Kangana Ranaut
Kangana Ranaut has told her Manikarnika director that he will be the last helmer she works with
Nayandeep Rakshit (DNA; May 10, 2017)

Kangana Ranaut wraps up Simran soon and the film is expected to release later this year. She then moves on to Manikarnika, a biopic on the legendary Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi — a role the actress says was tailor-made for her. After that, she will be directing her own films! She reveals all that and more in this interview that we did with her during our trip to Benares where she launched the first poster of Manikarnika...

You’ve begun this project with an aarti and took dips in the Ganga...
(Cuts in) It was always a dream to go to Benares, visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple and take dips in the holy Ganga. So now, this was planned so well and it was a wish come true. I was doing it for myself, to be honest. I have been to many pilgrimage stations and mujhe bahut shauk hai. When I heard the script of Manikarnika many months back, this event wasn’t even conceptualised. The first line of the script was about the birth of the baby girl in Benares. So I had asked Krish, “Hum Benares mein shoot karenge?” He said he didn’t know yet. I told him, “Agar hum karenge, toh hum Kashi Vishwanath jayenge.” Within one month and that, too, before the shoot begins, he’s got me here.

Have you taken a dip like this before?
Yes. It was during a school trip to Haridwar. We were in DAV Public School and we had gone to Rishikesh. Tab kiya tha.

The film will be high on action. How are you prepping to play the Rani of Jhansi?
I haven’t started training in sword-fighting yet, but I will have to do that very soon. For now, I am learning horse-riding because Krish gave me just one brief. Action is central to the film and in his research, he found that Manikarnika’s biggest ‘superpower’ was her ‘riding prowess’. There are interesting myths and much folklore around her horse-riding. Pataa nahi kitne sau feet ke fort ki deewar se neeche woh seedha giri thi bachche ke saath mein... (Smiles) That sort of action and drama is pivotal to the script. So now, Krish wants me to ride a horse without holding on to the saddle or the reins.

Several connections are being drawn between this film and Baahubali — both are historical epics, Vijayendra Prasad is writing the scripts, both films are high on VFX and celebrate an Indian hero… Do you think Manikarnika will also be a pan-Indian film?
I recently saw Baahubali 2 and when I met Vijayendra Sir, I touched his feet. Because I think in terms of stories, screenplay, he is just such a legend in screenwriting. I told him how fortunate I am to work with him and he said Manikarnika is no less than Baahubali. That was a great moment for me and that’s how he sees her. The appeal is going to be equally exciting. We are going to have an amazing story, drama and action. The difference is that this has happened for real, these people existed. I think that’s why it will have more of a connect and in fact, that’s why we are keeping it authentic.

Do you think you were destined to do this film?
I totally believe this. When I was 15 and I left my house, I did not have the ambition to prove or achieve something. I struggled with typical existential questions that one does at 15 — what’s my purpose in life, etc. I could not figure out what it is I was meant to do. Eleven years later, even in failure and extreme success, I could not figure that out. But with Manikarnika, it all made sense. This is also the most important phase of my life and I also told Krish that he would be the last director I would work with. Because after this, I am only going to work with myself for myself. This serves as a beautiful culmination to 30 years of my life.

While researching the film, did you find something you didn’t knew about Jhansi Ki Rani?
Prasoon (Joshi) Sir would tell me that they have done research and they found out that during British rule, they did not allow anyone to write anything on Jhansi Ki Rani — no plays, no memoirs, nothing. Because it was banned. Her story was inspiring and her spirit was infectious. They made sure that Indians didn’t know about her just so that we didn’t revolt or fight for what was rightfully ours. It was strategically covered up — her life, her death, her revolution. Of course, they were threatened by us. All these things, we are going to expose — how they not only stripped us of our gold and jewels but they also took away our pride and dignity. They made sure Indians live with a sense of deep rooted inferiority complex. They divided us, broke our spine by taking our culture, our language and the way we dressed. We are going to deal with important points and why this is so relevant in today’s times.

Like the Rani of Jhansi, you have also fought against stalwarts, especially those of the opposite gender. Your take...
Within two years of their birth, everyone knows or hears about Jhansi Ki Rani. There’s no one who doesn’t know her. She is associated with the fighting spirit. And not just me, we all have it. Maybe, some don’t exercise it.

Are you also going to co-write this film?
Not this film. It’s a different genre of screenwriting and as we all know, Vijayendra Sir is the Baahubali of screenwriting. I would love to be in that league — where Prasoon Sir and Vijayendra Sir are in. But that is a few decades away (laughs).

You are known for your women-centric films. But in recent times, all such films tanked one by one. Do you think the options are getting narrowed down?
I’m not someone who will sit and wait for opportunities, I will create opportunities. I am also going to be directing after Manikarnika. We are not sitting and thinking, ‘Oh are we having enough opportunities or not?’ We are going to go out there and get what we deserve.

Is comedy on your mind?
Well, Simran is a comedy. I think after Srideviji, I’m the only actress doing funny films. Whether it’s as Datto or Rani from Queen. There’s that quirk to my character Simran, but unfortunately, we don’t have any scope for female comedians. But yes, Raju Hirani sir at some point, mentioned that he wants to make a film on a female stand-up comedian. At some point, I would also love to direct a film like that.

Do you plan to direct others as well?
At this point, I will only get hired as a director if I cast myself (laughs). Otherwise, nobody is interested in producing my film. So, while I will star in my directorial debut, the one after that should have another actor