What is the story about?
In the late 1990s, Bihar is in a state of turmoil. Bhim Singh Bharati, a.k.a. Bhima, is trying to run the state as the Chief Minister, even as he grapples with factionalism in his own party, volatile caste equations, and caste-based conflicts between two militant groups on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. When Bhima is shot and paralyzed, his rivals in the party fancy their chances of getting the top job. However, Bhima outwits everyone by installing his homely wife, Rani, as the new Chief Minister. Thrust into the limelight with no prior experience whatsoever, Rani’s tumultuous journey as the Chief Minister of a lawless state is shown in the series.
Political dramas set in the Hindi heartland always tend to base their stories on a few beats—displays of uber-masculinity and strength, endless rounds of power-grabbing exercises, and the non-representation of women in political discourse. Creator and producer Subhash Kapoor bases his series Maharani on a similar premise. There’s a state which is in utter neglect. There are politicians who are much more concerned with getting the top job than social welfare. There are militant groups hell-bent on cancelling each other out through violence. Above all, there’s the question of caste, which hangs like a sword over each and every aspect of Bihari life. We’ve seen various iterations of this before in various shows and movies from Raajneeti to Paatal Lok, and yet Kapoor’s gaze is somehow refreshing to watch here. Not since Gangajal or Gamak Ghar have we seen a movie or show completely submit to its milieu. It’s really reassuring to watch a series set in Bihar keep its setting intact. I can’t remember the last time when I saw the Chhat Puja being performed on screen, or when the various districts of undivided Bihar were referenced in a show.
The screenplay of Maharani, written by Kapoor and Nandan Singh, may have several moments which remind you of Raajneeti or any standard Prakash Jha film, but the scenes have a certain energy and earnestness about them that is difficult to miss. Coupled with Umashankar Singh’s bombastic dialogues, the screenplay ensures that each and every character is evenly fleshed out. The spotlight may be on Rani Bharati, and how she keeps making her way in what is a man’s world, but each and every character has a definite arc and boasts of several scenes where they show off their prowess. Kapoor’s penchant for balancing humour and bombastic drama comes through in his handling of the Jolly LLB films, but here he cannily fictionalizes the Laloo-Rabri-Nitish dynamics that marked the political games of 1990s Bihar, keeping the milieu intact. The net result is a show that, in spite of its predictable narrative, is a damn watchable potboiler that gives you a lot to chew on.
There are multiple moments in the first three episodes where Huma Qureshi’s Rani reminds you a lot of a certain Mohsina from Wasseypur. Illiterate, yet spunky, Rani’s world revolves around her children and her absentee husband Bhima. From the end of the third episode, however, Rani’s transformation as a woman and as a politician begins, and Qureshi nails the part perfectly. Another actor who shines in Qureshi’s company is Kani Kusruti, who plays the stern IAS officer Kaveri Sreedharan. Kaveri is a canny officer who prefers to stick by the rules, and even though she speaks heavily-accented Hindi, she knows her way around the bureaucracy. Both Rani and Kaveri share a terrific equation in spite of their cultural differences, and Kusruti and Qureshi play off each very well in a number of sequences.
The rest of the cast is terrific. Sohum Shah is menacing as Bhima, whose smiling countenance hides a devilish brain. Pramod Pathak is assured as Mishraji, his assistant who encircles him like a shadow. Amit Sial, who seems to have become a Sony LIV staple by now, is decent as Naveen Kumar, one of Bhima’s rivals, while Vineet Kumar is superb as the wily Gauri Shankar Pandey. Mohammad Ashique Hussain is all right as embattled animal husbandry minister Prem Kumar Chaubey. Atul Tiwari is alternately affable and cold-hearted as the Governor. Inaamulhaq’s Parvez Alam is a decently-sketched character, and he also ends up providing some of the comic relief in this show. I liked Kannan Arunachalam’s portrayal of DGP Siddhant Gautam, who never lets his disadvantaged position in the caste hierarchy get in the way of doing his job. Theatre activist Sudhanva Deshpande has a scene-stealing cameo as party general secretary Ramjeevan Bora.
Music & Other Departments
Mangesh Dhakde’s background score lends gravitas to the entire narrative. Vikram Singh deserves brownie points for his superb production design. Anup Singh’s sepia-tinted cinematography brings forth the laws and lawlessness of a time gone by.
The sequences between Rani and Kaveri are wonderful, and underscore how many hoops women have to jump through in order to make their point heard in a male-dominated world. The two sequences set in the Assembly are also solid.
There are various tropes and stereotypes that seem very predictable. The entire arc involving Khyati, a party worker, who uses her sexuality to gain favours and become a Cabinet minister, seems straight out of Raajneeti.
Also, for a series that takes refuge in realism while depicting constitutional procedures, it is baffling that the makers don’t address the fact that Rani Bharati will have to contest elections within six months of being appointed as the Chief Minister, simply because she is not an elected MLA. It’s a glaring omission.
Did I enjoy it?
I found it engrossing.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. The story of Rani Bharati’s rise to power will regale you in spite of its predictability. Go for it.