A swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek Western about an indigenous cowgirl
A Potpourri of Vestiges Review
By Murtaza Ali
Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
|Revolver Rani (2014) - By Sai Kabir|
Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 5.0
Genre: Action | Comedy | Crime
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Vir Das, Piyush Mishra
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Vir Das, Piyush Mishra
Runtime: 132 min
Summary: In the hostile territory of Chambal, the land of rebels, politicians, bullets and blood, you either live by the gun or die by the gun. Revolver Rani is about Alka Singh, the leader of a political party, and her obsessive love for Rohan Mehra, a rising star of Bollywood.
Revolver Rani is a 2014 satirical comedy film written and directed by Indian filmmaker Sai Kabir. Co-produced by Tigmanshu Dhulia and Wave Cinemas, Revolver Rani stars Kangana Ranaut, Vir Das, Piyush Mishra, and Zakir Hussain in major roles. Set in the treacherous lands of Chambal against the deceptive backdrop of political intrigue, Revolver Rani presents a rather bizarre tale of love between a savage politician named Alka Singh (Kangana Ranaut) and a rising Bollywood talent named Rohan Mehra (Vir Das). For the uninitiated, Chambal Valley, situated in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is the land of bandits, dacoits and rebels that over the years has engendered notorious entities like Phoolan Devi, Paan Singh Tomar, and Nirbhay Singh Gujjar. While Shekhar Kapoor’s controversial biopic Bandit Queen (1994), starring Seema Biswas, was based on the life and struggle of Phoolan Devi, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2012), starring Irrfan Khan, was inspired by the true story of the athlete-turned-rebel Paan Singh Tomar.
Revolver Rani is essentially a satire on the power hungry politicians, treading through the dark alleys of power in the Chambal Valley, who have little regard for anything save their own ambitions. The outlaws have turned into politicians and the politicians into outlaws. And anything or anyone that comes in the way of their ambition gets obliterated. In this decrepit land of unscrupulous outlaws, power is the ultimate elixir. One can part with one’s life but not with one’s hard earned power. The life of a person is tantamount to the number of bullets in the revolver: the more the number of bullets, the greater the chances of survival. But, for the denizens of Chambal, survival is no longer the hottest commodity around, for, in these treacherous lands, triumph is a necessity for survival. For these fiendish power mongers, failure is worse than death. Amidst this perpetual struggle for existence, survival is no longer the right of the fittest, but the prerogative of the smartest. You may be big, mean, strong, and powerful, but complacency is a folly that you can ill afford, for death can come in different forms and you better not get caught off guard while encountering the Grim Reaper.
Revolver Rani comes across as an experimental film and as with all experiments the probability of failure is much higher than the probability of success. Not everyone has the appetite for nonsensical, over-the-top violence which Revolver Rani offers in abundance. Indian audiences mostly prefer traditional cinema unless it’s something that they can easily relate to like say a superhero franchise like Krrish or a patriotic sports movie like Chak De! India (2007) or a tongue-in-cheek satire on organized religion like PK (2014). While there have been many bold attempts in our regional cinema with films like Makkhi (2012), Hindi cinema still remains pretty conservative. A rather overt swashbuckling style of cinema à la Sergio Leone is something the Hindi film audiences are usually not very comfortable with. And that’s precisely where Revolver Rani suffers. Hindi cinema is still in the need of its very own Quentin Tarantino who can help the audiences expand their cinematic horizons. But, until the audiences grow more receptive, films like Revolver Rani would continue to be treated as mere exercises in style.
