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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Maharani Review: Huma Qureshi’s Powerful Performance As Unexpected Politician

Bollywood actress Huma Quereshi will be seen playing the part of Rani Bharti, an unsuspecting homemaker who is suddenly made to take the reins of politics in the highly anticipated web series Maharani.

Set in Bihar of the 90s, the 10-episode show tells her story and promises a power play when her unwell husband and Chief Minister played by Sohum Shah announces Rani Bharati as his successor.

Maharani, created by Subhash Kapoor, is the story of a protagonist as we follow her journey as an uneducated woman who finds herself in the middle of a political power struggle.

In more detail, it shows how Bheema (Sohum Shah) is considered invalid after an assassination attempt, creating a power circus at the centre of Bihar politics. In a move that leaves his rivals stunned, he names his wife, Rani, the new chief minister.

She is presented as this dewdrop of purity in a ditch of corruption — an uneducated woman who has been deliberately keeping out of the public eye by her husband, perhaps out of a sense of protectiveness, but most likely because he feels ashamed of her.

Talking about her role, Huma states: “It’s not often that one gets to play a character where you traverse in extremes as an artist. Rani Bharti has been one such role that got me to explore things that I have never done before and yet made her look extremely grounded and relatable.

Hers is a journey of rarity and grit which will surely strike a chord with the audience.” Maharani focuses on several thorny issues including caste disparity, chauvinism, violence, corruption and the flaws in Bihar’s law and order situation.

It made me nostalgic for Raveena Tandon in Satta where she played a character who is aloof from politics but gets engulfed in a whirlwind of political ping-pong for her family.

Another title the story resonates with is The Crown, in which a clueless and oblivious woman gets plunged into a world of high power and responsibility. (Not to compare), but what that series got right was the solid writing and development of Queen Elizabeth II’s character.

We resonated and felt compelled by her role. However, here, there are more sub-plots in which I feel the titular role gets left behind. Given the fact that the show is about her, it became more about the ‘dirty politics’ in Bihar, rather than about the principal character.

In fact, we have seen several films which tackle the perils in the political landscape – i.e. Raajneeti (or any Prakash Jha film for that matter) and see some of the same topics explored. So in that sense, the series does not really offer much new.

Especially with the popularity of series such as Mirzapur, which also tackles similar themes (though more gangster-oriented), it seems like there is an influx of contents exhibiting the debilitated law and order within the Indian regional cities. It makes one wonder as to why such stories are being exhibited and are really entertaining?

Also, I don’t quite understand why it’s always ‘Babas’ or Hindu godmen that are scrutinised and always presented in a narrative to make political statements. If a commentary is to be made on our current situation, then it should be balanced… Not just demonising one religion over another or reiterating stereotypes by the media – especially various news channels.

In Scam 1992, SonyLIV has proved that it is apt in presenting ‘real’ and ‘grey’ characters. It is great that we’re finally seeing the emergence of unsanitised personalities through cinema. That is something which I also liked about

As such, the saving grace of Maharani, for me, is Huma Qureshi. She is excellent as Rani. Her eyes, body language exudes vulnerability. But as the series progresses, we see how formidability seeps in as she becomes a leader. Huma is brilliant and this is a role that will rank in her filmography.

A few other mentions of star performances I liked. Amit Sial is rooted and detestable as Naveen Kumar. He is adept at dirty tricks and knows how friends turn foes and vice-versa in a matter of minutes in politics. Naveen also takes advantage of it all.

From his look to his command of the character, Amit gets all the right traits to essay a shrewd politician. He is fantastic.

Inaam Ul Haq is another great actor to look out for. He plays Parvez Alam becomes Rani’s ally in combatting the corruption in Bihar. The character is solid and impactful. Inaam has a Bengali accent that does not come across as stereotypical and seems authentic.

Overall, Maharani had the potential to be a very powerful series. But sadly, the writing does not quite live up to the calibre of the concept.

Having said that, Huma Qureshi delivers phenomenal performance and for that alone, it is worth the stream. A star extra for her.

⭐⭐⭐ (3/5 stars)

Maharani streams on SonyLIV. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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