Maharani the CM’s Wife - Shades of Rabri Devi?
Let us, for once, look at the OTT series Maharani as an independent series without the direct or indirect reference to Rabri Devi which appears to be more of a clever marketing strategy than inspired from a real-life story. Since Rabri Devi has not been asked to authenticate the story, I feel it is unfair to bring her into this series.
Let us take a look at how an ordinary housewife with three kids who does not wear the designation of being the Chief Minister’s wife Rani Bharti (Huma Quereshi) who fills her waking hours in readying her three kids for school, milking the cows, cooking for everyone and even selling the milk in the market.
She is very happy being a mother and housewife and knows nothing of “women’s empowerment”. Her sole lament is that her husband, the CM of Bihar, Bheema Bharti (Soham Shah) disappears on his political campaigns for months together and returns to don the robe of ideal husband and father for a couple of days and then leaves again.
Then, suddenly one day, her husband is shot several times while taking a dip in the rivers with his wife as part of karva chauth or some similar ritual for married women. He is badly injured and is paralysed on one side. And then, Rani Bharti is almost physically forced to assume the position of Chief Minister of Bihar though she cannot even sign her name and hardly understand what the word “Chief Minister” really means except that she is married to one.
She stands firm in her decision to remain at home but she is physically dragged by the CM’s Officer-On-Special-Duty Kaveri, transferred from the South. Over time, Rani and Kavita form a close bondage despite the differences in their class, status, education and experience. After assuming the CM’s chair almost forced into it by her injured husband who commands her even from his sick-bed that she must rigidly follow his instructions as proxy CM.
When openly insulted on the floor of the assembly by her husband’s prime rival Navin (Amit Syal), Rani stumbles initially but picks herself up and spills out her homebred philosophy and they are stumped. She feels ashamed of putting her thumb impression on all official documents so she learns to sign her name from Kavita who not only happily witnesses her boss’ slow and steady transformation from Rani Bharti to CM of Bihar but also remains by her side to help her in whichever way she, as an administrative officer having gone through struggles just because she is a woman. She is from the South while Maharani is from Bihar, a pointer to the gender bias that exists across the map, cultures, language and education.
As Bharti goes deeper into the political matters of the State, she begins to discover discrepancies in financial affairs in the ministry of animal husbandry and begins to probe deeper, forgetting that she is not supposed to take any decision by herself other than what her sick husband decrees from his sick bed. When at home, Cinderella-like, she metamorphoses into the ideal bahu, serving breakfast to her husband even when he gets angry at her decision to suspend several officers involved in the scam with help from the financial officer in the finance department.
Her husband, angry with her decision in ordering the suspension of officers and people in the concerned ministry, rescinds her suspension orders which shocks Rani but she continues her investigations in secret.
In the crowd of massive killings on the basis of caste, political power, so-called Maoist insurgencies, ministerial rivalry and desperate attempts by different factors of the Opposition to dethrone the CM two interesting features are noticeable.
One, the slow but sure change in Rani from the adamant, aggressive and dutiful wife and mother to the confident personality of CM of one of the most disturbed and violent states in the country. And two, the bonding that develops between Kavita and Rani on the one hand and between Rani and the finance officer on the other.
Huma Qureshi is outstanding in the title role of Maharani who makes her people happy by removing the blocks that trapped them in poverty and so on through the change the way she covers and slowly uncovers her head, her body language, her smart and confident walk which registers very well in the reaction in the faces of Kavita, Mishra and her opponents.
She draws from her armoury the finer nuances in the changes in her character and proves that a wife can be as strong and firm as a CM without necessarily having to walk out of her husband and kids.
This is a bit too idealistic a situation because this is not really possible in politics in any state in any form. Perhaps this melodramatic closure is in keeping with audience expectations who are not quite conditioned to more rebellious women.
Soham Shah as her husband had to put on a lot of weight to make his persona convincing as the CM and he portrays his multi-layered role from lying on the bed, to a half-sitting pose to trying to stand without the help of his callipers is astounding.
Amit Syal as Navin is also very good in a sizable role along with Vineet Kumar as the diabolically scheming politician who negotiates the release of the police commissioner trapped by the Maoists or the sarpanch’s goondas for a sum of Rs.5 lakh each is as villainous as can be.
Pramod Pathak as Bheema’s right hand man is dignified, distant and loyal, ready to die for his boss. Kani Kusruti as Kavita offers an ideal complement to Rani, looking very officious in her starched saris, blouse, jacket and those severe spectacles.
The bonding between the two women is really very strong and telling. Inaamulhaq is outstanding as Finance Secretary Parvez Alam who, despite being thrown out of his job, continues his investigation into corruption clandestinely, not bothered about the threat to his life. Maharani is more a character-driven story where the storyline is pushed, pulled and driven by the characters themselves rather than it being the other way round.
There is so much of meaningless violence in the film shown graphically, through rivalries and killings by different factions makes the series quite complicated and confusing at the same time and muddles the series taking away from the element of suspense instead of adding to it. Though this is a political drama set in Bihar of 1990's, it reflects contemporary times also or perhaps, in a better way than that existed at that time.
The editing is cutting edge, brisk and swift, cutting from one scene to another as is the cinematography which spans the colourful canvas of a small town in Bihar, the lavish interiors of the assembly, the terribly cluttered and dust-filled room holding old files fittingly captures the framework and the horizon. The sound and the musical score plus the songs seem authentic but could have been cut down a bit.
The dialect-filed dialogues polarised between folk obscenities spat by the politicians through the local dialect in which Rani and her husband speak, including the southern-accented dialogue of Kavita add a sweet flavour to the series. The climax revealing who the villain of the story is, may appear quite predictable but it is treated well and melds into the entire series quite seamlessly.
All said and done however, Maharani stands out mainly because of the performances by every single actor, importance and footage notwithstanding.
If Bihar is a “state of mind” as the corrupt Governor in the series states, one shudders to imagine what must be the state affairs in other states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and so on.