That Rani (Huma Qureshi) is a feisty wife is established in Chief Minister Bheema Bharti’s very first scene with her on Chhat Puja. Just thinking of a special saree for her brings a smile to his face while she refuses to open the door and let him in. He loves Patna where the political action is, where he sits on the CM’s seat. She’s made it clear that she can’t stand the city and won’t step into Patna.
Showrunner Subhash Kapoor likes ballsy women with a mind of their own even when he places them under a ghunghat. Veil withstanding, Rani raises her kids amidst cows and stud bulls in the village, and throws a tantrum when doting Bheema (Sohum Shah) visits them only on Chhat Puja.
Although Maharani is directed by Karan Sharma, it’s Kapoor who gets top billing as creator and writer, his stamp evident all over. The same Subhash Kapoor who had Akshay Kumar happily make a daily meal for Huma in the 2017 film Jolly LLB 2 where they played a compatible married couple.
The warmth of husband-wife compatibility despite contrasting preferences is continued between Rani and Bheema.
Last year, Subhash Kapoor played with and fictionalised Mayawati’s story in Madam Chief Minister. This time it’s the Rabri Devi episode that Bihar lived through which provides the trigger as Rani the illiterate is catapulted into the CM’s chair by her husband who has been shot at and has to abdicate for a while.
It’s an intriguing premise to build on. A rural wife who doesn’t know a shauchalaya from the sachivalaya but has to govern a state plus the favourite arc of the feminist where the ingenue begins to take independent strides. It is these two basic pillars that hold up the series. But if only a little more sweat had been put into the unveiling of Rani’s true worth, it would have added credibility to the process. A CM as wily as Bheema and a loyalist as politically-wise as Mishra (Pramod Pathak) may have thrown Rani into the deep end but to do so without even a dry run on her oath-taking ceremony or her place in the Legislative Assembly are such obvious and prolonged attempts at humour that it’s clumsy and childish.
Wit prised out credibly better-written situations would have been so much more appreciated.
A similar streak of slapdash silliness is evident in the manner the Finance Secretary goes about like a sleuth to unravel the multi-crore scam that Rani wants to unearth.
There are inconsistencies too in Rani’s character, like her accent that appears and re-appears at will, which should’ve been handled with more care by the director.
We’re also a little tired of ashrams with powerful saffron-robed babas who control the political narrative. We’ve just had Prakash Jha and Habib Faisal create an entire series called Ashram on MX Player, so give us a break from that thread, please.
Despite the avoidables, Maharani keeps going as the Rabri Devi dilemma gets mixed with other realities of Bihar – like the floods, the bloody caste-based massacres and politics, and the messiahs who mushroom as Robin Hoods for the downtrodden but kill for their cause. All this and the perennial bid for the throne by rival Navin Kumar (Amit Sial), juxtaposed with the changing Rani-Bheema chemistry, keep Maharani alive.
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Give it to Huma for a well-handled bovine-and-bold Rani. Sohum, Amit and Pramod give her pillar-like support. And Mukesh Chhabra’s casting is spot on whether it’s Kannan Arunachalam (as the DGP), Harish Khanna (as Shankar Mahto (the gun-toting messiah), Atul Tiwari (as the Governor), Kani Kusruti (as OSD Kaveri) or Inaam Ul Haq (as the Finance Secretary).
It is a beginning for women in politics. Hopefully, more polish will come along in the writing to make them even more wholesome and credible.