This is a film that is no less tangy than the gol gappas that Rajouri Garden girl Rani Mehra rustles up in an Italian pizzeria in faraway Amsterdam.
The bright and breezy Queen does not require even “two minutes” (that is how long it takes the heroine’s culinary output to activate the first Dutch buyer’s unaccustomed taste buds) to work its magic. It hits its straps from the very outset.
Queen is spicy, balmy and uplifting. Like good gol gappas, it leaves a zesty aftertaste that lingers on until long after the ride has ended. It warms the heart and tickles the funny bone with equal force.
No sooner does the film open in the home of a West Delhi mithaiwala amid the hustle and bustle of an impending wedding than it becomes amply apparent that the audience is in for a treat of an unprecedented kind.
Queen, thanks to a remarkably crisp and sophisticated screenplay (Parvez Shaikh, Chaitally Parmar and director Vikas Bahl) and infectiously lively dialogues written by Anvita Dutt and Kangana Ranaut, is like a wonderful puff of fresh air.
The film makes a feminist statement, but it does not put up the ism at its core for display like an obtrusive pennant.
It embeds its message (for want of a better word) within the structure of a rip-roaring drama that is consistently funny and frequently thought-provoking.
And what a Queen Kangana Ranaut makes! Whoever knew that this often underrated actress had such enormous reserves of talent?
Kangana is given a character that is sweetly quirky and yet as everyday as they come. She embraces Rani Mehra with such lightness, grace and understanding that her very presence lights up every frame she is in.
Rani Mehra, an over-protected middle class girl who has never stepped out of her home all by herself and is chaperoned around the neighbourhood by her kid brother, is stood up by her London-returned fiancé only two days before the wedding.
At her wit’s end and in danger of retreating into a shell of self-pity, the guileless Rani, with a bit of moral support from her granny and her surprisingly supportive father, takes off on a solo European honeymoon.
This unusual plot premise could easily have lost its way in a fabricated English Vinglish-style adventure in an alien land and ended up proffering pat platitudes on the vagaries of life.
It doesn’t. Bahl adopts sustained subtlety and temperance instead of seeking to play to the gallery.
It is in the manner in which the individual scenes play out – Bahl does not hold a single moment in the film a second longer than is absolutely essential – that the secret of the appeal of Queen lies.
As the pure, chaste and absolutely uncontaminated Rani comes in contact with the big, bad world out there, she makes mistakes as frequently as she makes friends.
In the bargain, a whole new universe opens up for her. In a secluded Paris bylane, she fends off a mugger and is thrilled to bits about the act of bravado.
She befriends a half-Indian Parisian hotel staffer and single mom Vijaylaxmi (Lisa Haydon) and, in all her innocence, advises her not to sleep with all and sundry.
Lap dancer, graffiti artist, musician, tsunami victim – Rani meets all manner of new people and instinctively connects with them.
Rani wears her innate naiveté like a shield against the pitfalls that she faces on her incredible voyage of discovery through the city of love Paris and Amsterdam, a below-the-sea-level metropolis where she finds herself and a lot more than she could have bargained for, including her first kiss and with an Italian hunk at that.
Both the actress and the director use that element of gaucherie in the character to great effect, crafting a believable and adorable heroine who evokes both empathy and enchantment.
Kangana’s is the heart and soul of Queen and she does not strike a single false note.
It is a performance that should define not only her career from here on, but also the fate of any young Bollywood actress seeking to push the boundaries of what is acceptable within the framework of the commercial Hindi movie industry.
But also do spare a thought for Rajkummar Rao, who plays the utterly unlikeable, if not out and out obnoxious, Vijay Dhingra.
He brings remarkable restraint to bear upon his interpretation of the disgustingly conservative city slicker who cannot see beyond his nose. Rarely has an object of derision stood his ground with as much firm intent as he does.
Don’t miss Queen for anything. It is a sparkling little gem.