Eat your heart out, Gunga Din.
You and all the other Indian characters of the Hollywood raj had to stand by while Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Tyrone Power led the charge in such adventure tales as Gunga Din, Lives of a Bengal Lancer and King of the Khyber Rifles.
But now, along comes The Warrior Queen of Jhansi to shift the focus from a British to an Indian perspective.
The title character — and her place in Indian history — are undeniably fascinating. Yet “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” plays curiously like a cinematic relic, thanks (or no thanks) to its on-the-surface, on-the-nose approach.
The warrior queen — or rani — in question is young Lakshmibai (Devika Bhise), who assumes control of her desert realm following her husband’s 1857 death.
An expert horsewoman, a savvy military strategist and a dauntless warrior, she has no problem fending off nearby rivals.
The British East India Company may be another matter.
These corporate raiders, complete with their own private army, have been exploiting India’s riches — and people — for two centuries. They’re not about to allow a local uprising to interfere with either profits or power.
Especially an uprising led by a warrior queen.
Meanwhile, back in Britain, another monarch, Victoria by name (Jodhi May), listens with alarm as her prime minister (Derek Jacobi) briefs her on the situation in India.
Queen Victoria calls for restraint, but that’s not bloody likely.
Not with the bloodthirsty, gleefully racist Sir Robert Hamilton (Nathaniel Parker) calling the shots for the East India Company — and his very own model major general, Sir Hugh Rose (Rupert Everett, hiding behind mammoth mutton chops) charged with carrying them out.
That is, until he catches the warrior queen in action, marveling, “She’s like Joan of Arc.”
The writing and directing debut of Mumbai-born, New York-based dancer and choreographer Swati Bhise (yes, her daughter plays the title role), The Warrior Queen of Jhansi proves frustratingly stodgy for a supposed action epic.
The script (credited to Swati Bhise, Devika Bhise and Olivia Emden) suffers from multiple flashbacks, woefully underdeveloped characters and preachy, florid dialogue the capable cast struggles to sell.
All too often, this handsome, well-meaning movie violates the most basic narrative principle of all: show, don’t tell.
More’s the pity, because the real rani deserves a much better movie than The Warrior Queen of Jhansi turns out to be.