I started watching Maharani at about 8 pm on 28th May and thought that I would watch 4-5 episodes on the night and complete the rest on the following day. But as I moved from one episode to another, I found myself perpetually wrapped in the intrigue and drama of the story of Rani Bharati (Huma Qureshi) and a gamut of colorful characters populating her world and impacting her story. It is a fact that I would have loved for the series to have culminated stronger with a more realistic finale but that cannot take away all the good that the makers and the actors do in the rest of the 9 episodes of the series. I couldn’t bring myself to sleep without learning how the story of Rani would end and that in itself is no less of an achievement. For that and a whole lot more, I believe that Subhash Kapoor has finally delivered on the promises that he made when he made the film Jolly LLB but then followed it up with some lackluster offerings and hit rock bottom with Madam Chief Minister.

Bheema Bharati (Sohum Shah) is the first lower cast Chief Minister of Bihar and his accession to the throne feels like an anomaly to many and a boon to the lower cast. In his party, there is also Navin Kumar (Amit Sial), a man who is from the upper cast, and has tremendous clout in the party ranks and was slated to become the chief minister but was pipped by Bheema in an unthinkable twist of fate. Navin wants to overthrow Bheema and would go to any lengths to do so. The communal violence between the upper and lower classes erupts in Bihar and Navin tries to use the same for his political benefits. It is also at this juncture that Bheema Bharati almost falls to an assassination attempt. His life is saved but he sustains such grievous injuries that it becomes apparent that he will not be running the state for 6 months at least.

The situation is ripe for Navin and his supporters to stake claim to the throne. Even people like Gauri Shankar Pandey (Vineet Kumar) believe that they have a crack at the CM’s chair. Bheema understands the flow of the wind and with the assistance of his loyal supporter Mishra Ji (Pramod Pathak) installs his simpleton and illiterate wife Rani Bharti as the CM of Bihar. The idea is to ensure that the CM is someone who he can control and while he is recovering, he can still run state from the comfort of his bed. However, fate had other plans. Once in the chair, Rani Bharati quickly learns to juggle between her duties as a CM and a wife and then grows a conscience and audacity large enough to unearth a scam of 958 crores in the state. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative of the series.

There are a lot of subplots in Maharani and each of these subplots is well thought out and executed. Once Bheema Bharati is shot, it feels as if his enemies are on the driver’s seat but he plans years ahead of them and beats them at their own game. One question that lingers here is who was it that ordered the hit on him and it is answered only in the very last few episodes of the series. For a while, I thought that he might have ordered the hit on himself but I was wrong. As Rani digs into the 985 crores Dana Scam it becomes clear that high-level ministers and bureaucrat are involved in it. What is not clear is the reach of the scam and for how long it has been going on. These prove to be points for extracting a lot of surprises and brewing up the perfect drama that contributes to not only an interesting finale but also ensuring that it affects a plethora of other characters and raises the stakes of their respective subplots.

The subplot involving two extremist organizations working for the upper and lower casts is tied into the narrative effectively. While the lower casts bank on the Naxals led by Shankar Mahto, the upper casts look to Rameshwar Mukhiya to avenge their men and women who are gunned down by Mahto from time to time. As the story progresses, we learn that the plot is actually the other way around and it is Rameshwar Mukhiya and his gang that is committing the atrocities and Shankar Mahto was only a demon that crawled out of the hell that Mukhiya created in the first place. These two gangs are utilized by the various politicians for their own agendas and in the end; it is these gangs that contribute to their downfall in some capacity.

While Huma Qureshi plays the titular character with aplomb and a lot of power, it is the supporting actors like Sohum Shah, Amit Sial, Vineet Kumar, and Mohd Ashique Hussain that steal the thunder from her in almost every scene that they appear in. Sohum Shah is a fantastic actor and he has little to do in the middle of the series but when he comes to his own towards the end of the series, he is a powerhouse to look out for. He changes gear between sweet and sinister with such speed and so little hiccup that it becomes impossible to see him in a scene and not be apprehensive about whether or not he will breathe fire in the next. This makes his character probably the best character of the series. He ends the series with the words, “Jail ke tale tutenge, Bheema Babu chhootenge”. As a fan of his performance, I hope there is a season 2 and in that Bheema Babu indeed gets to walk out of jail and do whatever his heart wills.  

Amit Sial is a force to reckon with in every scene where he gets to unleash his anger and hatred for his competing politicians. He is also someone who can be uber cool and vicious within a gap of five minutes. He is the perfect foil for Sohum Shah to play off with. Vineet Kumar is a senior character actor and here he is terrific as the degenerate politician who thinks that he is very smart but is played off not once but twice by two different individuals. He brings out the feeling of helplessness and frustration at being beaten in a game that he believes he is a master of perfectly. Mohd Ashique Hussain was news for me. I didn’t see him act in any other series or film but he makes his presence felt and is almost as good as all the others. Watch out for the scenes where he abuses government officials or the one in which he is shown trying to get in the good books of Amit Sial to experience his versatility and grasp of the feel of his character.

Apart from a lackluster, unbelievable, and hurried finale that I believe could have been easily fixed with a few re-writes, Maharani worked for me. The story has enough meat and the execution is good enough to keep the audiences hooked. The performances from the ensemble cast are top-notch and every character is given ample time to shine and leave an impact. The fact that the series draws heavily from real incidents also helps to make it relevant for the audiences and enhances its appeal. I urge my readers to give this series a chance even though it falters terribly in the climax.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5)

Also read: Wrath of Man: One of the best and most unlikely Guy Ritchie film



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