Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkumar Rao, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko
Director: Vikas Bahl
Runtime: 146 min.
Verdict: Mr. Bahl lets the ideology govern the narrative rather than the other way round. Things, i.e. the “little” moments on which he builds his narrative upon, thus feel a little pre-processed.
Genre: Drama, Comedy
My first visit to Kuala Lumpur was couple of years back. There is not much to the city, I might be tempted to say, not much of a personality one might hold on to. It is bland. Well, mostly, you know, until one is in the city center and surrounded by the Petronas. You walk around and find it staring back at you from behind other buildings. You feel like you’re walking in circles, walking away, walking towards, covering streets, going past buildings. And yet it is there, behind two buildings. You look to the right of a building, and it is there. You look to the left of another, and it is there. Staring down at you. They are not vertical as much as they are vertiginous. For a moment you feel the path to the sky is bent. It is intimidating. Maybe even borderline scary. I don’t know why. I don’t even know why I am reminded of Godzilla, and although I sought that same fear from Empire State, I wasn’t intimidated. Mr. Bahl’s Queen has one such moment, where Rani (Ms. Ranaut) is running from and, I suppose, unwittingly running towards the Eiffel tower. The guerilla-style improvisation-filled filmmaking that Queen displays in abundance serves it best here, with the front plane harshly juxtaposed against the seemingly curved nature of the backdrop, with the frame slightly tilted, somehow reminding us of the city-bending-on-itself shot from Inception, a shot that I now interpret as an essentially literal version of this fear the vertiginous nature of the city puts into us. You see, my memory of the Petronas is not anamorphic, or shall we say widescreen. Widescreen inspires magnificence, I suppose. My memory is kinda square in its aspect ratio. Maybe even a rectangle standing on its width. I hope you get the picture. I don’t have much space neither to the left or the right, and that memory is interlocked with claustrophobia of some nature. When Rani ran shit-scared, looking back to see if the Eiffel tower disappeared, it might have been a touch melodramatic for you, I suppose. But dear reader, I had goose-bumps all over me, and it is moments such as these I seek more than anything else from the movies.
It is only a moment though, and unfortunately for me Mr. Bahl contextualizes Rani’s fear within the memory of a promise from her fiancé (Mr. Rajkumar Rao). But that is my problem and not yours. And certainly not Mr. Bahl’s. What Godzilla is to my memory is her fiancé’s promise to Rani (my context feels a tad idiotic), and the curious bit is that they seem to evoke a similar response. What doesn’t feel like my problem though is that Mr. Bahl’s film is a tad too contextualized, not within the framework of its own memory-filled cause-effect narrative, but within the framework of its ideological response. Is it a nod, a verifiable declaration of a problem statement, when elderly women at a wedding try to learn a dance step from Cocktail that kinda heralded the moment of self-discovery of its chief female protagonist? Are there echoes of Veronica in Vijayalakshmi (Ms. Haydon)? Is the fleeting and thus strictly supporting nature of every other character a statement of intent on Mr. Bahl’s part? One that essentially states that women don’t need men to approve of their identities and one which Mr. Bahl seemingly holds on to via the resolution he provides to his narrative? If that is the case, which I feel it is, I don’t much care for all that feminist nonsense, and my non-ideological response would be that these ideological narratives do not understand that it works both ways. As much the women need guys to approve of their identities, the men need their approval to confirm their egos, and it is just basic arithmetic – Approval – Identity = Cost of Commodity. I mean, as long as we’re living in a capitalistic society, societal approval is essential. I should leave it there then, I suppose.
Instead, what has me rather curious is Rani’s state of mind when she decides to go on her honeymoon all by herself. Cocktail did provide its protagonist a practical reason via a throwaway piece of dialog, one based in emigration to the west, and that was probably the only moment that dealt directly with economics amidst all of its other shenanigans. Here, Rani and her father run a sweetshop. They are businessmen. Cancelling a trip and all the associated tickets and bookings would probably salvage some money, and I want to assume that I’m not entirely wrong in believing that saving this money might be somewhere close to the top on the list of priorities as far as damage control (post failed-marriage ceremony) is concerned. Still she leaves, with her father’s consent, which means there’s a bit of stubbornness in there somewhere. The same stubbornness she displays when she desperately clings on to her handbag in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Queen celebrates this stubbornness that is probably the key to its protagonist’s self-discovery, but at the same time, much like most movies around us, steers clear of making any mention of economics. Of the financial costs that are being overrun here. We never are aware of the actual numbers, making the emotions of the narrative palatable for us audience who wouldn’t be distracted. And even though, we still might have been convinced that it was all worth it even if we were made aware of the financial conditions, it somewhat troubles me that the narrative conveniently buries the financial loss to the family and how it affected the overall proceedings. More so, when we begin to consider how essential the framework of a globalized world connected not merely by the convenience of travel but also by the existence of Facebook is to Mr. Bahl’s ideological stance.But that is probably a minor gripe against what is my second-favorite part of Queen – the present continuous DNA of the narrative, which kinda mirrors in the way the Facebook-timeline epilogue not merely summarizes the film but also highlights Mr. Bahl’s essential rule of not providing any grand closure to the proceedings. In fact, apart from the return of the ring and the obvious immediate satisfaction derived from it, there is nothing that suggests that Rani’s life has found a parking. Much like the Facebook-timeline’s northbound drive, Rani’s life is still on the move. And my favorite part? Ms. Ranaut. It is somewhat of a gimmicky performance at certain moments, I do concede, but boy does she have the devil in her.