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Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi movie review: Kangana Ranaut’s period drama is a visual treat, but not that impressive!

Read our movie review of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi starring Kangana Ranaut, Ankita Lokhande and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub

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When the set is magnum, costumes are superb, jewellery is exquisite and the action is thrilling then well done art department. But what about the problems evident with your lead actress! It’s a film where everyone around the protagonist seems to have transferred themselves into the era, but not the protagonist herself. Being someone who loves period cinema, I went in to forget the reality and enter the 1800’s, but if Kangana herself is not invested how will I as a member of audience. The film has been in headlines since a year and the hard work is visible in terms of visuals.

What’s it about? Based on the Queen of Jhansi, Rani Lakshmibai, the film traces the life of Manikarnika from her birth to her getting married, then becoming the queen and dying in the battlefield for the country. Played by Kangana Ranaut, the film is a brief account of the valour of Rani Lakshmibai from her perspective. The film talks about the Indian Rebellion of 1857 – led by Lakshmibai and is known as the first war of independence – in detail.

The film begins with Amitabh Bachchan’s voiceover and is appealing. It sets the base right without wasting any time that Manikarnika is courageous, brave and at the same time very soft hearted and caring. She gets married to the king of Jhansi, gives birth to a son who dies in infancy. Later even the king dies after a prolonged illness just after adopting his cousin’s son. Finally, Rani Lakshmibai holds her ground, refusing to give up Jhansi and in a bid to save her kingdom, enters the battlefield against the British. After a bloody war, the queen dies the most glorious death on the battlefield.

Yay: The art department has taken Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) level of efforts in bringing together the sets, clothes, jewellery and they deserve all the appreciation for their efforts. There are resemblances and several of those, so no choice but I had to compare it with SLB films. The story is based on a historic figure so no questioning there. The sequence where Manikarnika breaks the stigma around widows by not accepting the age-old practise is executed well which adds one more layer to her character.

There are montages of an army of women being formed and seeing them prepare for war is visually fulfilling. The bravest thing that the makers choose to show was the personality of the King of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao Newalkar – he enjoyed art and wasn’t aggressive or violent. Brownie points for that. In terms of acting, the supporting cast is stronger, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni, Richard Keep and most others got their roles right.

Nay: This section, my fellow readers read with popcorn. Now, you have got everything right but Kangana, around whom the screenplay revolves doesn’t look authentic. For a queen, her body language is not on point. Even her dialect for that matter, she sounds like well, Kangana Ranaut and not Manikarnika. Also somewhere in between she speaks Hindi in an English accent, why? It looks like in the urgency to gather everything else the makers forgot to work on the main character. However beautiful you decorate the setup but it is the character that will connect me with it. Plus you replicate scenes from a film that is not way back, you yourself invite comparisons. Remember in Bajirao Mastani, Ranveer climbing on the elephant? SAME. When it is a period film, the dialogues have to grab the audience, but here they don’t. Also someone should explain why two Englishmen talk in Hindi. And that too using difficult Hindi idioms, like Use asmaan kha gaya ya dharti nigal gayi.

Getting into technical details, I won’t endorse the cinematography at all. When you have created such huge sets, why not shoot them in wide angles and show the glory, the camera is majority of times very close to the characters with less breathing space. I understand the technique of allowing audience to get into the character but then they also want the ambience. There is also a celebration song which features Ankita Lokhande dancing and by the end Kangana starts dancing breaking the character completely. The dance style I bet wasn’t any folk dance but looked choreographed by the actors themselves. There is no time frame to this by the way, we don’t know at what age she gets married or how long the king was alive after their marriage and even no mention of the battle year. Also, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub needs to reconsider his choices in roles, this is the third time I saw him doing a character that is not worthy of him.

