Cinematic Releases: The Warrior Queen of Jhansi (2019) - Reviewed

In 1857, with India under the control of Great Britain (more specifically, the British East India Company), Queen Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, chose to fight for her people instead of giving in to the colonizers. Her role in the Indian rebellion against British rule is told in the drama The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, a dull retelling that fails to create a compelling central character. Details are not expanded upon, making events difficult to follow. There are a lot of conversations between British officers that give us one-dimensional stereotypes such as “career soldier following orders,” “clueless racist” or “guy who has more sympathy for the supposed enemy than for his own people.” The Queen herself is the “brave warrior who is wiser than the allegedly civilized men who oppose her.” It is disappointing because Lakshmibai is an interesting figure who has a special place in her nation’s history as a feminist icon. This movie throws her story onscreen without making it feel important or particularly significant.

It opens with a confusing prologue of sorts intended to set the stage for its action. After her husband dies, the British East India Company rejects their adopted son’s claim to the throne, instead choosing to take over Jhansi themselves. The Rani will not surrender to their rule, believing it is not in the best interest of her people, and they begin preparing for war. Somehow, none of this intrigue is made exciting, making it hard to care once the battle starts. It is a collection of declarations and spectacle that add up to far too little.

Despite being based on a real person and events, The Warrior Queen of Jhansi comes off like any fictional period war movie. It seems the aim of director/producer/cowriter Swati Bhise was to show how the Rani refused to give in to the disrespect and ignorance of the British and became as great a leader as any man. Those elements are absolutely clear throughout. However, they are delivered in a way that is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Every plot point and character trait is repeated constantly, made even worse by the fact that there are so few character traits to begin with. The protagonist is turned into a symbol without going through the process of making her a fully formed character first. She is representative of a type, just like her blustering antagonists and respectful allies. It feels like her Wikipedia page made feature-length; several good tidbits scattered minus the connective tissue necessary to make it entertaining.

I genuinely enjoy learning new things at the movies, but I am not sure I learned much from The Warrior Queen of Jhansi. It is a good looking production, with a lot of swirling, flowing robes and some decent action. Yet the substance is not there. It could have been a powerful story of a woman fighting the forces of colonization and gender stereotypes, risking her life for something greater. None of that is fleshed out, leaving a bunch of talk and not enough moments of truly absorbing drama. While I knew nothing about the Rani of Jhansi coming in, I still left let down by a movie that did not do its daring heroine justice.

--Ben Pivoz