Released in early 2014, Vikas Bahl’s Queen is remembered as a feel-good coming-of-age film that established Kangana Ranaut as a viable star. To date, it is hugely loved and appreciated for its casual road-trip vibe and fun-filled moments, besides its feminist undertones. However, one of the under-discussed aspects of this film is how it had the idea of friendship as an underlying thread, through which Rani finds herself.
Rani Mehra (Kangana Ranaut), the film’s protagonist, is introduced to us as a girl coming from pure middle-class conservatism, someone who has led her life as the good, obedient child. And even though the film always tells us the story from Rani’s perspective, beginning with the how-it-happened flashback of her broken relationship with Vijay (Rajkummar Rao), evoking great sympathy for its protagonist, we still see her as a narrow-minded girl from suburban Delhi who hasn’t moved out of her bubble. As she goes ahead with her solo-honeymoon trip, Rani manages to discover herself not just because of the experiences she has, but because of the people who lead her to those experiences.
During her stay in Paris, Rani is befriended by Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon), a French-Indian waitress and a single mother who lives life on her terms, without her boundaries being defined by anyone else. Initially, Rani is scandalised to be in her company, flabbergasted mostly by the culture shock. It takes them a while to hit the spot – but once Rani and Vijaylakshmi break the ice, we see Rani slowly come to terms with many things alien to her with a sense of acceptance, if not embrace. At one point, we see Rani shocked to see Vijaylakshmi kiss her boyfriend casually at a street-side café, but that shock on her face slowly gives way to a smile, and she mutters coyly, more to herself than Vijaylakshmi, “lip-to-lip kiss”.
In their last scene together, as Rani bids goodbye to Vijaylakshmi before leaving for Amsterdam, she first says, “do not change,” and then goes on to suggest going easy on casual sex and alcohol. And as funny as it sounds, it rings true that for someone like Rani (at least till that point in the film), love and warmth come with a dose of judgment and unassertive moral-policing. And yet, it is clear that Rani’s journey of being at peace with herself begins with seeing Vijaylakshmi being at peace with herself, for it was in her moments with Vijaylakshmi that she found it okay to dance and burp in public, to be okay with herself.
In Amsterdam, Rani goes on to discover newer realms of friendship – with the opposite sex, of all beings. Queen goes full-steam here to engage Rani in a diversity-cum-inclusivity lesson as she finds herself sharing a hostel room with three men – Oleksander, a Russian, Tim, a black French man, and Taka, a Japanese man. While Oleksander and Tim are sombre and calm-looking artist types, Taka is a complete goofball, prancing around and maintaining a happy face all the time.
However, no matter how different they are from each other, they all perhaps mean the same to Rani: outsiders. In a moment that could seem offensive but is only telling of Rani’s latent prejudices, she wakes up from a slumber and screams upon seeing Tim hovering around her. Rani refuses to share a room with these men at first, and this initial display of Rani’s wariness towards them is why it’s so utterly heartwarming to see them becoming friends, and Rani gradually becoming one of them.
In a refreshing touch, we barely see Rani having clear verbal communication with any of these three lads. Just like Rani, they too seem to know bare-minimum English, just enough to get by. In a lovely offhand moment, we see Rani and Taka rambling to each other in their native languages, without understanding what the other is saying. It’s almost like they are going a step down in the evolution chain, depending on more primal instincts to fuel their bonding. In an era when we constantly judge others for what they say, Queen shows us friendships that don’t depend much on words and thoughts to begin with. And this is perhaps Rani’s biggest accomplishment on her journey, that she can be part of friendships like these.
Rani goes on to do a lot more that we would expect. Soon after we hear Rani expressing a desire to do some work, we see her holding a cap and walking around collecting money as Tim sings on the streets. By now, Rani has probably learned a bit about the dignity of labour as well, because we are sure she wouldn’t do something like this back in India, or that her folks would not approve of it. By the time we see Rani attend a rock show, it doesn’t surprise us anymore.
However, none of this implies that Rani has changed as a person – it’s evident she is only growing. At one point, we hear Rani describe Vijaylakshmi to her family as a ‘hippie-type,’ even after becoming friends with her. However, later when Vijay turns up at Rani’s hostel and ragingly confronts her for mingling with ‘these hippies,’ Rani immediately corrects him, refusing to accept that slur used for them.
In my favourite moment of the film, Rani has just learned about Taka’s tragic past when she hears a commotion and comes running down, only to see Taka and Tim playing the video of her sangeet ceremony. Until then, we had seen Rani wallow in self-pity, so it’s obvious that Rani feels triggered at this point, having been reminded of her break-up. However, as Rani again looks at Taka, he realises his mistake and begins to jump like a clown, making faces – just to make Rani forget her woes. And in a beautifully realised slow-motion moment, we see Rani brush her sadness aside and embrace Taka, for what is friendship if not partaking in others’ happiness, keeping your woes momentarily aside? (This is also the first time we see Rani hug another man without any trace of self-consciousness.)
Most importantly, we see Rani come to be a person whose happiness doesn’t depend on a man or his validation, and the friendships she makes on her trip are the core of this realisation, this journey. And as the film’s climax suggests, Rani didn’t just meet these people as fellow travellers – she now intends to carry them always as friends, even if they don’t manage to meet up anytime soon.
It is established early on that on her honeymoon, Rani was looking forward to seeing the Eiffel Tower, holding hands with Vijay. In a beautiful moment a few reels later, we see Rani and Vijaylakshmi standing in front of the twinkling wonder. As Rani absorbs the warmth of that moment, she turns to look lovingly at this other Vijay in her life who probably loves her more than she wished the first Vijay to. Rani has understood at this moment that there are other things, besides a romantic partner, that can bring equal joy in her life – and some of them can arrive in form of friendship.