Oh boy, this was such a fun story! All this juicy stuff about process and production and funding and those cool things I like so much more than boring personal dramas.
How did this start? The heroine of the 1857 rebellion, Jhansi Ki Rani Manikarnika had never had a movie made about her, and her story cries out for a film. Such an iconic historical figure! Ketan Mehta, who had previously made Mangal Panday, had an idea for a movie and approached Kangana Ranaut to star in it. She was pleasant and interested. And next thing he knew, she had announced, with an independent first time producer she had found, that she would be making a movie on Jhansi Ki Rani. Ketan Mehta’s film was stolen from him. Quote from Ketan:
Kangana introduced me to Mr Kamal Jain. We had an international producer and we were looking for an Indian co-producer. We had meetings with Mr Kamal where Kangana was also involved and we shared all the information. And then, suddenly, we hear about this project. It is completely unethical. And this was after we shared access to all our research material from past ten years
Next step, find a new director! No one in the Hindi film industry was interested in taking this on, a difficult star and a first time producer entirely under her thumb, so they went down south. Krish was a National Award winning director for a historical film about Indian army soldiers during WWII. He was very excited about the idea for the film, and took months doing research and scouting locations and so on, and eventually built up a nice taught three lead concept. There would be Manikarnika herself, of course. And then there would be her childhood teacher who was unable to help her save her kingdom, who she fled to after the palace fell. And finally the villain, the ultimate representative of macho male power, very tall and strong and physical, a powerful man in his own right, and the jealous rival for rule of the kingdom who allied with the British. Behind these three would be another three, Manikarnika and her two closest female followers. Her lower caste chief warrior, and her gentle childhood best friend maid in waiting. The two sides of the character, the tough fighter and the royal woman. Krish put together a really great concept for a film. And then he set out putting together a really great cast.
Obviously Kangana was the heroine, she was the one who brought him the story and the producer. For her mentor role, Krish begged Atul Kulkarni to take the part. A legendary actor with great presence, Krish even paused filming to make sure Atul could fit him into their schedule. For the villain, Sonu Sood. An experienced actor Krish knew from the southern industries and who had already worked in the north before. Very tall, very strong, he had that kind of physical presence Krish wanted. For the two young women, two experienced but not famous actresses, who dedicated themselves to researching their characters, going through physical training, and so on.
And then, after all of this prep work is done, filming starts. 75% of the film is complete, Kangana has to take a break in the schedule, Krish shows her the rushes, and she has concerns that Sonu Sood is overshadowing her character. Krish tries to explain that this is the dynamic, it needs to be a strong villain to make her a strong heroine. Kangana is polite and nice and seems to understand. Krish has to move on to his next film, he goes south for some meetings and planning, leaving Kangana and the rest of the unit behind to finish up some shots. Next thing he knows, he is getting a call from Sonu Sood saying “I just got fired”. And next thing Sonu Sood knows, Kangana has called up the media to announce he is a misogynist and won’t work with a female director. Rumors start coming out that Kangana is now the director. She says to the media that she is just “helping” and then finally that she is taking a “co-director” credit, but only because the producer (who SHE FOUND! Who is only producing this because she brought him in!) insisted on it and she couldn’t object. Even odder than calling Sonu a misogynist who wouldn’t work with a female director when he is one of the few actors who in fact has worked with a female director (Farah Khan in Happy New Year), there was the strange decisions to change all publicity materials from referring to Krish by his preferred professional name and instead as “Radha Krishna Jagarlamudhi”.
The movie releases, and it is….odd. The replacement of Sonu is painfully obvious in the awkward insertions of Zeeshan Ayyub in his place. Atul Agnihotri is weirdly wasted. There is a song inserted, which seems inappropriate. And there is a painful scene about cow protecting EVEN THOUGH Kangana had previously said she would not be including that scene in response to the various lynchings related to cow protection before release. And of course, also a long scene where Kangana explains how good she is at speaking English. The opening weekend is okay, the film is well launched, and only at this point do Krish, and co-star Mishti, start speaking to the press about their experience.
Krish explains that Kangana was asking for reshoots not just of Sonu’s scenes, but of things like a massive scene of her approaching a throne where she wanted to be sure she was on a higher plane than everyone else. Mishti said that she thought filming was over, and then Kangana called her and begged her to come back, promised she needed her because her character was so very important to the film. She came, stood there in the background with no dialogue, and then the film released and she discovered all her substantive scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Which meant, ultimately, there was no reason for her to be in the other scenes shot and no reason for Kangana to beg her to come back.
