By Subhash K Jha
Starring Kangna Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Lisa Hayden
Directed by Vikas Bahl
Rating: **** ½ (4 and a half stars)
BOLLYWOOD: ….Or ‘How Rani Gets Her Groove Back’…. There are some films that you simply don’t want to end.
And when they do, you want to spring out of your seat and give it a standing ovation.
Queen, directed by that Chillar Party co-director Vikas Bahl is that rarity. Its thematic elegance and narrative wisdom surpasses anything that you might have come to expect from the frothy ebullient trailers.
Frothy and ebullient, Queen certainly is. But it’s a lot more. At the end, you are left so close to the characters and their exciting milieu that the late Bobby Singh’s camera lenses dissolve and merge into the very fabric of the narrative.
And to think that the film begins with another big fat Punjabi wedding! Before we know it the narrative takes wings, much like its protagonist Rani played by the born-again Kangna Ranaut. Seven years ago she had made her stunning debut in Anurag Basu’s Gangster only to serve up a series of disappointing films and performances.
In Queen, Kangna gets her grooves back. She is so in-sync with her character that you wonder if the story was written according to the emotions that the actress had stored away in her heart. It all comes out now in a portrait that for years would be summoned up as an epitome of on-screen transparency.
There is stark honesty about Kangna’s portrayal of the Delhi girl who is deserted by her husband-to-be days before the wedding. The naked yearning in her eyes when she pleads with the selfish idiot not to destroy her life is so real it leaves you shaken.
You know immediately that this girl means business. And so does director Vikas Bahl who possesses a keen eye for physical and emotional detail.
When the feisty grandmother pleads with the jilted bride-to-be from outside the locked room not be disheartened, the bride’s kid brother quietly brings a chair for the old lady….. Bahl makes astounding use of a wide spectrum of topography from Delhi to Paris to Amsterdam to give specificity to the protagonist’s obvious weaknesses and inner strengths.
Here is that rare director who knows how to articulate his character’s feelings through the spaces that they occupy.Kangna’s face and body-language do the rest.She lives through every moment of Rani’s journey from a Delhi middle class’ cocooned existence to a girl making her way through the dark sinister alleys of Paris and strippers’ joints of Amsterdam in a voyage of self-realization that makes Sridevi’s journey in English Vinglish look like a pre-paid vacation.
There is something magical about the way Bahl uses Kangna’s artless vulnerability to express the character’s hurt and desire, sometimes both in the same breath.
At the end, we’re left with a female character who is naïve and yet worldly-wise, who thinks sex happens only after marriage and yet kisses an Italian stranger just because she finds him as hot as Salman Khan, who naively lectures a stripper from ultra-conservative Pakistan (a curious anomaly, this) on how she must find a better job for herself and yet thinks nothing of getting drunk in a Parisian bar with her bindaas half-French half-Indian girl pal (Lisa Hayden sexy and savvy) to the pounding sounds of Asha Bhosle’s Hungama ho gaya.
But then Bollywood music does that to anyone. It liberates the spirit. And Kangna’s Rani is on the look-out for just that. The silken-smooth plot can be roughly divided into the ‘Parisian’ and the ‘Amsterdam’ half though neither of two cities come across as touristic spots. Even when Bahl takes his wide-eyed heroine and her sexy girl-pal to the Eiffel Tower, it is to look at that monumental edifice in a gaze that cinema has never dared before.
But then Queen is that kind of a film. I came away so much richer. Every character from Rani’s parents, to her Parisian friend Vijay-Laxmi (who ironically has the same first-name as her cad of a fiance) to her three male room-mates in Amsterdam make a space in your heart forever.The brilliantly transitional screenplay has no jagged edges. Every component somehow slips into place.
As Bahl tells his story, we become one with Rani’s journey. The desperate optimism of her marriage-less honeymoon directs her to inner reserves of strength and will-power that she didn’t know existed. By the time Rani’s journey end, you are supremely attached to her soul .
Once in a while in the movies we get to meet a girl as free-spirited as Rani. Infectious in their joie de vivre the film and its protagonist’s zest for life are endearing and contagious.
Queen is the quintessential inspirational tale with a central performance that makes most of what we see in Hindi cinema look like put-on slide shows. If you miss Queen, you may never get a chance to know how Rani journeyed into self-actualization.