Cine Blitz Verdict: The start is promising but what follows just lost my interest. Only the setup is not the win, you also need to focus on many other things is what the makers must realise. Also, this was partially Kangana’s directorial debut and we are not impressed. Maybe some people will like the film due to the story of one of the bravest woman in the Indian history, but as someone who knows cinema will be let down by the lack of authentication and minute detailing. Go in to appreciate the art department, but don’t expect anything more.

Rating: 2 stars

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Movie Reviews

Selection Day review: Netflix’s unconventional cricket drama is a must watch!

Selection Day, the Indian Netflix Original cricket drama avoids the sports film clichés and keeps you engaged in its uncertain turn of events. Here’s a review of part 1 and part 2 of this 12-episode series.

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Indians are obsessed with cricket. Generally, the kids are the ones who struggle to convince their parents to allow them to pursue cricket as a career. But in Selection Day, it is the father who is obsessed with making his two sons the best batsmen in the world – so much so that he calls them as Champion No. 1 and Champion No. 2 instead of their real names. Based on Aravind Adiga’s novel of the same name, Selection Day is an unconventional cricket drama. It avoids the clichés of a sports drama and focuses more on the inner and interpersonal conflict of characters.

The trio of father and sons come to Mumbai to get picked up by a school that has a cricket team so that they can apply for the Mumbai cricket team selection. Their rejections bring them to Weinberg Academy which is also struggling for funds and a win in the Harris Shield, a local cricket tournament in Mumbai. The cricket coach of the academy, who had given up coaching, spots the talent of the two boys at Shivaji Park during a stroll with his wife and gets them enrolled at Weinberg.

The journey of the trio begins and many layers and secrets of their relationship begin to unfold. Manjunath (Champion No. 2) doesn’t like cricket yet he’s playing it courtesy the tyranny of his father. Manju wants to become a scientist. Radha (Champion No. 1) is claimed by his father to become a better player than Sachin Tendulkar.

Watch the Selection Day trailer here:

Mohammad Samad (Tumbbad) and Yash Dholye as the two brothers (Manjunath and Radhakrishna) give a sincere performance. Karanvir Malhotra as the troublesome rich brat Javed Ansari has done justice to his layered character. Rajesh Tailang whom you must have adored as a cop in Delhi Crime plays the tyrant, manipulative and unlikeable father here. He’s too good as the bad guy. The effortless Ratna Pathak Shah as the Weinberg Academy’s head Nellie is a treat to watch. After a long time, Mahesh Manjrekar is seen in a refreshing role of the cricket coach Tommy Sir.

Netflix and other OTT platforms have given the Indian filmmakers and content creators the much-needed space and opportunity to tell authentic stories. Here (like Sacred Games), Maharashtrians speak nuanced Marathi, unlike in a mainstream Hindi film that would ridiculously mix languages for a wider audience to understand. Personally, I would rather read subtitles than listen to shabbily mixed languages in dialogues. The digital world has enabled storytellers to tell multilingual stories without compromising on the vision.

I haven’t read the novel by Aravind Adiga but the series is smartly written by Marston Bloom (Hindi dialogue by Sumit Arora) and finely executed by directors Udayan Prasad and Karan Boolani. Soumik Mukherjee has filmed Mumbai and maidan cricket with a fresh vision. Shashwat Sachdev’s (Uri: The Surgical Strike, Veere Di Wedding) music too avoids the sports drama clichés and the signature tune keeps playing in the head.

It seems like Selection Day was shot completely in one go and then divided into 12 episodes across two seasons. One might argue whether it could have been made into a feature-length film but a show is better. Feature films in India are limiting. And if the end of part 2 is any indication, I would be looking forward to Selection Day part 3.

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Kalank review: Varun, Alia, Sonakshi, Aditya, Sanjay and Madhuri’s period drama is heart-wrenchingly beautiful

Kalank review: Varun, Alia, Sonakshi, Aditya, Sanjay and Madhuri’s impactful romantic drama delves deep into the layered complex relationships

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Kalank has undoubtedly been one of the most highly-anticipated films in this quarter. The makers had over the weeks been treating us all with sneak-peeks of what to expect when the magnum opus releases. The one thing that stood out as a major highlight and became an instant talking point was the sheer grandeur of the film. The sets, the songs, even the casting… Everything spelt grand. The film, as we all know by now, stars Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit.

