Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Queen (2014) won six Filmfare Awards last weekend, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress.* It's been showered with other awards and appeared on many year-end best-of lists. I found it to be a modest and likable film, especially because of the performance of Kangana Ranaut as Rani ("queen" in Hindi).

On the day before her wedding—almost literally while the henna is drying on her hands—the shy and demure Rani is abruptly dumped by her London-returned fiancé Vijay (Rajkummar Rao). Rani decides to go on her bought-and-paid-for honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam by herself, and (amazingly) her parents agree to let her go. Adventures—some heartwarming, some cringe-worthy—ensue.

There's the couple having noisy sex in the next hotel room; the bewilderment and anxiety of ordering meals or negotiating taxi rides in languages she doesn't understand; being stopped without her passport by the police; wandering alone and watching the happy couples who seem to be everywhere; fighting off a purse-snatcher; going to a disco and getting drunk for the first time; having her first hangover.

Rani has the good fortune to get taken under the wing of the free-spirited Vijaylaxmi (Lisa Haydon), the hotel staffperson who (we discover) was the woman having sex next door. She's also a single parent, although childcare never seems to be an issue as she shows the wide-eyed Rani around Paris and takes her shopping and clubbing (which is where the first hangover comes from):

"Hungama Ho Gaya" was originally sung by Asha Bhosle in the 1973 movie Anhonee; this remix, with an interpolated section from Simon and Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter" "California Dreamin'" of all things, is by soundtrack composer Amit Trivedi with additional vocals by Arijit Singh.

When I first heard about the film, Ranaut did not seem like an obvious choice for the naïve Rani. A former model, Ranaut's major roles before this included a young office worker who is sleeping with her boss in Life in a…Metro (2007), a coked-out supermodel in Fashion (2008), a Golden Age Bollywood star in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (2010), a loud, tough-talking gangster's moll in Tanu Weds Manu (2011), and a shape-shifting mutant with an endless series of glam outfits and hairstyles in Krrish 3  (2013).

But Ranaut gives a highly believable performance as an ordinary young woman tentatively beginning to discover her strength and resourcefulness. Thanks to the cinematography of the late Bobby Singh (who died while the film was nearing the end of shooting), neither the look of the film nor that of Ranaut herself has the high gloss of most of her previous films. In Queen, she is radically deglamorized:

Ranaut's performance is one of the things that makes Queen very much worth seeing. Another is that it's a woman-centered story in a medium which is mainly, not to say relentlessly, about the hero's journey. Queen is so woman-centered that Ranaut is in almost every frame, which is both a virtue and a shortcoming. The film is so focussed on Rani's story that some of the other characters (particularly her changeable fiancé Vijay) can seem a bit sketched in.

The movie avoids some major potential pitfalls (spoiler alerts for those who haven't seen the film): Rani does not fall in love with some dashing European man, although she does experience her first kiss. When she winds up with three (carefully multiethnic) male roommates at her Amsterdam hostel, they are protective and not predatory. And when Vijay learns about the new Rani and finds her to tell her that he'd like to get married after all, Rani realizes that she no longer feels governed by other people's expectations.

Despite director Vikas Bahl's attempts to establish an atmosphere of realness with street scenes, hand-held cameras, and ambient lighting, the movie doesn't avoid a certain amount of filmi contrivance. Would parents who don't let their daughter go to the bank or to a café without taking her little brother Chintu (Chinmaya Agrawal) along as a chaperone let her fly to Europe alone? In Amsterdam there are those improbably helpful hostel roommates, and an improbably supportive Italian restaurateur who impulsively puts Rani in charge of his street-food booth. And Queen's portrayal of Asians borders on caricature, as with her Japanese hostel roommate Taka (Jeffrey Ho), or a group of Asian tourists who start snapping pictures of Rani throwing up outside a restaurant (because Asian tourists photograph everything, of course).

But these are minor flaws in a very enjoyable movie. In its affirmation of the value of friendship and the need to find your own path, Queen delights; and Ranaut's performance deserves all the accolades it has received.

For another (even more positive) review of Queen, see Filmi Geek.


* Where were these Filmfare voters two years ago when the similarly low-key but charming English Vinglish, which is also about a woman discovering inner resources on a foreign trip, lost out for Best Film to Barfi!? Just asking.

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