Qalandar on QUEEN (Hindi; 2014)

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It would be easy to dismiss director Vikas Bahl’s Queen as the sort of movie one has often seen in Hollywood, and that is increasingly common in Bollywood: suffused with a kind of cheap liberalism that makes one root for a sympathetic and intensely imagined female character, in a world populated by a number of men who are, not to put too fine a point on it, assholes, and who in some way, shape or form will get what’s coming to them. Queen certainly is that, but it is also quirky, charming, and at times very funny, so much so that by the end I was reminded that cheap liberalism isn’t the worst thing in the world. If movies had hearts, this one — about a bride-to-be who won’t let a little thing like having a wedding called off get in the way of a “honeymoon” to Paris and Amsterdam, each city with gurus ready to initiate her into “real life” — would have its in the right place, even if there’s never any doubt about what you’ll find there.

The film is a triumph for Kangana Ranaut, who not only carries it off, but almost HAS to, for the film to be even remotely credible. (The other actors don’t have very much to do beyond play assigned stock characters — there’s a smattering of assorted Punjabis; Raj Kumar Rao’s Vijay is Rani’s fiancé and a prick; Bokyo Mish’s Olik is the sensitive European roommate; Lisa Haydon is well-cast as a Paris hottie with a heart of gold; and the ensemble has more than a little affinity with English Vinglish, the nastiness of “Mind Your Language” smoothed into a cheerful multiculturalism.) Rani understands what even the filmmakers do not, namely that Rani is odd, a bit of a misfit in the world, not because she is an “ordinary middle-class girl” from Delhi (the condescending way in which far too many slice-of-life films — including this one — are made and marketed these days), but because she is simply odd (to that end, the actress’ mumbling dialogue delivery, an irritant in other films, works wonderfully well here). Ranaut plays Rani as standing out even in her own family, a bit of a wounded bird in a stereotypically raucous Punjabi brood, more child than adult. Ranaut is right to do so, enabling her to serve as a more effective vehicle for the film’s representation of female liberation than any number of ideologues. Stated differently, Rani isn’t liberal or progressive — she simply suspends judgment on the new people and experiences and encounters, poking gentle fun at a bourgeois tendency to the opposite. Queen eschews many of the usual Bollywood stereotypes about Westerners (none tries to rape her; no-one is racist; and Paris (far more than Amsterdam) seems like a real place), at least occasionally turning its lens toward desi complacency.

A word about the music: the maddeningly inconsistent Amit Trivedi is in good form here, and not only with the superb remix of Anhonee’s Laxmikant-Pyarelal “Hungama ho gaya” (the choice is a clever one: that song’s lyrics are also about a (gendered?) double-standard, even if the video is good old-fashioned Bindu sleaze): “Badra Bahaar”, “O Gujariya”, and “Harjaaiyan” seem promising, although I’ll have to spend some more time with the album (I came to the film unfamiliar with its sound, barring the remix).

Films like Queen do run a certain risk: commercial realities mean that they can end up pandering to the very audience they satirize, and there is a bit of that in this film too: thus, culinary xenophobia, a staple of both Bollywood and bourgeois Indian culture, is barely questioned here, despite the open invitation in the form of an Italian chef who sneers at Rani’s preference for “Indianizing” every kind of food (rather than engaging with it on its own terms). This particular story arc ends predictably: with the triumph of Indian food over other kinds of cuisine, staged in a manner that confirms prejudices rather than undermines them. This isn’t a huge deal, but is symptomatic of the unspoken taboo that Hindi films, because of Hindi film audiences, adhere to: don’t make people uncomfortable (otherwise-commercial films like Dum Maaro Dum, Delhi-6 or Raavan ignore this at their peril; while even films safely couched in “art-house” idiom — Gangs of Wasseypur comes to mind — can be accepted if their disturbing representations are normalized at an anthropological remove: someone, somewhere out there, is this way, not us). But while watching Queen, I didn’t think any of those things, because I was too busy rooting for Rani, the woman at the center of the film, and for the underdog story underlying the casting: once an also-ran, Kangana Ranaut has left Bollywood’s queens in her wake.

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26 Responses to “Qalandar on QUEEN (Hindi; 2014)”

  1. It’s heartening to see kangana getting her due with films being centred around her be it this 1 or the revolver something rani?
    From gangster to fashion to even krrish3, neither her poor English diction nor her lack of dancing/PR skills came in the way of exposing her true ability/potential. Same on her personal front as well -she seems to be living on her terms.
    Personally I find her more malleable/versatile than even the gr8 vidya balan.
    Ps: disagree about gangs of wasseypur though.
    That was a class of its own imo -others seem ‘pretenders’ in comparison–unsure if even kashyap himself can ever repeat that.

