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Mar 11, 2014 at 12:55pm IST

'Queen' review: Rare, disarming film that has you smiling throughout

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkumar Rao

Director: Vikas Bahl

There's a moment towards the end of Queen when our heroine Rani (Kangana Ranaut) sways on the edge of slipping back into her old life. She hesitates, the moment passes, and you feel Rani's sheer sense of liberation as she turns her back on a selfish man.

'Queen' review: Rare, disarming film that has you smiling throughout

It's a raw, nuanced, delicately comical performance by Kangana, and Bahl rightfully builds his film around his fearless, quirky heroine.

It's been a journey of self-discovery, across oceans and continents for this Rajouri Garden girl, but Rani finally chooses herself. It is a sweet victory and you feel richer for the choice she makes because Queen is that rare, disarming film that has you smiling throughout.

In its very opening scene, we listen in to the unfiltered internal chatter of excited bride-to-be Rani, even as a quartet of elderly grannies rehearse their steps to a popular dance number while wedding preparations continue around them. Rani and her simple mithaiwala family are deliriously happy during the mehendi ceremony, yet even before her henna can darken, the arrogant groom calls off the wedding. "It's better this way," the London-returned Vijay (Rajkumar Rao) tells his disbelieving fiancée. He's that brash wannabe who's suddenly discovered that he's bored at the idea of marrying a girl who just doesn't match up to him. In that one scene set in a coffee shop, director Vikas Bahl conveys volumes. Rani is shattered, while Vijay mutters to her to stop making a scene, then puts on his shades to shut himself out.

Bahl captures the pain and the concern that Rani's family feels for her, but the film doesn't linger on the gloomy mood. With a strange resolve, Rani decides to go on her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam on her own. The tickets are booked and she needs to escape the crushing rejection. At first, she faces a series of typical touristy misadventures, including almost getting mugged. Yet slowly, dealing with a world far different from her own and making unlikely friends, Rani regains her confidence. Bahl is making a case here for opening up your mind - nothing is the end of the world if you just try to step out of your problems.

The hiccups in the film though are that it's often predictable and sometimes trite, especially when you learn that Rani's new Japanese friend Taka lost his parents in the tsunami, or when a Pakistani stripper in Amsterdam reveals that she has taken up the profession to help her ammi and her siblings. Even a cooking challenge involving a gol gappa stall at a Dutch promenade comes off as contrived.

Yet these are passing clouds in this sunshine film. You burst out laughing as Rani innocently buys souvenirs at a sex shop, or when she narrates Santa-Banta "non-veg" jokes to foreigners. Amit Trivedi's music lends a joyful third dimension to this narrative, but the sparkling humor comes from the dialogues, which leading lady Kangana is herself credited with co-writing.

Refreshingly real, the conversations lead you right into the heart and the purpose of the film. Like that identifiable scene when Rani visits her aunt in Paris. Typically the family shows off their 'firang' side: uncle relaxing in his massage chair, aunt and grandma speaking broken French, even as they indulge in a pity party over Rani getting jilted at her wedding.

The film benefits as much from its strong casting. It's hard to find fault with the actors who land even smaller parts, like the flirtatious Italian restaurateur or Rani's awkward younger brother. Lisa Haydon is a complete revelation in the role of Rani's bohemian Parisian pal, investing the character with both sultriness and genuine affection. Rajkummar Rao yet again slips into the skin of his part. He plays an egotistical jerk with the right touch of believability, even showing bursts of self-doubt.

Ultimately, it's Kangana Ranaut who makes you root for Rani from the word go. The best way to describe her fabulous performance is by confessing that I forgot I was watching Kangana. It's a raw, nuanced, delicately comical performance, and Bahl rightfully builds his film around his fearless, quirky heroine.

I'm going with four out of five for Queen. It' an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, and Rani stays in your heart.

Rating: 4 / 5

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