If there's a fast-emerging genre of films of Indian women re-gaining their self-esteem by embracing life and themselves while traveling abroad, it's a development I can't really dislike. English Vinglish was charming, and its vibrant little sister in spirit, Queen is another fantastically enjoyable film. In essence there is nothing new about travel films with empowerment messages of this kind, but sometimes a formula works not due to its presence, but its grounded, passionate application. This is a film where you love a character so much, you're entirely with her on this ride, busy making discoveries alongside her.
Rani (Kangna Raut), a sweet Delhi girl, gets dumped by her fiance Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) a day before her wedding. After wallowing in the situation, Rani decides to go on their honeymoon alone despite everything - to take a trip to Paris and Amsterdam alone. At first, she's understandably alienated in the foreign city, but soon befriends Vijaylaxmi (Lisa Haydon), a vivacious, party-hard somewhat-single mother. Encouraged by the new friendship, Rani continues her journey in Amsterdam. (And as I loved this film so much, the review will contain spoilers. Watch it, come back to this review. I wouldn't want to ruin anything for you.)
The portrayal of Rani's new-found international friends is very perceptive, as it captures the way that lack of a full fluency in a common language doesn't necessarily stop two human beings from fully bonding with one another. You can make real friends while traveling, even if they will be different from the ones you have back at home, but the film captures this, too. You get a sense that these people will meet again, after years, and catch up and get along just the same as they did when travelling together - much like I've done with friends I've met during travel.
I feel like I could possibly have some quibbles about this film, but there's a part of me that knows the world it inhabits so well, the freedom of travel and the enjoyment of embracing new parts of yourself while abroad, that it becomes difficult to really argue for those minor criticisms. Lisa Haydon's character, for example, certainly contains archetypes, but because the archetypes are multiple - the booze-drinking, smoking, sexually active Western woman, the mixed ethnicity bombshell, yes, but also working mother, caring friend, cheesy joke maker - the combination becomes refreshing.
The success in writing and casting Rani's other new friends is also worth noting. They're not characters with incredible depth, but as they play second-fiddle to Rani's self-discovery, we also learn about their own journeys and struggles and inner worlds. You get a sense that they don't just exist in the world or in this particular story for her benefit. This allows the friendships to feel real, not just between them and Rani, but between the group of the three guys on their own. It's also a sigh of relief - maybe, just maybe, the days of cringe-worthy international casting in Indian films are beginning to end.
The film is particularly of interest to me, because I'm about to visit Amsterdam, mostly to hang out and enjoy the great city, but also to meet up with friends who I haven't seen in a long while. Besides those personal reasons, there are a number of other things I should probably mention. The soundtrack fits the film like a glove, and adds to it, particularly in the first scenes where Rani crashes out of her element by drinking and partying with Vijaylaxmi. The direction is tight, and even though the cinematography revels in the beauty of Paris and Amsterdam as cities, the focus never stops being about Rani, and the people she meets during her travels. A city, after all, is just a city. The memories you make in it, the people you travel with, those will stick with you. Queen is an undeniable gem, and particularly great for Kangna Raut, who I think has always landed in films where her effort has risen above the actual script. This will hopefully not only inspire more film makers to write roles as meaty as Rani's here, but also consider Kangna in various, great projects.