Will Manikarnika Change Bollywood’s History of Dull-as-Dishwater Queens?

Bollywood

Will Manikarnika Change Bollywood’s History of Dull-as-Dishwater Queens?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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ollywood’s penchant for period and costume dramas has conjured up countless queens and princesses, stretching back to its very first film, Raja Harishchandra, in 1913 – a time in film history when men played women. Here, Harishchandra’s wife, Queen Taramati, suffers hardships and is wrongly accused of a crime. Its cinematic distinction aside, the film’s leading lady would become the template for representing royalty: From Rani Rupmati (1957) to Padmavati, each queen who came after Taramati is just as pious and uncomplaining.

A plethora of historical and mythological dramas in the ’30s and ’40s enabled this archetype, dolling up royal heroines in fine regalia, and making them wax lyrical about “honour” and “duty”. So when SS Rajamouli’s South Indian fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) hit theatres decades later, Bollywood went into a bit of a tizzy over the fierce feminism of Princess Devasena and Queen Sivagami. Indian cinema had finally found two truly empowered mainstream royal heroines who didn’t merely exist for the men.

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