The pairings itself generated a lot of buzz – Varun and Alia is already a hit pair, Sanjay – Madhuri is a pair reuniting on the big screen after more than two decades and so naturally is being looked forward to. Sonakshi and Aditya make for an interesting jodi too and their glimpses together looked promising. With so much to look forward to, there is obviously much excitement about Kalank. But does it live up to the hype and the expectations?

Read our full Kalank review to know!

What Kalank is all about: The year is 1946 and the film takes place in pre-partition Husnabad, outside Lahore. Now let us be very clear early on – though the film’s situations are largely triggered and driven by the communal tensions simmering in the months leading up to India’s Independence and partition in 1947, the film is fictionalised and not a historical account. So, if you expect slices of your history chapters being served to you, you will be disappointed. Instead, the film is about the complex relationships and the layered lives of the six lead characters and their emotions interweaved through the story set in the violent background of the partition.

The lead characters – Roop (Alia), Zafar (Varun), Satya (Sonakshi), Dev (Aditya), Balraj (Dutt), Begum Bahar (Madhuri) – are all distinctly different from each other. They are strongly defined by their individual personality traits. Every character’s fabric is built from a common thread of emotional turmoil. And it resonates with each character. Each character is fighting his or her own battle. This tone is set early in the film and it’s clear that the film is not going to be a peppy, breezy romantic fare. It’s dark and intense, brightened only by the grand and lavish backdrop along with the occasional naach-gaana.

So, Satya is suffering from cancer with only one year to survive. Like a dutiful, mature wife and bahu, she sacrifices her own happiness to ensure that her husband will stay happy even after her death. The solution: She gets her husband – a silent and broody, Dev married to Roop, who is somewhat a rebel at heart and agrees to the matrimony only as a compromise. Balraj Chaudhry is the strict patriarch of the affluent Chaudhry family upholding the family values. The father-son (Balraj and Dev) are at loggerheads not only on personal matters, but also political views and opinions when it comes to running their newspaper.

On a parallel track is the dark and infamous world of Heera Mandi that also houses the palatial kotha of Begum Bahar, the renowned courtesan. It is here that Zafar works as an ironsmith. A flamboyant, yet angst-ridden character, his anger stems from being the illegitimate child of Bahar and Balraj and being addressed like-wise. He finds his solace in women, his chief interest being a nautch girl (Kiara Advani).

Nurturing her heart-break since years, Bahar is even shunned by her son. Zafar harbours a strong hatred towards Balraj and his family as much as he does towards his mother. He aids Abdul (Kunal Kemmu) in working towards spreading unrest aimed at harming the newspaper run by Balraj. Roop drawn to Bahar’s voice goes to Heera Mandi. Eventually, she gets the Chaudhry family to agree and allow her to learn music from Bahar. There Roop runs into Zafar and the ground is set for the most-sizzling chemistry we have seen in recent times. It is intense! Roop, who anyway felt trapped in a loveless marriage with Dev, falls for Zafar. The attraction of forbidden love is unhinged.

As the story progresses, the characters find themselves locked in a never-ending emotional tussle. Sonakshi and Aditya are coming to terms with having a new wife in the picture, Alia being drawn to Varun, who is struggling with acceptance. And of course, there’s Dutt struggling to make peace with his past mistake and Madhuri repenting her unrequited love and loss. Even as the characters struggle to overcome their emotional upheavals, riots break out, and their lives are turned upside down, ultimately defining their choices.

Yay: Like we said, Kalank was so far being spoken about for the grand and lavish sets being compared to Sanjay Leela Bhansali films. But the real highlights of the film are the performances, the dialogues and the nuanced handling of the complex relationships. The larger-than-life characters and their heart-wrenching performances actually dwarf the magnificent backdrops. The intense chemistry between the characters is the best part of the film.

