and had lost her newborn child, the future king. They adopted their nephew, ensuring the line of succession to the throne. After many years of a happy reign, The British East India Company begins moving into India, laying claim to the countries resources. After her husband’s death, Rani rules as Queen of Jhansi, training her own army of female warriors to oppose the onslaught of British aggression. Peace talks fail, and despite an order from Queen Victoria (May) for only necessary violence, the eager men in charge rape, kill and destroy anything in their path. Defiant and relentless, Rani refuses to give in to the invading foreigners.
It becomes evident that The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is failing, attempting to serve two audiences, both Indian and European.
Budgetary restrictions severely limit which parts of history ‘Warrior Queen’ can put on screen. One might think the plot leads to a big battle as the Europeans invade the Jhansi rebels, but instead, the film cuts to black. If stronger cinematic elements were at play here, the lack of battle wouldn’t be an issue. It is very clear to a viewer looking at anything aside from the basic story, that each scene is deliberately shot in extremely close quarters, and the majority of the budget spent on production design. The rest of the illusion is left for the actors to make up, but like a bad Western, every expression is exaggerated to the point of laughter. It becomes evident that "The Warrior Queen of Jhansi" is a failed attempt to serve two audiences, Indian and European.
It’s too bad the director and screenwriters can’t find a path for this story to work cinematically. The rise and fall of Jhansi is quite fascinating and it involves two female rulers in a time where a woman had little to no power in the forming of nations. It also gives audiences familiar with "Victoria & Abdul," an alternative perspective. Historical epics centered on women have struggled in the last few years, Nicole Kidman’s "Queen of the Desert" suffered a similar miscalculation. Though Disney’s upcoming live-action "Mulan" will certainly have the budget needed for the scope and effect of stories such as these. Sadly ‘Warrior Queen’s’ classroom-level dialogue defines exactly where it will be cataloged, filed, and left to gather dust.
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is more ambitious educational classroom video than epic cinematic experience.