Queen review: Kangana Ranaut's joyride on a ladies' special
Queen treats its protagonist Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as a person first — not a woman, daughter, wife, fiancée, or sister — and then examines how each of these relationships shape her gender, her identity and the extent of freedom they allow her.
By Tanushree Bhasin
We’ve been hearing a lot about ‘woman-centric’ films in Hindi cinema lately. Though it is a significant trend, I’ve wondered if much has really changed for female characters in Bollywood and if these stories only appear to revolve around them. Take for instance the recent Dedh Ishqiya. Even though it's about two women (Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi) who dupe and con the heroes (Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi), we hardly ever hear from them and the entire film unfolds from the men’s perspective. Similarly, English Vinglish too allowed Sridevi’s character to imagine and accomplish all that she wanted, but then yanked her back into a loveless marriage rather than letting her embark on a new life. Vikas Bahl’s Queen stands far apart from all these films because it really is about a woman. It treats its protagonist Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as a person first — not a woman, daughter, wife, fiancée, or sister — and then examines how each of these relationships shape her gender, her identity and the extent of freedom they allow her.
The story begins in a middle class Punjabi household in Rajouri Garden in Delhi, where Rani is about to be married off to her boyfriend, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao). Amidst electricity cuts, dance practice, last minute decorations and overworked parents, we see Rani sitting and getting henna put on her hands as her mind races with questions about her future and her “wedding night”. Her London-returned fiancé, however, has completely different plans. Vijay meets Rani at a coffee shop a day before their wedding, to dump her. Grief stricken and depressed, Rani decides to go on the couple’s pre-booked honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam, alone. (Does she do it because she wants to experience life abroad just as Vijay did? Or is it because she had been saving up for this trip since she was a kid?)
Bahl handles Rani’s awkwardness and her eventual transformation beautifully. From a confused and under-confident mouse, Rani slowly turns into someone who learns to look within and not around for answers. In one scene at a dance club, we see her change physically — finally letting go of her fiance’s admonishments about dancing in public, teaching the entire crowd a Bollywood step or two, and literally letting her hair down. Such moments are where Queen really scores. Rani not being able to cross the road in Paris for hours; her wanting to clutch a random stranger’s hand as she roams around the city alone; her drunk conversations with random strangers about how terrible her life is; her joking about how girls aren’t even allowed to burp in India; her silences and gentle nervous twitches as she navigates her way in a new city — all of these make Queen far, far more nuanced than any ‘woman centric’ film that's released of late.
The film periodically goes into flashbacks that show Rani’s relationship with Vijay and the past decisions she took at his behest that she now learns to question. She meets Vijaylakshmi (splendidly played by Lisa Haydon), an Indian-French single mother in Paris whose chain-smoking, binge drinking, Bohemian lifestyle both threaten and inspire Rani. In their friendship, Rani discovers that “Vijay nahi hai so what, Vijaylaxmi toh hai!” — a whole new possibility for a Hindi film heroine.
The absolute star of the film is Ranaut, who not only gives her most mature performance till date, but also gets a dialogue writing credit on this film. The emotional range that Ranaut flaunts here is unbelievable, expressing every subtle sentimental change with such poignancy. Her body language and how it gradually changes is quite remarkable by itself. As she returns home from her travels abroad, one can just look at her and tell that the person who has returned is radically different from the one who had left weeks ago.
Possibly the most unlikely honeymoon ever, Rani's trip is the kind of trip that every woman should undertake — a journey of self-transformation, realisation and actualisation that rejects all the rules and lets her chart a path that’s all her own.
Tanushree Bhasin is a Delhi based journalist with a background in film-making and history.
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