Maharani(SonyLIV, 10 Episodes)
Starring Huma Qureshi, Sohum Shah, Amit Sial, Kani Kusruti and Inaamulhaq
Directed by Karan Sharma
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 to 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?