  2. Rajenmaniar Says:

    Ace review!
    Love the last paragraph.

  3. ideaunique Says:

    KR is a dark horse in this game and she is delivering fine performances one after another…….

  4. sanjana Says:

    This girl Kangana always acts well. Yet she is stuck in the second rung. She needs a big blockbuster to go forward.

  5. tonymontana Says:

    Nicely summed up Qalandar.

    Queen is a profoundly entertaining film with one of the finest performances by a lead hindi film heroine in recent times. Kangana is a delight! This film deserves repeated viewings.

  6. watch the film last night here in manchester,9.00 p.m. show and shockingly we were about 25 people watching it on screen 12,anyways it could be that its sunday and here in western country 80% people work hard to earn their living,

    coming to film,Queen was absolutely outstanding film,rani of rajori was simply superb and the guy who layed vijay was vice-versa,
    vijyalaxmi from france was good and so were those 3 foreiners in hostel in amsterdam,taka the japanese kid ,lol although he looked proper man,it was funny in some parts but have to critisice in some parts like playing “bollywood songs” in some bar as it was not actually asian party,how ridiculas is that..wonder why vijay rejected her in the first place where he is wondering to look for her and running around from “paris to amsterdam” god knows.

    the italian chef part was funny where there is no spice in italian food do why indian make their food with spice all the time and coming gol-gappas never in my life that their is a huge sucess in amsterdam and being picy all these goras finding it amusing.

    overall inbetween the film was a breath of fresh-air…just about 2 hour film it was no drag in the film and finally will not reveal the ending as what happened between rani of rajori and vijay from London

    I just loved the film and all credit goes to rani of rajori..

    my ratings for this film is 4* it is worth watching

  7. What a wonderful review Q! I agree with almost everything, especially about Rani simply being non-judgemental, the film’s ‘cheap liberalism’ (although I would call it trite liberalism) and the jingoism involved the cooking competition. However my overall opinion of the film is harsher than yours:

    http://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/bewakoofiyaan-the-rest-of-the-box-office/#comment-244445

  8. Hearing good things about it so wanted to watch queen but not showing near me. Isn’t it an English vinglish with a younger lead & plus ‘coming of age’ issues (sic)?

    Btw Thanx Amy for your concise ‘bite-sized’ nugget on queen–something that even I can put my head around (to read)…
    Anyhow as of now -prefer ‘pataka guddi’ instead..

    • Yawn, yet another pointlessly jingoistic, poorly informed article (not to mention the irony of explaining why we should not mimic the West by wrongly heralding the West as a model to follow!)

      “The difference with India lies in the pride with which working-class British and American accents are retained by their speakers, as the delinking of accent from access to opportunity”

      This is the same Britain where students from expensive private schools are vastly overrepresented at the best universities, where the government is run by a bunch of ‘old boys’ from the most exclusive, upper-class boarding school, where agricultural land is still concentrated amongst the aristocracy and where class inequality is currently increasing, not decreasing? The same UK which was declared the most unequal country in the West by the UN? LOL, give me a break!

      Not to mention that Britain and the USA are developed countries, whereas India still has an enormous population of poor people for whom the economic incentives and opportunities offered by English are likely to me far more powerful than some idyllic notion of ‘working class pride’. As long as the working class suffers from lack of proper housing, basic sanitation and clean drinking water, they is likely to be little ‘working class pride’, and this is due to far more powerful factors than unfashionable accents.

      “In India, unfortunately, where the aspiration for English-medium education spirals unrelentingly upwards, ”

      Yes, how deeply unfortunate that Indians want to learn a language that could elevate them from poverty and open up powerful earning opportunities for them, a language that has given us a competitive advantage in the international services economy, and which citizens other developing countries such as China are now trying their best to learn!

      • English language is not a fashion statement or luxury but it has become a necessity as the window to learn, to opportunities and other practical reasons. It gives empowerment. Otherwise the politicians of India would have made mincemeat of one section of society in the name of social justice. And some of these selfish politicians made efforts to deny it to the poor in the name of patriotism and love for the country while they sent their own kids to american universities and the best church run schools in India.

      • >The same UK which was declared the most unequal country in the West by the UN?

        I was surprisd to see Australia tying for the same position along with UK.

