Early in Queen, Mrs. Dhingra when meeting Rani for the first time says to her, "Haaye kitni sweet hai." And then she says to her son, Vijay, "Tu mithai kha, hum gol gappe khate hai." Later, when the Italian restaurateur compliments her for making sumptuous gol gappas, he says, "Spicy but delicious." That was the entire purpose of the movie Queen — the transformation of Rani from being 'sweet' to 'spicy but delicious.' Again, it is no coincidence that both the scenes had a gol gappa reference. It is these wonderful details that make Queen a terrific film. It also helps that Kangana Ranaut who plays Rani gives one of her career best performances in the film. She is perfect as Queen and brings her own interpretation to Rani. Perhaps that explains why she was credited with additional dialogue in the opening credits.
Queen is the story of Rani — a middle class girl who is about to get married in a day — and she is jilted by her fiancé one day before their wedding. Heartbroken, she decides to go on her honeymoon all alone to Paris and Amsterdam. It is there when is she on her own for the first time in her life, she comes of age and learns to let go of her past and live her life. She makes friends who bring a change in her. She realizes that love is not the only thing in life and that she deserves much better. Queen is her journey towards empowerment and emancipation. It is one of the finest coming of age films that I have seen since Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and English Vinglish. What makes Queen a much different film from the typical coming of age films is that Rani does not require love to find herself. Aditya in Jab We Met found his passion for music through Geet. Rahul in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu needed Rianna to tell him that it is a great quality to be 'perfectly average.' Sid in Wake Up Sid needed Aisha to wake him up from his immature slumber. Arjun in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara needed Laila to slow him down and help him visualize that a parallel universe exists not only physically underneath the ocean but also metaphorically where people see the stars at night. In Queen, Rani finds life on her own — through observation, through courage, through experience, through guts — without losing her original charm and she has friends who help her do that. Love is not a necessary ingredient for her to find life. That's what makes Queen different. There are other coming of age films where someone finds life not through love. But they are few that I can recollect. Lakshya and Udaan seem to be on the top of that list.
One of the criticisms for English Vinglish was that it was not really a story of female empowerment as Shashi was already an empowered individual. She was an entrepreneur who made delicious laddoos. Just that she did not know English, she felt disrespected and powerless. A lot of people had said that she should have stood up to the conceit of her husband and her daughter. But Queen is truly a brilliant statement on women empowerment. In of the film's excellent scenes, we see that Rani's friend Sonal is walking on a treadmill and she says to her, "Tu Amsterdam ghoom teen laundon ke saath aur hum potty dhote hain yahan." That scene in some way was pointing to what could have been Rani's life if she had got married to Vijay. Being the male chauvinist that Vijay was, who had said to her that he did not want Rani to work after their wedding, it was very clear that Rani would end up with the same fate as her friend Sonal — having not even a few minutes to talk to your friend, not even having the time to go the gym and washing your kid's poo all day. There are women who would love to do that but it should be their choice not their husband's. That is the story of every girl as another scene showed. Rani got 80% marks in her Class 12th exams and she wanted to manage the accounts of her uncle's business. She said that her father said to ask Vijay if he wanted her to work after their wedding. Vijay asks her what her father wants. She has to work and who gets to make the decision — her father or her husband. In another brilliant scene, Rani talks about how girls are not even allowed to burp openly. Beneath the veneer of the scene's jocularity was a stark statement on the social mores that a girl is expected to follow. In another great scene, Rani drives the car all by herself without the constant jibes of anyone. These and the fact that the entire film is driven by one heroine prove that Queen was also a comment on the changing dynamics of a woman's position in our society.
Not only female empowerment, Queen is a much more nuanced and complex film. In one of the film's another brilliant scene, Rani in her drunken stupor makes a profound statement. "Mera haal na Gupta Uncle ke jaisa ho gaya hai. Gupta Uncle ko na cancer ho gaya hai, unhone kabhi sharab nahi pi, cigarette nahi pi, phir bhi cancer ho gaya. Isse accha to pi lete. Apni mummy daddy ki har baat maani hai maine, teachers ki har baat maani hai maine, kabhi exam me cheating nahi ki, kabhi jhooth nahi bola, tu jiska naam lo uski har baat mani hai maine." There is a very famous quote that says — If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you're fooling yourself. That's like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn't eat him. Just because Rani has been an obedient girl all her life, it does not mean that life would be obedient to her. Because as they say, "Shit happens." So why not instead live life fully without worrying about the consequences or blaming your misfortunes on life, and simply move on.