Keeping its commercial failure aside, this critic feels that it’s important to assess a film like Revolver Rani from the cinematic point of view. The best way to approach Revolver Rani is an indigenous tongue-in-cheek Western featuring a rugged cowgirl as oppose to a cowboy. Yes, Alka Singh can best be described as the female equivalent of a desi cowboy straight out of some Western pulp novel. The movie’s graphic novel feel only accentuates it further. Besides, the film is rife with symbolism and allegories. The thinking viewer will certainly be able to savor what’s at his/her disposal. The director Sai Kabir, a self-confessed fan of Johnnie To and Robert Rodriguez, paints a lurid canvass, oozing with an abundance of grotesqueries, adorned by shifty, larger-than-life characters caught in existential traps—all this facilitates the orchestration of rather palatable mise-en-scène. Alka Singh, who is projected as a cross between a ruthless bandit and a benevolent politician, is ironically obsessed by all things Venetian—she lacks the basic manners and yet has the refined tastes of a connoisseur (she builds an entire film city for her lover with a specially designed "Titanic" film set). She lives in a proverbial gutter and yet can’t help but dream for the stars. Once she learns of her pregnancy she finally decides to break the shackles of insanity that had kept her from attaining a sense of spiritual purity. Alas, the divine revelation comes a little late in her life… but, as they say, it’s never too late!
As for Alka’s boy toy Rohan, success must come at any price. He is willing to be a submissive lover to a goon like Alka and meekly surrenders his will to her aggressive libido—if that is what it takes to climbs the ladders of fame in Bollywood, so be it. In a desperate urge to realize the Great Indian Dream, he allows Alka to be on the top, both literally and figuratively, in their lopsided relationship. Then we have Alka’s uncle, Bali (Piyush Mishra), whose lust for power exceeds everyone else’s. All his life he has used Alka as a tool to fulfill his political ambitions and would stop at nothing to bring his dream to a perfect closure. In Udhaybhan Tomar, Alka’s chief political adversary, we have a perfect embodiment of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Tomar is a mangy scoundrel of a politician who is not only corrupt but also heartless. In order to fulfill his pre-election commitment to one the business houses that funded his party, he uses CRPF men trained in modern-day warfare to take control of a 2000 acre jungle land that was inhabited by a tribe for over 400 years. The rest of the characters brilliantly fill in the rest of the canvas and add further to the color and the flavor.
Overall, Revolver Rani presents experimental filmmaking at its very best but typically with little commercial relevance, especially in the context of the Indian market. Revolver Rani takes a swipe at politics, media and religion, all in one go. Kangana Ranaut shines in her portrayal of a politically powerful female goon. Kangana’s daring portrayal of Alka Singh offers a great contrast to her role of a naïve Punjabi girl in Vikas Bahl's Queen (2014), which won her a National Award (Kangana has hiked her fee by 50 percent following the movie's grand success). Kangana’s performance in Revolver Rani is not only a testament to her commitment to acting as a profession but it also highlights her unflinching courage and determination to try her hands at something new. Throughout her career, she has been described as a maverick (read failure), and now that success has finally begun to embrace her, she is still continuing to take risks like she has done all her career. Kangana had to make a lot of efforts to prepare for her role in Revolver Rani which included attending fitness and training workshops. Few actresses in Bollywood who would take such pains in order to prepare for a role. There’s no denying that Kangana Ranaut performs Alka Singh to a tee whether it's the depiction of Alka's wild, ferocious exterior or her soft, tender interior. Barring a few incongruities, everything right from her non-glamorous look to her native accent to her aggression in bed makes Kangana look convincing as Alka Singh—a caricature that strongly harks back to Uma Thurman’s character “The Bride” in Kill Bill movies. Kangana’s tour de force performance is well complimented by the rest of the cast. And the unconventional music (singers include stalwarts like Asha Bhosle, Usha Uthap, Rekha Bhardwaj, and Piyush Mishra) adds to the overall mood of the film. The manner in which the movie ends certainly leaves some scope for a possible sequel, but given its terrible show at the box office the prospects look quite bleak. Revolver Rani is film that can best be appreciated with open and receptive minds. There is certainly more to the film than meets the eye. As a socio-political satire, its relevance cannot be overlooked. The undercurrent of dark humour only adds to movie's overall appeal. Highly recommended!
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