Kangana Ranaut gets ready to revisit history with Ketan Mehta’s biopoc on Rani Lakshmibai. She was a knee-high six-year-old moppet when she recited Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s poem ‘Jhansi Ki Rani,’ describing the life of Rani Lakshmibai, for the first time at an Independence Day function in school. Words like `sahas’ and `dridnischhay’ were incomprehensible to the first standard student, but Kangana Ranaut was determined to do it right.
Cajoling her dadaji to explain the meaning of these words, the little girl learnt the long poem by heart, and on D-day, stood with 20 other moppets to rattle off the now-familiar lines. “Of course, it was only when I was in a higher class and the poem was a part of our syllabus, that I began to understand the true meaning of the words and the woman they described,” the actress admits today.
Manikarnika, who was rechristened Lakshmibai after she married Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, in 1942, was one of the leading figures of the Rebellion of 1857. The heroine of folklore has inspired many filmmakers to revisit her life on screen. An international production house had started prep for a shoot in India but the project never took off.Former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen has lived with the dream for years and even Ketan Mehta for almost a decade now. He is now co-producing the biopic with Victory Media whose London and LA-based CEO, AVT Shankardass besides financing films like Brad Pitt’s Spy Game and Colin Farell’s Alexander, has also directed The Commuters and The Stepmother and was a screenwriter with Tomahawk Entertainment and Warner Bros for five years.
“It will be an international co-production with an international cast and crew,” confirms Ketan who plans to shoot on location in Jhansi, Varanasi and Gwalior and studios. “The reason for casting Kangana is that she has courage, fire in her belly and a desire to excel.”
The National Award-winning actress is extremely excited and has told Ketan that they need to design the action sequences and the climax well before they go on the floors.She will train in horse-riding and sword-fighting and rehearse these scenes for 10…20… 200 days if needed, till she has perfected every move. She doesn’t want to compromise on a split or a somersault because she hasn’t had the time to prep up for it or fears injury.
“We have workshops to rehearse lines before the shoot.I also want to do workshops to learn hand-to-hand combats, how to ride in a sari, with a baby tied to my back, fighting with two swords and holding the reins in my mouth.Nothing should look fake or forced which is why I haven’t set a time limit for when the film rolls. I want the script to come alive as beautifully and fiercely on screen,” she asserts.
Also, Kangana wants to train with the horse which will play Badal who helped the warrior queen escape from the fort but didn’t survive the ride. “Badal was her soulmate, I want to forge an emotional bond with it,” she explains.She has promised the makers that once she starts, she won’t sign another film till mid next year. “A film like this gets made only once, no one is going to make it again. Since it’s come to us, we have to do complete justice to it. I can’t hope to go beyond this script, this film could well be the climax in my acting career so I’m going to give it the time it deserves,” she maintains.During her research Kangana’s idea of the Rani as a fiery, stereotypical revolutionary who fought against injustice and for the country’s independence, has changed. “On the battlefield, the Rani was unstoppable, as brave as Tatya Tope and Nana Saheb, mardani but not a mard. I’ve seen some of her pictures clicked by an English photographer and she was delicate and beautiful….More than anger there was melancholy on her face. She was a woman at the wrong place at the right time who ended up becoming a reluctant hero and rewriting history,” she muses.She adds that everyone who met her was charmed by her demeanour. Even Sir Hugo Rose who besieged Jhansi on March 23, 1958, described her as “personable, clever and beautiful” and the “most dangerous of all Indian leaders”. “I want to focus on the feminine, human side of her rather than glorify her as a hero. For me this is more the journey of a daughter, wife, mother and a queen who was all fire but also the epitome of feminine grace,” she signs off.