There is another insightful point that Jai Arjun Singh makes about Queen. He says here that: Perhaps part of the point – a point running through the story – is that appearances are deceptive and that everyone contains multitudes. A trio of men sniggering together at a girl who is unknowingly examining a dildo can simply be having harmless fun. The sweet-looking boy who shows up on a scooter with dozens of red balloons for his girlfriend could become a domineering, iron-fisted husband. A jovial grandmother might casually, after decades, recall an old boyfriend from whom she was separated by Partition. A hooker who displays herself in a window in red-light Amsterdam might speak in refined Urdu outside her working hours. And a “simple” West Delhi girl who was in love with the idea of being married might return from a foreign trip and happily flaunt her “single” status on Facebook. The more I think about it, the more what Jai Arjun says seems to be true. This holds true for other people as well. Taka, her Japanese friend, who behaves like a child but deep inside he is compensating for the parental love that he used to get from his mother and father who died in the tsunami. Vijaylakshmi, at first she is the sultry waitress who has sex with strangers, but later we find that she is also a loving mom who calls her son 'jaan' and she is as thrilled by watching the Eiffel Tower as is Rani.
Vikas Bahl brings many such layered nuances and vignettes to Queen. When Rani checks in at the hotel in Paris, her reservation is under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Dhingra. In Amsterdam, when she checks in at the hostel, her reservation is under her name. When she moves her luggage to her room in Paris, she is struggling to do so but when she takes the train to Amsterdam, she carries a backpack effortlessly. Both of these in a way a point to her metamorphosis to an independent girl with her own identity and who does not require her boyfriend or her father to hold her hand to cross the road. In the song Badra Bahar, she runs away from the Eiffel Tower and she could not escape it. Wherever she goes, she finds something or the other related to Eiffel Tower — the souvenirs, the road signs, the shadows on car — it creeps out like a monster. The more she tries to escape it, the more it follows her. She had wanted to visit the Eiffel with Vijay, and it reminded her of him. Later, she makes it a point to go to see the Eiffel with another Vijay (Vijaylakshmi) as if she has been able to confront her fears head on. She is not afraid of it anymore and rather than seeing it through the prism of her past, she takes it as an opportunity to get enthralled by the tower's spectacular beauty.
When Vijay breaks up with Rani, it happens in a Cafe Coffee Day and the director shows us its tagline 'a lot can happen over coffee' as if making a statement that a lot did happen over coffee. In that excellent scene, Vijay breaks up with Rani, and we see that he clears the mehendi particles from the table that had fallen from Rani's pleading hands, giving us an indication of his haughty character. Such a fine attention to characterization accentuated the film's beauty. At another point, we get to know that the only thing he knows to cook is the instant maggi. He tries to woo her by offering her ice cream, and cold drink but eventually she agrees for the more simmered and hot sweet corn soup, bringing out the contrast in both of them by the choices of the food they prefer. Vijay was truly a male chauvinist pig. He asks her to make a tattoo of his name, but when she asks him to do the same, he makes some cheesy patronizing statement. She prefers Paris — the city of love, and he prefers Amsterdam — the city of sins.
The West Delhi middle class life has become another genre in itself. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Band Baaja Baaraat, and Do Dooni Chaar also did this excellently. So, in Queen, we see bottles of Roohafza, a cooler with khas, and Amul butter in Rani's house. There is an inverter as a back up for electricity. The bank teller sits in a cubicle that has iron grillings. The family has a Maruti car. The girls go and eat dal ke pakode in the market. Rani says that she is from Rajori, India and she does not use the word Delhi as if Rajori is altogether a different entity from Delhi. Vijay says often with a hard 't' just like the new trend it is now. The relatives she visits in Paris even after staying in France for years, convert Euros into Indian currency (11 Euros = 750 Rupees). Yes, they will show off too by saying from where they learnt French. Rani's brother brings a chowki for his dadi to sit when she speaks to Rani. Nobody knows what hing is called in English. But there was one scene which confused me a lot. At one point, Rani dreams about Vijay and she sees that Vijay is dressed as a mithaiwala in one scene and as a conductor in the second scene and he says to her, "Kyunki hamara status match nahi hota." Earlier, she when she was drunk, she had said about Vijay, "main Vijay se zyada good looking hun, meri dost Sonal use conductor bolti thi." I was nonplussed by the dream scene especially as to why was Vijay shown like that. Was it a realistic statement on the hypocrisy of the middle class bringing out the class divide where someone who is not good looking is perceived to be like a conductor, or was it a statement on Rani's anger that a man, who is clearly not as good as her, had the audacity to tell her that she is not of his stature? I don't know but it made me think a lot. My friend A gave me this explanation which I thinks makes complete sense. Rani complied to the guy's proposal as he pursued her till she said yes and she being a submissive person relented. She had said that she had wanted an arranged marriage and she being such a good-natured person could not break his heart. Though in her mind she wanted more, she never found him of her standard. Thus, when he broke off, she was angry at Vijay, that is why she saw him as a conductor because she saw herself to better than him.
