Cracking The Whip:
The constant real life political dramas in Bihar could fuel a number of web series; with Maharani, Subhash Kapoor just knew which vein of the mine to tap. Fictionalising known characters and events and adding a good mix of make-believe, the first season told the story of an illiterate rural housewife forced to be a proxy chief minister in place of her injured husband. Once in the seat of power, however, she learns to wield it with native intelligence, even sending her husband to jail over a fodder scam.
Bheema Bharti (Sohum Shah) has a strong base of followers and loyalists, many with criminal records. Even from his comfortable air-conditioned cell in prison, he runs his wheeling-dealing operations. In Season 2 (SonyLiv), directed by Ravindra Gautam, wife Rani Bharti (Huma Qureshi) gets fed-up of being disrespected and treated as a puppet by members of the party and legislative assembly. The trigger comes in the form of the rape and murder of a young woman by Dulari Yadav (Sukumar Tudu) who is so powerful in his constituency that the police are unable to arrest him.
When mocked for her weakness, Rani Bharti decides to take on her husband’s coterie head on, showing that her intention of cleaning up the “jungle raj” of the state trumps everything else. The story is told in flashback with Rani Bharti being interrogated by a committee led by Michael Ekka (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) for complicity in the murder of the husband.
With the support of her shrewd Malayali associate, Kaveri Sreedharan (Kani Kusruti), Rani rapidly puts Bihar in order, while around her, political vultures like rival Naveen Kumar (Amit Sial) and his city-bred strategist, Kalpana Kaul (Neha Chauhan), circle to grab power in the upcoming elections. The series is set just before the bifurcation of Bihar and the formation of Jharkhand, so the machinations of the separatist leader, Ekkal Munda (Robin Das), are thrown into the simmering cauldron.
Rani Bharti has to face a Shakespearen level of complex plotting going on to dislodge her and maintain the rotten status quo. Impeccably dressed, with a confident, straight-backed gait and effective oratory, Rani grows into her role as political leader, while still maintaining the simplicity (she drinks her tea from the saucer) of a homemaker. She returns to work on her farm, cooks for her three kids and is able to communicate with all manner of people from the humble farm worker to corrupt bureaucrats.
In terms of plot and character development, Maharani Season 2 (written by Kapoor, Nandan Singh and Umashankar Singh) is better than Season One. Huma Qureshi has made the role her own and plays Rani Bharti with the mix of imperiousness and grace the character calls for. The casting is impeccable, the actors speak the well-written lines with the right accent, and attention has been paid to everything from costumes to locations, to sets of interiors.
It ends with the clear indication of a Season 3, which promises to be a revenge thriller of a woman scorned. The audience can look forward to it, if Season 2 is any indication of quality.
(This piece first appeared in seniorstoday.in)