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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is a historical drama about the legendary Lakshmibai, a widowed queen of a small Indian province who openly rebelled against the East India Company and British rule in the mid-19th century. Directed by Swati Bhise and starring her daughter, actor Devika Bhise, the movie includes quite a lot of violence, with close-ups of hanged men, fields of corpses, throat slashings, implied rape, and battle sequences with swords, blades, and guns between the British forces and the coalition of Indian rebels. Otherwise, content is quite mild, and teens who watch will get a worthwhile lesson in leadership and women's empowerment thanks to this little-known (to Western audiences) but important historical figure's story.
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What's the story?
THE WARRIOR QUEEN OF JHANSI is the story of a legendary Indian woman named Lakshmibai (Devika Bhise) who, as a young woman, married the Maharaja of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao (Milind Gunaji), and became the Rani (queen) of Jhansi. Lakshmibai gives birth to a son, but he dies in infancy, leaving Jhansi heir-less until she and Gangadhar formally adopt their nephew. After Gangadhar dies unexpectedly, the East India Company (Great Britain's proxy in India) applies a new Victorian Era law that says that because a woman and an adopted son cannot rule, the land reverts to British (Company) rule. Rani Lakshmibai decides that she will defy the order at the same time that Indian soldiers working for the East India Company rebel because they discover that the cartridge grease on their rifles (which soldiers had to bite) was allegedly made with pork and beef fat, a violation of both Muslim and Hindu dietary laws. Rani allies with other province royals as well as the betrayed soldiers in what's known as the Indian Rebellion. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria (Jodhi May) and Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (Derek Jacobi) rely on East India Company's ranking officer, Sir Hugh Rose (Rupert Everett), and a vicious civil servant, Sir Robert Hamilton (Nathaniel Parker), to negotiate -- or crush the rebellion.
Is it any good?
The story of India's legendary Rani Lakshmibai is fascinating and deserves to be shared with audiences worldwide, but this underwhelming biographical drama falls short of living up to its source. In a more nuanced filmmaker's hands, perhaps The Warrior Queen of Jhansi wouldn't feel like a surprisingly bloody world history video. Even the award-winning British actors in the supporting cast seem to be phoning in the bland, overly pedantic and sentimental screenplay. Despite the riveting premise, the bland writing and the occasionally wooden acting make the movie seem like a bit of a slog -- even though it's just roughly 100 minutes long.
Bhise (who is the director's daughter) lacks the gravitas that this larger-than-life role demands. It would have been better if the money spent on hiring Everett, Jacobi, and May had gone to casting a more experienced Indian actress for the central role. It's hard not to wonder what could have happened had a filmmaker like Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta, or Zoya Akhtar (all also notable women directors of Indian descent) made a more effective, more ambitious, less earnest, less black-hat vs. white-hat film chronicling Rani Lakshmibai's story. Parker in particular plays Sir Hamilton like an irredeemable, mustache-twirling villain, while Ben Lamb's Major Robert Ellis is sympathetic but also clearly in love with Lakshmibai. Parts of the narrative are instructive enough to merit follow-up research and questions, but overall, the movie is undeniably educational but not cinematically entertaining.
Talk to your kids about ...
What did you learn from the movie? Are you interested in finding out more about the Rani or India's struggle for independence from the British?
What does the movie teach about the idea of empire? Why is it important for people to rule their own countries?
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