The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is a useful, if programmatic, movie about a historical figure we probably ought to know more about, Rani (Queen) Lakshmibai, the female ruler of the state of Jhansi in Northern India who became one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The story is a fascinating one -- after the death of her husband, the Maharajah of Jhansi, in 1854, the British East India Company annexed the state. When, three years later, they sent British troops to enforce their declarations, Lakshmibai led an armed uprising of her subjects.
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi
83 Cast: Devika Bhise, Rupert Everett, Nathaniel Parker, Ben Lamb, Jodhi May, Derek Jacobi
Director: Swati Bhise
Rating: R, for violence
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
While the movie necessarily compresses and elides a lot of the complicated and problematic controversies that still attach to Lakshmibai's legend, the point is she lived and (spoiler alert) died for her country. She's a national hero and a feminist icon who led a resistance movement against colonials.
Unfortunately, the film works far better as an educational tool than as entertainment, with production values far below the norm for the sort of Hollywood action movie this film aspires to be. There are pacing problems (the first 45 minutes are a slog) and the script seems to have been written Wikipedia-style, with factoids crammed in regardless of whether they drive the narrative forward or tend to drive us down a cybernetic rabbit hole. (Such are the perils of critics screening movies on their laptops; Google search is just a click away.)
Swati Bhise, the film's first-time writer-director, is a well-known choreographer of classical Indian dance who divides her time between New York and India and who has long been interested in preserving and promoting Indian culture and history. She co-wrote the film with Olivia, and her lead actress, the genuinely talented Devika Bhise, her American-born daughter who had a substantial part in 2015's The Man Who Knew Infinity, a 2015 British biographical drama film about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons which Swati Bhise executive produced and served as a consultant on Indian culture.
So this isn't exactly an unprofessional production, just one that seems to prioritize values that other would-be mainstream movies might not. While the battle scenes here may seem risible and bloodless and we might question a lot of the director's aesthetic choices, it seems likely that the history portrayed is fairly accurate. And while we don't really get to know much about Lakshmibai the woman, Devika Bhise does deliver her speeches with a compassionate intelligence that befits the lionized Rani.
It's not badly acted, though the British contingent of Derek Jacobi, Rupert Everett and Jodhi May -- who play, respectively, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, commander of the Central India Force Sir Hugh Rose and Queen Victoria -- seem largely to have been brought on in an attempt to class up the proceedings.
In short, whether or not you perceive The Warrior Queen of Jhansi as a bad movie depends entirely on what you want and expect it to be. It will raise awareness of Lakshmibai outside of India. It won't make any year-end Top 10 lists.
MovieStyle on 11/15/2019
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