It was a tale of true female empowerment and defiance.
In The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, Lakshibai prominently and fiercely lifted her sword and led her army against the British East India Company in the infamous mutiny of 1857. She was known as the most important figure within the independence movement of India. Her passion for freeing her country from colonial rule led her to become one of the greatest generals of the Indian army history. She would go down in history for her bravery, strategic insight, and force to be reckoned with by the East India Company and the British Raj.
The international cast is led by Devika Bhise (The Man Who Knew Infinity), Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Madness of King George), Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech, Gladiator), Ben Lamb (Divergent, Now You See Me 2), Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans, Game of Thrones) and veteran Hindi actors of Yatin Karyekar, Milind Gunaji, Ajinkya Deo and Arif Zakaria.
The film is directed, produced, and co-written by Swati Bhise (producer of The Man Who Knew Infinity).
LRM Online had an exclusive conversation over the phone with actress Devika Bhise and director Swati Bhasi on the working relationship and preparation on this epic international project.
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi is playing in theaters nationwide today.
Read the exclusive interview below.
LRM: Congratulations on this film. What initially inspired you to do an ambitious film of The Warrior Queen of Jhansi?
Swati Bhasi: I saw it as ambitious. I just thought of it as a film. I don’t think it’s too difficult until I’ve ended it. Of course, I do think it’s difficult now, but I would never have gotten if I thought it was difficult. [Laughs].
I jumped into the project with writing and researching simultaneously in 2014. My background is being history in the British military and Chinese history. I jumped into telling the story of Rani, which fascinated me since having grown up in India as a little girl. Most Indians know the story. For me, it was imperative to tell the story to the world, because anyone who defies would receive a remark, “Who do think you are, Rani of Jhansi?” She supposed to be a great character. Why does everyone say don’t think like Rani of Jhansi? Let me research this to death and tell the story of this woman rather than a story that is fiction. That’s how I got to do the project.
LRM: Tell me about the mother-daughter relationship that brought both of you on to this project. Usually, most people don’t work with family on the same projects, such as this.
Swati Bhasi: To give you a background, before Devika became an actress, she trained to the age of five under me for Indian classical dance, which included acting and theater. We did have a working relationship for several years till she went off to college. She was doing theater there using a lot of these techniques and learning more.
We have worked together as a relationship of teacher and student before. For all these years, I had her in mind to be able to play a character role like this. When I told her that I’m thinking of her on doing this as I’m writing it, I wanted her to read the story to get her perspective as a young American girl to make it into a more global firm rather than a history project.
I directed her because I knew her strengths. I told her she could do something this huge. It’s great when you can work with a product that you have worked with for years. It was more like mother-daughter as people who have worked together on many projects.
Devika Bhasi: Trust is an integral part of the director-actor relationship. Who do you trust more than your own family? There were a lot of hurdles that came up during the filming, post-production, and pre-production as well. Both of us had to carry significant weight on our shoulders to not screw up the entire project. Being able to trust each other, we put our blood, sweat, and tears into this film. That’s how we were able to come out with the final product.
Swati Bhasi: I have to share with you that I had a unit of up to 300 people. At no point, anyone would remark she’s your daughter. Devika known that about me for years, I would never have this happened unless I knew she was the right character. I’ve been dedicated to the project for the arts and wanted the best for it. She knew for sure that she could do certain things because I would not move from the fact that it was not right to the project and would not ever suggest for her to do something unless I knew she could do it.
LRM: Devika, you had a lot of preparation yourself with the fighting arts and horseback riding. Can you talk about that?
Devika Bhasi: I knew how to horseback ride in a fundamental sense I’ve learned when I was a teenager. The year leading up to the film, I had to ramp that up quite a lot. I started learning how to gallop up and how to do jumps. I was also spending a lot of time with the horses in the stables, grow with them, and take care of them in a way to serve me well during the actual shooting. By spending a lot of time with the horses off cameras, it came to do those scenes, the horse and I will have that bond. It is a meaningful relationship to establish. I love animals. I love horses, and being able to spend time with them was fantastic.
The martial arts was a big part of my training, and that took months. It took significant time in training both in Indian martial arts as well as English training in how to do action on screen. It’s to ensure that you’re not hurting anyone on camera while you’re wielding a sword, which is an essential skill. Throughout the process, I stayed in excellent shape to be completely ripped and buff. [Laughs] It’s, which is why I was able to have any stamina to hold these heavy swords and do long action sequences over and over again. That just took time. I’m fortunate that for several reasons, um, we had months of pre-production to get me into that shape because that’s not something that you can learn overnight or for a couple of weeks.
LRM: Thank you very much for this conversation. I appreciate it.
Source: LRM Online Exclusive