PALS: Kangna Ranaut and Lisa Haydon in Queen. Pictures:

DIRECTOR: Vikas Bahl
CAST: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkumar Rao
RATING: ****


YOU can enjoy a movie even more if it has an unpredictable element to the plot. Thankfully, a number of storytellers in Bollywood are aiming to surprise, shock and charm you with attention-grabbing yarns you haven’t witnessed before on the Hindi screen. Some get it right, some don’t, but what needs to be lauded is the effort to break the mould.

Vikas Bahl’s Queen also dares to push the envelope. The promos bring back memories of Tanu Weds Manu, partly because the protagonist (Rani) seems like a distant cousin of Tanu.

But let’s get one thing clear: the presence of Kangna Ranaut and the North India setting apart, there’s no commonality between the two. However, one can draw parallels with English Vinglish, since Shashi in English Vinglish and Rani in Queen are vulnerable and low on self-esteem, but eventually find their own voices once they venture out on their own.

Queen is about a shy girl who travels to Paris and Amsterdam for her honeymoon all alone after her beau calls off the wedding at the last minute. A quirky concept, yes. But this coming-of-age story is enjoyable, despite the hiccups.

Rani (Kangna Ranaut) hails from a Punjabi family in Delhi. She has led a sheltered life, having been surrounded by her over-protective parents, doting grandmother and younger brother Chintu.

She is introduced to Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), who woos her relentlessly. Eventually, Rani gives in to Vijay’s charms and they get engaged. Vijay is posted in London, but when he returns to Delhi for the wedding, he’s a changed man and calls off the wedding at the 11th hour.

Rani is heartbroken, her family shattered. Rani resolves to take charge of her life and goes on her honeymoon to Europe. By herself.

Queen starts as yet another attempt to encapsulate the middle class Punjabi set-up, replete with song-and-dance spectacle prior to the wedding, but quickly changes lanes as Rani sets out for Paris. Steering away from the conservative route of the woman wallowing in self-pity, Vikas Bahl tells Rani’s story with insight and understanding and along with his team of writers injects loads of optimism to portray Rani’s emotional journey.

What really works is the way Vikas presents Rani, his lead character. Rani (in her 20s) is stuck somewhere between tradition and modernity, but has a mind of her own.

Her experiences outside the comfort zone (on foreign land), the interaction with the people she encounters in Paris first and Amsterdam later, the atmospherics, the writers unfurl a tale that’s utterly believable, besides creating a colourful canvas that brims with characters who are not cardboard cut-outs. Sure, a couple of episodes may seem quirky, but gel wonderfully in the scheme of things.

Having said that, Queen isn’t fool-proof either. The story stagnates in the second half. Besides, there are too many songs, especially in the first hour. As a result, the film feels indulgent at times.

Thankfully, it gets back on track towards the closing stages, when Rani meets Vijay in Delhi. The final act is indeed brilliant! There seems to be an overdose of songs here. London Thumakda, Hungama and O Gujariya are effervescent compositions, while a couple of tracks only add to the run time.

The director of photography (Bobby Singh; additional cinematography: Siddharth Diwan) captures the sights and sounds of Paris and Amsterdam wonderfully. It’s hard to take your eyes off Kangna, who captures the nuances of her character. She’s simply outstanding. The earnestness and sincerity she invests in her performance is for all to see.

Additionally, the deglammed look and the attire make it so believable. It won’t be erroneous to say she turns Rani into the most real woman you’ve encountered on the Hindi screen lately.

Rajkummar Rao sparkles in a role not many actors would’ve dared to take up, while Lisa Haydon is delightful and supremely confident, complementing Kangna.

Mish Boyko (as Olik), Jeffrey Ho (as Taka), Guitobh Joseph (as Tim) and Marco Canadea (as Marcello) contribute wonderfully to their respective parts.

On the whole, Queen reinvents the genre with its non-formulaic screenplay and skilled direction. A charming little film, this one’s made with heart and feeling and it shows.