The husband’s in prison, the rivals have been outwitted, the throne is beginning to feel comfortable. But as the second season of Maharani reveals, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Aptly enough, the SonyLIV series has a Shakespeare-loving character in the form of an Indian Administrative Service officer. Martin Ekka (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) would rather be playing Mark Antony on the stage but is instead plonked behind a desk, at the other side of which sits an unlikely empress.
Maharani, created by Subhash Kapoor, is loosely inspired by the political churn in Bihar in the 1990s. When Chief Minister Bheema Bharti (Sohum Shah) is grievously injured, he puts his barely literate wife Rani Bharti (Huma Qureshi) in charge. After a tenuous start, Rani begins to warm to her role, much to Bheema’s dismay.
With the help of Officer on Special Duty Kaveri (Kani Kusruti) and relying on her own moral compass, Rani sets out to be a model chief minister. This Mother Bihar doesn’t even hesitate to imprison Bheema when she learns of his involvement in a grain procurement scam.
The second season begins a year into Bheema’s incarceration. His prison cell has all the creature comforts extended to VIP inmates and regular visits from his attractive party colleague Kirti (Anuja Sathe).
Outraged by his wife’s perceived betrayal, Bheema works hard to regain power with the help of his factotum Mishra (Pramod Pathak) and brother-in-law Sanyasi (Kumar Saurabh). Rani’s main opposition in the state legislature is Naveen (Amit Sial) and Naveen’s mentor Ghanshyam (Atul Tiwari), but the bigger enemy is closer home.
Although Rani repeatedly proves that she is no pushover, her tendency to hector her colleagues doesn’t help. This is a government, not a bus on which I can accommodate everybody, she thunders.
There’s enough disgruntlement beyond Rani’s realm to generate material for 10 episodes and lead up to a third season. Naveen hires his own version of Prashant Kishor in the form of data analyst Kalpana (Neha Chauhan). Soon, Kalpana is running Naveen’s show, causing heartburn in the ranks and angering party veteran Gauri (Vineet Kumar).
Season two has been written by Subhash Kapoor and Nandan Singh and directed by Ravindra Gautam. The new edition is big on loaded dialogue and aphorisms that begin with “In politics…” and “When in Bihar…” Thanks to the endless politicking, characters are never allowed to sit down in peace and finish what they have started for fear that somebody will walk in with a shattering new twist.
Although none of the events in Maharani is revelatory or offers a fresh framework to understand the politics of the Hindi heartland, the second season does a better job of exploring the self-serving ways of power-hungry leaders.
Season two also conveys a sharper sense of how policy frequently becomes the slave to Machiavellian manoeuvring. Whether it’s statehood for Jharkhand – Maharani is set in 1999, a year before Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar – or reservations for members of the lower castes, important decisions are shown to be guided by the need for political survival rather than public good.
In this cynical matrix, Rani’s honesty is the most fictionalised as well as the most fantastical element. Rani might be a reluctant queen, but she’s also a fairy-tale princess.
She’s simply too good to be true, this chief minister who shares none of the social prejudices of her peers and clings to power simply so that she can transform Bihar. Proof of Rani’s earthiness includes her insistence on doing her own chores (she even changes a lightbulb herself). Rani wavers only when she begins to suspect that her beloved Bheema might be far more rotten than she imagined.
An array of competent actors helps Maharani navigate past the increasingly enervating scheming. Among those who evolve in interesting ways are Amit Sial’s smooth operator Naveen and Vineet Kumar’s party cog. Dibyendu Bhattacharya’s Martin Ekka finally comes into view when a crime is added to the larger crime of hoodwinking the public.
Martin’s sober interrogation is a welcome change in tone after all the melodrama in broad daylight and murmuring in shadowy interiors. At least here, characters are allowed to complete their sentences.