  9. Some good original points by Amy & sanju there..
    Btw there’s been a sudden deluge of orgasmic comments on kangana …

    A fanmail from a female fan to kangana

    http://www.bollywoodlife.com/news-gossip/kangana-ranauts-queen-performance-receives-a-fan-mail/
    I haven’t seen queen so I don’t know if kangs has actually done all that she’s being alleged to have achieved by some malvika

    Read bits of this interview… Honest stuff
    http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/screen/screen-exclusive-kangana-ranaut-makes-some-candid-confessions/

  10. Another ‘queen’ orgasmathon…

    The ‘Queen’ in me: shazia Iqbal

    http://moifightclub.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/the-queen-in-me/

    Nowadays it’s becoming difficult to not encounter an orgasmic celebratory piece on ‘queen’ (& Kangana)
    Posted a link above by mallika & here’s another one by shazia–worth a read (sfor those who can read-unlike me!)
    Endearing pieces really– the film seems to have struck a rare ‘chord’.

    Haven’t seen the film or read the pieces properly- but sound really well written, with honesty

    Hope the likes of Amy, oldgold, Sally (salim) & Ann share with us their ‘European’ mis/adventures & experiences just like mallika & shazia have done ( like ‘queen’)

    Ps: @ utkal uncle– just read your ace piece on queen briefly. Unfortunately it’s been ‘snowed under’ & couldn’t been comment there–typically that thread itself had been ‘closed’( for some unknown reasons lol)
    But let me applaud u utkal sir for ‘educating’ mere learners like me cheers

  11. This is an excellent piece Qalandar in every respect. I checked this out recently. I didn’t mind it, I certainly don’t disagree with your characterizations here in any sense but somehow I seem to have developed too great a resistance to ‘Bollywood’ in most ways to be truly able to enjoy something like this film.

  12. jayshah Says:

    Checked this out and thought it was a nice film. Kangana was fine but let’s just say I found her character too naïve. Who walks into a sex shop and doesn’t know

    • LOL! I actually do know girls who are that naive, so I don’t think it’s unbelievable. What I did find unrealistic was her choice of college degree (home science); I’ve never even heard of this subject before, despite growing up in India!

      • jayshah Says:

        Well the surprising thing was when they walked out of the store, the signs were in big flashy lighting! And you got to be pretty naive to put a hat (with boobs) on, pick up a vibrator and some leather straps and not cotton on in the slightest where you are!
        I guess it did bring out some laughs…

        • sanjana Says:

          Interesting and funny. I think these types of experiences happen. Like drinking water from finger bowl thinking it is lemon juice! Some vegetarians inadvertently eating non veg foods served in flights and then becoming furious after someone points it out to them.

      • Even I didn’t know. But my wife says it is a common degree for girls who want to be housewives but want qualification that they are not seen as illiterates. They do mostly cooking, embroidery as part of curriculum….

        http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-educationplus/home-science-provides-many-career-opportunities/article3540591.ece

        • oldgold Says:

          I knew a girl (I was a girl then) who was doing home science and it is not as easy as one thinks.
          They have to learn cooking yes, but in that there are other branches like food for sick people (at home ).

          In laundry they had to learn how to remove different kinds of stains.
          And several other things.
          It is really silly that people think these are not smart things to know. They won’t laugh at some one doing a useless thing like modelling or doing a course in some beauty parlour shenanigans.

          • I agree that these are important things to know, but more as basic life skills for both men and women. I don’t really think you need a degree to learn how to do laundry! On the other hand, I do think that degrees like nutrition science/ child education etc (somewhat related to this subject) are very useful. And of course training in things like hospitality management/ gourmet cookery can lead to good careers, if studied at the right institutes.

            Who does degrees in modelling and beauty parlour shenanigans? :P There are probably short courses and diplomas available, but I don’t think that a full-time degree in such a subject is respected either.

  13. oldgold,
    what you think of the election and are you voting,as this forum is gone very quite,maybe they all are election Pre-Plan

    • Very tense. Some foul play, like the machine jamming every time one voted for AAP in Ernakulum is depressing. I wonder how many votes AAP lost. Then voting was stopped for 2 hours.

      Abdullah getting tricky in J&K. AAP has complained.

      In Delhi Chandini Chowk there are 3 Ashutoshes (including AAP’s Ashutosh). And their symbols are a shuttlecock (shaped like a jhaddoo, and could confuse), and a torch with light rays coming out like a jhadoo.
      These things can’t be proved or complained about, but come on. It’s clear that this is just to confuse voters, and who else can be behind these tricks bit interestd parties.

      I don’t know how one will manage ones nerves till May 16th (and for me 17th since I’ll be away and without net etc).

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