The endearing and tender moments between Sonakshi and Aditya are in sharp contrast with the searing on-the-brink-romance between Alia and Varun, who are emotionally torn as forbidden lovers. The ache of lost love is epitomized by Madhuri and Dutt beautifully. Not just these, the father-son confrontations, the mother-son showdown, all add up to the film in brilliantly crafted scenes.

All the stars are in top form and the film sees their best performances till date. Varun aces as Zafar channeling the anger and angst through his eyes. His performance in this one makes Badlapur and October look like a warm-up. Alia proves her mettle yet again. She is one of the finest actresses and with Kalank she does it yet again. Dutt speaks volumes with his eyes and Madhuri brings out the pain of heartache beautifully. Sonakshi will remind you of her film Lootera. With Aditya, she makes an impressive outing. Kunal’s grey act is impressive and Kiara does well in her brief role.

Overall, the performances supported by strong dialogues make the maximum impact and score the film all its stars. The narration and the story are interesting and Abhishek Varman’s direction and screenplay score brownie points too. In fact, the director has shown the nuances of each character very sensitively. The music, choreography and cinematography are all top-notch.

Nay: The biggest fail for the film is the length, which could’ve been shorter by atleast 20 minutes. The VFX and CGI were spoilers too. While the bull-fight scene was exciting in concept and execution, but it was not convincing to be a part of the narrative. While the music works, some songs could have been avoided and seem forced in the film. Alia’s introduction scene fails to make a mark and her conversation with her father seems too tame.

The events leading up to the climax also fail to add depth and seem rushed. The film fails to present a balanced view when dealing with the communal aspects. The film uses the Hindu-Muslim conflict as the backdrop and reflects the simmering politically charged agendas fuelled by religion. However, they all seem one-sided.

CineBlitz Verdict: A highly-charged emotional love drama, Kalank rides high on the intense and complex relationships fuelled by romance. The film is entertaining, but leans heavily towards heart-wrenching moments. The film boasts of some brilliantly crafted emotional scenes. Kudos to Abhishek Varman and the cast! The film is a visual treat no doubt and keeps you entertained, but might feel a tad-bit long! A must-watch for die-hard romantics and definitely for the fans of its lead stars!

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Kalank review: Not Varun – Alia, but Sonakshi – Aditya’s chemistry is being talked about by the audience

Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt’s period drama set in 1940s has been getting a mixed response, read on…

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Karan Johar’s magnum opus Kalank released this morning (April 17). The film has been trending ever since the makers revealed the first look. While tinsel town gave the film thumbs up, the audience have mixed responses. Read on to know what people are saying about the Abhishek Varman directed multi-starrer.

Kalank has looked grand throughout, while many have loved it, few think it could have been made better. But everyone has been gushing about Madhuri Dixit Nene and the cast. A tweet says, “Just now completed watching in Bangalore  WoW really top notch performances especially  I went for theatre only only for u VD  Me and my MoM watched.She also liked lots Ur expressions, acting, costumes, dance & Climax  I hope u notice this tweet VD.” Another says, “Lastly, I liked a few things. Dev and Satya’s relationship. Dev’s inner conflict and in parts, Varun Dhawan’s convincing performance. He tries to live the life of Zafar but in some parts, he just can’t stop being Varun. .” Check out all the fan reactions the film has got, here:

 

https://twitter.com/divyadjj06/status/1118412510070099970

Kalank is directed by Abhishek Varman and stars Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri, Sanjay Dutt, Aditya Roy Kapur and Sonakshi Sinha in pivotal parts. The film was Karan Johar’s dream project that has finally translated on to the 70mm. If you have already watched Kalank , let us know what you think about the film in the comments section below. Also, for more updates and gossip, stay tuned to CineBlitz.

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