As women-centric films are gradually on the rise in Bollywood, the latest addition to the list would be Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, starring Kangana Ranaut in the titular role. Watch the teaser of Manikarnika here.
Rani Lakshmibai – the very name evokes the image of a valiant queen, galloping on a horse in the midst of a battlefield, fighting ferociously with her infant son strapped to her back. History textbooks are full of mentions of Jhansi ki Rani who fought bravely during the Indian independence movement being a woman and celebrated till date as the foremost example of female heroism in the country.
Time and again, Jhansi’s queen has reincarnated in popular culture – from poems, songs, films, serials, ballads, books – as a tribute to her valour and courage and now a movie.
So who was Rani Lakshmi Bai and what is her story?
Rani LakshmiBai was born as Manikarnika Tambe in Varanasi in 1935 in a Maharashtrian Brahman family of Moropant Tambe. Her father was a courtier and adviser to the Peshwa of Bithur which is why her childhood was spent in the palace.Manikarnika’s chhildhood was way ahead of their times. As a child she learned not only to read and write, including reading the Vedas and Puranas, but also riding and sword fighting. She grew up Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the Peshwa and Tatya Tope.
In 1842, she was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, at the age of 14. Hence Manikarnika became Laxmibai. Few years into marriage, she bore the maharaja a son in 1851 but he died after just three months. The couple later adopted a son, Damodar Rao, from Gangadhar Rao’s extended family. After the death of the Maharaja from illness in November 1853, the British took advantage and the then Governor-General Lord Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of Lapse and refused to recognise Damodar Rao’s claim to the throne.
The Doctrine of Lapse was a policy of annexation of the British East India company and was one of Lord Dalhousie’s most important accomplishments in India, as, according to the doctrine, if the ruler of a princely state under direct or indirect control of the company died without a legal male heir, the state would be annexed by the East India Company.It was also one of the factors responsible for the 1857 mutiny as it created an unrest among the local rulers, whose reasons for fighting the British differed from those of the Sepoys. The Rani’s appeal to the Company and the British, against Doctrine of Lapse, did not succeed but she was granted a pension and allowed to stay at her residence in the city Palace.
In 1857, the sepoys in Jhansi also mutinied and the British residents in Jhansi, around sixty of them including women and children, were massacred by them. According to many historical accounts, Laxmibai who had been living secluded in her palace without administrative powers is not known to be involved in commissioning the massacre.
Rani LakshmiBai was given the charge of Jhansi for a brief period following the massacre and before the arrival of another British superintendent. The Rani ruled Jhansi in the interim period, but only on behalf of the British government.
It is said that prior to the Sepoy Mutiny, LakshmiBai was rather reluctant to rebel against the British and that Jhansi was relatively peaceful in the initial phases of the revolt, unlike most of north India. It was only in 1858 that she took up arms against the British when Sir Hugh Rose, commanding officers of the British forces, demanded the surrender of Jhansi.
She rebelled and organised forces to oust the British. She was joined in the battle led by Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope. She gave the British a tough fight, fled to Kalpi and the Gwalior during the course of the battle and finally succumbed to the British forces in Gwalior in 1858. . Laxmibai was mortally wounded in the battle at Kotah-ki-Sarai while fighting to defend this fortress and with her death one of the last hopes of the rebels also gave out, as Delhi and Oudh regions had already been recaptured by the British by then.
But the descriptions we have all grown up with of her bravery and heroism are absolutely true. She marched into the battle alongside the troops, dressed like a man and died when a Hussar horseman’s sword came down on her head in the heat of battle. Her body was cremated as per her wishes and three days after the death of LakshmiBai, the British captured the fort of Gwalior.
So it is not surprising when Kangana Ranaut says that the role of Rani Laxmibai is one she holds closest to her heart. We all are aware of the protagonist’s courageous streak. The makers released the poster of Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi to honour the warrior queen who was part of India’s freedom struggle. In an interview, when asked about her muse in the Krish-directed biopic, Ranaut points out that despite generations separating them, Rani Laxmibai’s story remains relevant to women of today.
Kangana Ranaut said, “The Queen of Jhansi is a symbol of strength and courage. Even today if we want to refer to someone as fierce, we say she is like Jhansi ki Rani. I believe her story is a blockbuster with or without any cinematic interpretation. A woman like her doesn’t need any validation, and will be remembered for years to come.” And we all couldn’t agree more.
She also promised that Manikarnika will make each and every Indian proud. We need more such movies in Bollywood to show the power of women, how they rule and are equally strong as men, just with more grace and being classiness. So hands down, they should get the respect and value that they are worthy of. Manikarnika releases on 25 January 2019.