It is a risky undertaking to make an entirely character driven film and doubly so when the character is female. No matter how well the character has been etched, the scenes have been staged, or the attention to detail in production design, or the cinematography, or the lighting, or the background music, or the dialogues, or the locations – all of them matter to nothing if the actor essaying this central character hits one false note in his/her performance. So it is of utmost importance that this actor completely “gets” the character and makes the audience root for him/her from the “censor board certificate” to “the end”. If the audience continues to cheer for this character even beyond the “the end”, then the actor has managed to pour life into the character which extends beyond the time we spend with him/her in the cinemas. By saying this I am not discounting other film-making departments, but emphasizing the importance that when the film’s core is a character and not its plot, then a large amount of heavy-lifting is invariably done by the actor playing this character. Examples in the recent past of a plot-driven and a character-driven movie are: “Kahaani” and “English-Vinglish“, respectively. In the former, Vidya Balan‘s role could have been played by another competent actor and we would have enjoyed the movie equally, since the hook is the mystery of her missing husband and the whodunit aspect of it. However, in English Vinglish, Sridevi’s Shashi is not in any kind of danger or trying to uncover any dark mysteries, it’s merely a journey of self discovery of an insecure person – there is no edge of the seat-ness to her quest. The success of that movie, hence, lies largely on the actor who plays Shashi.
Vikas Bahl’s “Queen” is on similar lines – a journey of self-discovery of a girl – Rani Mehra of Rajouri – played by Kangana Ranaut. The movie is essentially plot-less, and relies entirely on us rooting for Rani in whatever happens to her. She is in almost every single frame of the movie : right from the opening sequence where she is beaming and smiling ear-to-ear because she is getting married (which seems like the only dream she has had until then) to the last frame of the movie where she is still beaming and smiling ear to ear, but for an entirely different reason. Everything that happens to her in the middle of these two scenes, we go with her with the flow of events, because of Kangana’s daring and carefully calibrated performance. After having witnessed her journey, I can confidently say, I can think of no other actor playing this character other than Kangana. I was unable to tell if I was falling for the actor Kangana or the character Rani.
There are numerous occasions in the movie where a lesser actor would have hammed away: there is a scene where Rani is drunk and is dancing on the sidewalk to a song (from the nightclub she was at prior to this scene) which is playing only in her head. She is trying to get the attention of a taxi-driver who is standing by his taxi and is busy (or is pretending to be busy) with his smart-phone. She has no dialogues and continues to perform some awkward contortions to get the cabby’s attention who probably encounters many such drunks in his profession and hence continues to ignore her presence. It is silent acting of the highest caliber. What follows after this scene is a montage of scenes where Rani is spilling her guts out about her broken marriage, her upbringing, and the predicament she is in in front of random Parisians and her new-found friend Vijaylaxmi ( A drop-dead gorgeous Lisa Haydon with a French accent and a pair of lithe, endless legs). Her performance here should be shown in acting schools on how to do drunk scenes. We laugh with her and we empathize with her. Never for once does her performance make us laugh at her. Kangana’s raw and infectious honesty in the portrayal of Rani makes Rani a flesh and blood person. I forgot its a performance.
I had not seen any of Kangana’s movies in their entirety save for Tanu Weds Manu, which had its moments but the movie as a whole was quite a muddled affair. Kangana’s performance of Tanu was too affected and too self-conscious in my opinion. I am not sure if it was the director’s ask or her interpretation of Tanu, but I had a hard time believing in her Tanu. In this movie too, there is a scene where she is drunk/high and her performance is off-key. To me, one of the joys of movies is observing actors grow in their craft, just as we non-actors season in whatever we do with time and experience. I must say Kangana has shown a remarkable growth from Tanu to Rani/Queen. It might be a bit presumptive of me to say that this is one of the top 10 performances in character-driven Indian movies that I have seen. I will reserve that judgment until I have watched Queen a few more times over the next few years, to see if her act ages well with time. At the moment, I am basking in the joy of having known Rani from Rajouri.