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Maharani: Rabri Devi’s Saga Gets An Outrageous But Interesting Spin



Maharani(SonyLIV, 10 Episodes)

Starring  Huma Qureshi,  Sohum Shah, Amit Sial, Kani Kusruti and Inaamulhaq

Directed  by Karan Sharma

Rating: ***

 If a genuine exploration  of  the Rabri Devi phenomenon  in  Bihar’s tangled  politics is what you are looking for , then Maharani is not your poison. If, however,  you  are  sold on a wildly  implausible  spin on  Rabri Devi’s  journey from  Mrs Lalu Yadav to Chief Minister of Bihar  ,this  web-series,  done up in  dollops of devilishly pickled dialogues and bursts of  humour in  a dark uniform, is strongly recommended.

Writer Subhash  Kapoor  seems very interested in powerful North Indian female politicians. His self-directed feature film  Madame  CM  was  based on Mayawati’s ascension to the UP throne.In Maharani which Kapoor has written, he dives into Rabri Devi’s  bizarre  political escapade  and  comes up with a twin-sister named Rani Bharti who  goes through the  same journey as Rabri Devi but via a different route.

Rani takes  her  husband Bheema  Bharti’s place as  Bihar’s  CM after he’s wounded in  a bullet attack. From this  point in the political history of Bihar, the narrative acquires  a life  of its own. The script  ferrets out  a drama that is  sometimes bracing, at other  times way over-the-top .But finally  it all holds together, thanks  mainly to the clever writing  and  some wolfish  performances from actors who know how yo milk mirth and irony out  of the comic melodrama that is  Indian politics.

At  one  point in the narration a senior police officer is  trapped in a roadside dhaba   by  a militant  leader. When the  cop quickly dials a seedy politician  to save him and his  team,the politician begins bargaining over the  amount  for each life spared. Such an incident  though blown out of proportion is  not unknown.

Huma Qureshi’s transformation from Leila in Deepa Mehta’s  Leila searching for her lost daughter , to Rani the politician’s wife who searches for her own  identity, is  admirable. Here Huma creates a  woman who is  at once street-wise  and parliament-foolish but possesses  the moral wherewithal to tell  right from wrong. The way she stands up against her  husband  in  the dismissal   of  Prem Kumar,  the  Minister in-charge  of  the  fodder resources, would get  taalis  in  the  movie theatre.If only wishes were  horses, then Rabri Devi would  be  Margaret Thatcher.

‘Fodder’  record, the real Lalu Yadav  was convicted  in  the  950 crore scam. In this  a thrill-stamped cleaned-out sweeping  drama, all the guilt is shifted to the Minister while Rani Bharati  runs  an expose that transforms her into  a neo-Joan Of Arc, a woman who  cares deeply for the truth. Alas we can’t say the same  for the makers  of this series who have  spun a  fabulously fake  drama ,transforming a rubberstamp  wife  to  a self-willed righteous  crusader-political.

 The  dishonesty doesn’t make Maharani  any less interesting. Ms Qureshi makes sure she  elevates her  character into some  kind of  a feminist  firebrand  without  rendering Rani  unbelievably noble. The woman in Rani  Bharati  surfaces   in her scenes with her convalescing husband. Sohum Shah  as  Rani’s  Lalu-inspired  husband is restrained dignified and  effective. Can’t say the same  about the real Lalu.

The ever-dependable Amit Sial as  Bheema Bharti’s political  opponent hits the right notes , as does Pramod Pathak as Mishra, Bheema Bharti’s  trusted right-hand man in a  politics where the  right hand  doesn’t know  what the left is   doing.My favourite  supporting character is Kaveri, a south Indian civil servant  assigned as  adviser to the  untutored Rani.

The  bond that grows  surreptitiously between  the two women is  delightful.At one  point when Rani is called a  ‘technical CM’ by a  cabinet minister  she  turns to  Kaveri  to ask what  that means. When  Kaveri explains, Rani  calls the  minister a ‘bhadwa’.  She then proceeds  to explain to  Kaveri what the means.

 The rippling  writing is  intended  to  pull  in  the crowds  and it succeeds  to a point, except when  the quest for  audience  approval takes the narrative  way  over the  top. For example  Rani’s swearing-in  ceremony is  so overdone,  it made me swear.  The brutal  carnage   of an entire   village  by a militant outfit  that opens Episode 4,could have been less gratuitous and  graphic and the bursts  of verbal  crudity  could have been avoided.

At one point a cheesy politician, played with hammy  enthusiasm by Vineet Kumar follows  a lady into the bedroom telling his  guest, “I will just be back after ….  her,” and he uses the  crude  word for  sexual intercourse.

Many feel that’s what the  architects  of  the  fodder scam  did to Bihar and they don’t  deserve a whitewashed  webseries. But  then,  if the series is as  engaging as Maharani   who are we to complain ?

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