Post-film, in their interviews, Krish and Mishti were both in a similar place. They didn’t want to say anything until after the release for the sake of the film. They cared about their work and wanted it to have a fair trial at the box office, and in general it just wouldn’t be right to sabotage a film like that. But now that it was released and well launched into the world, they were speaking out. Knowing this would harm their careers in the Hindi industry, but not really caring because they both have solid work and solid careers in the non-Hindi industries.
Now, let’s look at some QUOTES!
From Krish’s post-film interview:
The film was supposed to release on August 15, 2018. I completed the film in June; only a small portion remained which we agreed to shoot later and then I had to direct the NTR bio-pic since the director who was supposed to do that project was shifted out.
In the beginning it was just my name ‘Krish’ on the poster. In fact I remember we released a poster on my birthday November 10. Kangana cut the cake with me, we hugged, etc. Anyway….But on the second poster and in the trailer achanak mera naam Radha Krishan Jagarlamudi ho gaya…… Then in the trailer her name came as director after mine. And then at the time of the film’s release her name came first as director, then mine.
What she did basically was remove Sonu Sood’s role, reduce it substantially and replace him with another actor Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub, and then she shot the new actor’s close-ups and inserted them in scenes that I had shot.
Because as an antagonist, Sonu Sood was very strong. That’s how we had designed the film. For the protagonist to appear powerful, the antagonist has to be strong.
I charged half of the fee that I get for my Telugu films as I wanted to be a part of this historical attempt to bring Rani Laxmibai’s story to screen. This is the highest number of days I’ve shot for any film. And I’ve directed complex costume dramas like Kanche and Gautamiputra Satarkarni. In Kanche, I had shot five war scenes…. It was (the scriptwriter) Vijayendra Prasadji who called me to direct this film. He had seen my work and knew what I was capable of. In fact I am the one who suggested the title Manikarnika. I read close to twenty books on Rani Laxmibai before directing this film. I worked closely with Vijayendraji. We began shooting at Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad after the puja. I was the director.
In Telugu cinema they know me as Krish. Then in the trailer her name came as director after mine. But on the second poster and in the trailer achanak mera naam Radha Krishan Jagarlamudi ho gaya…. Perhaps to confuse the audience about my identity. I asked why my name was being changed in the poster. She said I hadn’t supported her when Sonu Sood spoke against her so why should she bother. Why should I have supported her, when I knew Sonu was right and he took a stand and said he won’t shoot the film with her?
Kangana decided to re-shoot Sonu’s entire portion. He had shot for 30 days! So you can imagine what she wanted to remove. I remember when she saw the first cut the first thing she said even before praising the film was, ‘Sonu Sood is too overpowering na?’ Because as an antagonist, Sonu Sood was very strong. That’s how we had designed the film. For the protagonist to appear powerful, the antagonist has to be strong…. I remember Sonu Sood’s character was introduced with a kushti (wrestling). Kangana wanted to know why he should do kushti. I wanted the action to be raw and real. Even the fights with the women were designed as raw…. What authority did she have to remove Sonu Sood? Have you ever heard of anything like this? She was of course the protagonist. But I am a reputed director directing a genre that I know. What gave her the right to tamper with what I did?…Sonu Sood also directed 5 shots. He can also claim to be co-director.
I remained quiet until the release. I had to remain quiet for the sake of the film and for the entire team which worked so hard on the film. But now if I don’t speak about what Kangana did to the film, I’d be doing a disservice to all our hard work. Many people advised me to talk after the film was taken away from me. I’d say what I directed was pure gold. Kangana turned it into silver….I never wanted a confrontation. I am not that kind of a person. But when I see what was done to my vision I feel very angry and sad. I am talking now regardless of how the film has fared because that’s how I had planned to speak…. I had to set the record straight. I needed a proper closure for my film. Manikarnika is my baby. Would Sonu Sood or Atul Kulkarni have signed the film if Kangana Ranaut was the director? They put their heart and soul in it. It is my team’s hard work being undermined. It’s not about shooting. It’s about executing. Many people from Mumbai have called to congratulate me. What I made was to perpetuate the phenomenon of Jhansi Ki Rani. Not Kangana Ranaut.
Isn’t this a fascinating series of events??? So much to consider! The wild power of the star, the north versus south divide, the urge to protect a film at all costs and not share your dirty laundry in public, SO MUCH!!!! For Krish’s birthday, let us all talk about it again!