That is why Queen was a much deeper film than it is made out to be. At another point in the film, when Rani is in the hostel in Amsterdam, she is shown wearing a sweatshirt on which it is written 'Alice in Wonderland meets the White Rabbit', as if she is Alice herself, who has fallen into the wonderland and is fascinated by the creatures she meets. Aiyya, another brilliant film with a superb performance by Rani Mukerji, had references of Alice in Wonderland. But I digress. The whole purpose of naming Lisa Haydon's character as Vijay had a symbolic purpose as she herself explains, "Vijay nahi, Vijaylakshmi to hai." Even though Vijay might not be there with there, she has other Vijays and therefore, she should just move on and eventually she would be victorious (vijay).
The supporting cast in Queen is splendid. Rani's mother and father are played very nicely. When her mother says, "tune sweater kyun nahi pehna jab itni thand hai", I was instantly reminded me of my mom. Ab ghar ke andar thori thand hoti hai! Her brother is equally fantastic. Dadi is awesome, "yahan to adult picture chal rahi hai." Though in all honesty, I was slightly irritated by that gag. It appeared very pretentious and cliched. One scene was enough but every time Vijaylakshmi came, it was irritating. Lisa Haydon and Rajkumar Rao give excellent performances. But Queen is Kangana all the way. She brings a charming vulnerability to Rani — be it her mannerisms, her language, her emotions — it felt as is Kangana is Rani herself. That is mark of a great performance. The way Rani blushes and says 'lip to lip kiss' to herself when she sees Vijaylakshmi kissing a stranger, the way she makes pouting lip movements before she kisses the Italian guy, the innocence with which she calls a dominatrix belt as a normal costume belt and then later laughs it off as "foreigners find Lajpat Nagar very funny," the way she tells the non-veg Santa Banta jokes, the way she says, "aapka nature bahut jolly hai," or "mera na sense of humor bahut funny hai, dheere dheere aapko pata chala" — Kanga brings a resplendent verisimilitude to Rani. She is simply outstanding.
I was thrilled by the music. Amit Trivedi's music is so good. Badra Bahar reminded me so much of Nayan Tarse from Dev D. I loved Kinare and Harjaiyan. The lyrics of Harjaiyan are lovely — became my instant favorite like Lehrein from Aisha.
Saaye saaye phirte hain jidhar mudoon,
Baithi hain ruswaaiyan bhi uske door,
Ho behla fusla ke khud ko nasihaten karun,
Jhooti muthi si, tuti-phuti si,
Ho dhundhali dhundhali si,
Main to idhar udhar phiroon
Queen also has perhaps one of the best ending credits of a Hindi film. Wonderful. I can watch the film again just for them. I did send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to check if the mail account is active or not. The email did not bounce back, so maybe the account is real :)
My favorite part was the film's ultimate message — que sera sera — what will be, will be. When her dadi consoles Rani, she says, "Kaun kahan mil jata hai kisko kya pata, bas apni zindagi ji aaram se bilkul, jo milna hota hai na zindagi me, vo mil ke rehta hai, use koi nahi rok sakta; jo hua accha hi hua." That was the film's teaching to us all. Rani was dejected and heartbroken when her wedding was called off, but it opened her to a totally new world. Would she have been able to do that if she had got married? That is why in the end, she comes and returns the wedding ring to Vijay, she hugs him and very gracefully thanks him. She does not hold a grudge against him because if he had not called off the wedding, she would miss so much in life. Even in that moving moment, she had the grace to go to his home and call it off, unlike what Vijay did to her when he did not have the courtesy to give her a single call. And as Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi says, "There is nothing more critical than to exercise the generosity to let something end with the grace it started with.” I do hope Rani finds the happiness she deserves. Queen made me care for her. It is a spectacular film that needs to be seen.
Hungama Ho Gaya
Dialogue of the day:
"French Toast..nahi yeh na sirf India me hi milta hai."
— Rani, Queen