The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, a 2019 period film on the 1857 Indian rebellion against the British East India Company, is at AFM for buyers’ screening at the AFM on Demand platform. The film was co-written, produced and directed by Swati Bhise through her production company, Cayenne Pepper Productions. Devika Bhise, who also co-wrote the script, plays the lead role of Rani Lakshmibai. Pure Filx/Quality Film is the sales agent of the film.
The film is a historical story of the Rani of Jhansi, a feminist icon in India and a fearless freedom fighter. She earned a reputation as the Joan of Arc of the East when in 1857 India, as a 24-year old general, she led her people into battle against the British Empire. Her insurrection shifted the balance of power in the region and set in motion the demise of the British East India Company and the beginning of the resistance against the ensuing British Raj under Queen Victoria.
“Just 25, Laxmibai trained a regiment to protect the kingdom of Jhansi from annexation by the powerful British East India Company. Her bravery and convention-flouting spirit are undeniably inspirational,” says The New York Times in its review of the film.
Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi, Ben Lamb, Jodhi May and Hindi actors Yatin Karyekar, Milind Gunaji, Ajinkya Deo and Arif Zakaria are part of the movie’s cast.
“The film is the directorial debut of Swati Bhise, a Mumbai-born, New York-based dancer and choreographer. Her principal collaborator is her daughter, Devika Bhise, who helped mom and Olivia Emden write the script and who plays the rani (or queen). The younger woman even directed the last few days of shooting after her mother was hospitalized with pneumonia,” says The Washington Post in its review.
It adds: “The Bhises surrounded themselves with pros, including actors Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi and Jodhi May, as well as an experienced production team. The result is a film with striking locations and sumptuous visuals.”
Swati Bhise, who served as the executive producer and Indian cultural consultant for The Man Who Knew Infinity, which was on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, explains what mad her to make the movie on Rani Lakshmi Bai.
“After Ramanujan, I wanted to make a film on Rani Lakshmi Bai, primarily to have the world witness her story. I hope everyone realises that we need to make an effort and take our stories outside of their domestic boundaries. The West is not really dying to hear any of our stories, there’s a lot of resistance. They will say that Rani Lakshmi Bai is a myth, they’ll say she didn’t exist…or they will say that a film on her story is not really up to Hollywood standards, because you don’t have a budget of 100 million,” she says in an interview to First Post.
“Even some Indians will resist and question the need to take her story to Hollywood. I just tried to make a film about an amazing Indian woman and make everyone understand that she deserves to be a role model for every woman; irrespective of whether they are Indian or not. I hope more stories like this get out of India so Hollywood begins to pay attention to positive and affirmative stories about Indian characters instead of continuing to build an endless list of negative and stereotypical ones,” she adds.
The film was shot in 2017 in India and Morocco, with a small portion set in the UK. Recreating a bygone era was a challenge since Bhise wanted authenticity. That meant minimal make-up for the queen and silks in the Paithani, Kota and Chanderi weaves for the costumes, which Bhise created with Vidhi Singhania.
A combination of real locations and sets were used. Shoot happened in the palaces and forts of Jaipur and Jodhpur as well as Ouarzazate in Morocco, home to the Atlas Studios, where many Hollywood period productions were shot. Post-production was completed in 2018.
With this film, Bhise has made Rani Lakshmi Bai a global feminist icon and tells her story through an authentic, non-exotic narrative.