We’re only two-and-a-half months into the new year, but there’s already a neat little narrative forming around the unusual prominence of strong female characters in Hindi films in 2014. It started with Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi in Dedh Ishqiya, puppet masters disguised as damsels in distress. This was followed by the kooky, off-kilter pill popper played by Parineeti Chopra in Hasee Toh Phasee and Alia Bhatt’s damaged kidnapping victim in Highway. Compared to these characters, with their unexpected quirks and shadings, Rani, the protagonist of Queen, is a more conventional figure. All credit to Kangana Ranaut, then, who builds her from the ground up and makes her so appealing that the audience doesn’t mind playing cheerleader in what is clearly going to end up a redemption story.
Before redemption cometh the fall, which arrives in the form of Rani’s fiancée, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), backing out two days before their wedding. Shy, under-confident Rani is devastated, but when she recovers slightly, she realises their honeymoon tickets to Europe are still valid, and that she may as well go for her first trip abroad. You know what they say: Paris when it fizzles.
If you’ve ever watched anything that falls roughly within the jilted-woman-goes-on-a-vacation genre, you’ll be able to map out the broad trajectory of Queen. Rani must get her groove back – or realise that she had one in the first place. So even though Paris is forbidding at first, she’ll soon meet Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon), a sexy single mom who may as well have “free spirit” tattooed on her tanned legs. And thus Rani is dragged out of her salwar-wearing shell, first by the “hippie-type” Vijaylakshmi, and then by the trio of men (from Japan, Russia and France) she ends up rooming with in Amsterdam.
So we watch Rani drink, let her hair loose and develop a small crush on a parody of an Italian chef (Marco Canadea, over-the-top but enjoyable). But director Vikas Bahl and co-writers Parveez Shaikh and Chaitally Parmar are careful not to have Rani transform too quickly or drastically. All too often, we’ve seen characters in our films alter beyond recognition after a few days abroad. Rani starts off simple and retiring, and ends the film just as simple, and a shade less retiring. But Ranaut’s playing is so sympathetic and free of artifice that it’s plain to see how much this small fillip in confidence means to Rani.
In many ways, Rani is a close cousin to Sridevi’s Shashi from 2012’s English Vinglish. Both are retiring sorts who find themselves on trips abroad; both are tethered to men who think they’re a little too hip for them. Yet, where Shashi ended up sacrificing freedom for family, Rani takes her new-found confidence and literally runs with it. Queen isn’t path-breaking – there are too many stock characters and predictable scenarios for that – but it has a big heart. After a while, even its clichés are rendered warm and fuzzy.
This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.