Not just like a woman

Director: Vikas Bahl
Starring: Kangana Ranaut, Lisa Haydon Rajkummar Rao, Mish Boyko

“A coming-of-age film” is so overused an expression that when a real coming-of-age film comes about, it risks slipping through the cracks. But there’s no such risk with Queen. This Vikas Bahl-directed venture is the real deal.

The story of a young Rani, who has been ditched by her fiancé just two days before her wedding, tugs at your heart with its simplicity and unpretentious mix of characters and experiences. The heartbroken girl decides to go on her honeymoon alone, backpacking through Paris and Amsterdam, making friends along the way. The journey proves eventful for Rani, who comes home a richer woman and, more importantly, a woman conscious of her wants.

Kangana Ranaut as Rani delivers what is easily her best performance so far — and the best performance by a female lead in a long, long time — she carries the film on her able shoulders with panache, slipping in and out of her character’s moods with an ease that is rarely seen in mainstream Hindi cinema. It would perhaps not be misplaced to say that Ranaut has taken the lead in the way female actors in Bollywood will look at roles, and her acting is only half the job.

The other half is selecting such a good script (albeit one would have to give that luck also has a part to play in it) and agreeing to deglamourise for a role, which pits her against other actors, who are made to look far sexier. There must have been temptation to insist for that one shot at dressing up, one short skirt, one pair of hot pants. Don’t exactly know who the credit is due to for resisting that, but whoever it is, gets a big medal for not “changing” Rani.

The other actors of the film also deserve praise in equal measure. From Rajkummar Rao to Lisa Haydon to Rani’s three foreigner friends — a Russian, a Japanese and a Black French, and all men — everyone puts on a stellar show. Haydon, in particular, makes Vijaylakshmi believable. Independent and free-spirited, she becomes Rani’s first tryst at discovering what she wants; she is the first rung in the ladder — and never in a disparaging way — that Rani takes in her rise to becoming a stronger woman.

With Vijaylakshmi, Haydon has set a benchmark for all pretty faces going forward: that acting is not an “also can” but a “must have”. It is also not a coincidence that her name is Vijay. As she herself puts it, “Vijay nahi hai to kya, Vijaylakshmi to hai (What if there’s no Vijay? You still have Vijaylakshmi).”

However, what rankles is the handling of Rani’s fiancé played by the very talented Rajkummar Rao. There’s nothing wrong with the way Rao handles his role; he is, in fact, very good. It is just in the denouement of his character where one gets the feeling that Bahl ran out of patience. Still, in an otherwise brilliant film, that is a minor hiccup.

Bahl had earlier co-directed the 2011 children’s hit Chillar Party. With Queen, he has announced his ability to conjure up a dream vision on the silver screen. Besides, good editing and casting have ensured it hits the bull’s eye in the trade collections. A great many things can be said about what makes Queen such a delightful watch, and not one too many about Amit Trivedi’s score. There is reason why the Dev D music director is ranked so highly.

But, the last word has to be reserved for Ranaut. Delivering line after line in her inimitable style of a Delhi girl, who finds herself in the streets of Paris and the red light district of Amsterdam, this star shows that she has some serious acting chops. And this time, there are takers.

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