Devika Bhise

American actress Devika Bhise plays Rani Lakshmibai in biopic “Swords And Sceptres.” The film will pre-release Kangana Ranaut’s already-delayed production “Manikarnika,” also a biopic on the Queen of Jhansi, giving it some tough competition. (photo provided)

MUMBAI—When a film is a labor of love, a passionate filmmaker gets into the soul and even the saris of her characters! That’s what director Swati Bhise, who recently wrapped principal photography of “Swords and Sceptres,” a biopic on the Rani of Jhansi, had to do to prepare for this historical magnum opus. The project demanded meticulous and multi-lingual research on the life of Rani Lakshmibai to ensure the complete authenticity of her character and the cultural milieu of the subject.

The character of the Rani had more than 50 made-to-order ‘nauvari’ (the traditional nine-yard Maharashtrian) saris. Bhise designed and custom-made the costumes for the Rani and the character of Nanasaheb (played by Deepal Doshi) with her friend Vidhi Singhania. They researched the patterns prevalent in the era and wove each costume in a process that took over a year. Singhania also created custom shoes to match the outfits.

This was supplemented by Riyaz Ali Merchant, who also created costumes and riding boots for the principal and secondary cast, including the characters of Jhalkaribai (Auroshika Dey), Mandar (Siyaa Patil), Sundar (Mangal Sanap), Kashi Kunbin (Pallavi Patil) and Motibai (Naina Sareen). Opinions were sought from Vikram Gaekwad, India’s leading make-up artist, and Marathi and Sanskrit experts like Madhave Apte, the former Indian test cricketer Girish Murudkar for the exact style and design of turbans, and Usha Gupte, who read and translated many of the Sanskrit and Marathi texts, the primary one being “Maza Pravas” by Vishnu Godse (a first-hand eyewitness to events in 1890).

Before the process began, there was a search for the correct fabrics (Chanderi, Paithani, Kota) and deciding on the precise drape and fall of those fabrics, to create the appropriate silhouette that would also prove comfortable for the actress during the action scenes.

The next stop was jewelry. Bhise used her family heirlooms to supplement the traditional royal jewelry required to dress the Rani. The Shindeshahi ‘todas’ (thick bangles), Maharastrian ‘nath’ (nose ring) and traditional diamond ‘kudis’ (earrings) were procured from Bhise’s collection, while the rest were made to order.

Pune jewelers P. N. Gadgil advised and curated the period jewelry of Maharashtra, and Vinay Gupta of Shri Hari Diagems created the uncut diamond pieces. Military historians and chroniclers of the East India Company advised Bhise on uniforms worn by East India Company officers and the Board Room artwork in London (for which a copy was commissioned).

Rani Lakshmibai, the historic Queen of Jhansi, invokes reverence – she fiercely led her army against the British East India Company in the ill-fated mutiny of 1857, with her child strapped to her back. Her history is redolent of grace and courage in the face of impending death – a truly empowered woman fighting against all odds, an icon of inspiration for all modern women.

For Bhise, it is not enough to just tell the story. She wants to tell this story right. “If one has to invoke the persona of a legend that has inspired generations of women, it is important to portray her spirit and her courage in the right manner. She did not wait for a man to come to her rescue, but took control of a situation and became a statesman, general and warrior. This is not just about the glamour of the period, but also about grit of an extraordinary woman. With ‘Swords and Sceptres,’ you will get to see the real Rani of Jhansi.”

Co-written, produced and directed by Bhise with Charles Salmon as co-producer, it stars Devika Bhise (who also co-wrote the film) and whose credits include “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” “Impossible Monsters” and “The Accidental Husband.” British actors Derek Jacobi (“Gladiator, ” “Murder On The Orient Express,” “I Claudius”), Rupert Everett (“The Importance of Being Earnest,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Dunston Checks In”), Nathaniel Parker (“Stardust” and “The Bodyguard”) and Ben Lamb (“Divergent” and “Now You See Me 2”).

Jodhi May (“Defiance,” “Let Me Go”) plays Queen Victoria. Completing the lineup are prestigious Indian actors including Nagesh Bhonsle (“Sarkar,” “24: India”), Yatin Karyekar (“Munna Bhai M.B.B.S”), Milind Gunaji, Arif Zakaria and Ajinkya Deo (a top Marathi hero). The shooting successfully wrapped in December and the film is currently in post-production in London.

The film will definitely pre-release Kangana Ranaut’s production “Manikarnika,” which not only was delayed by Ranaut’s leg injury but also because of the additional VFX needed. It is now expected to release only by June or July.

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