Maharani Season 3 Review: A Lethargic, Exquisite Mush

The show starring Huma Qureshi and Amit Sial can be streamed on SonyLIV
Maharani Season 3 Review: A Lethargic, Exquisite Mush

Creator: Subhash Kapoor

Director: Saurabh Bhave

Writer: Subhash Kapoor, Nandan Singh, Umashankar Singh
Cast: Huma Qureshi, Amit Sial, Vineet Kumar, Pramod Pathak, Kani Kusruti, Anuja Sathe, Sushil Pandey, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, and Sohum Shah

Number of Episodes: 8

Available on: SonyLIV

It has been three years since the events that concluded the second season of Maharani and this we are told almost immediately, through conversation, as season three opens. Rani Bharti (Huma Qureshi) is still in jail for the alleged murder of her husband, refusing to apply for bail, because she knows she is innocent, and will wait for the Bihar courts, patiently, to assert her innocence. Her spine is upright, her moral sense even more erect, and so, dulled by righteousness, she is instantly, eternally boring. She tells her lawyer to cobble together bail for another woman, mistaken for a Maoist, stuck in jail. She will study, instead, giving exams. 

A fourth-fail housewife to a politician, Bhima Singh Bharti (Sohum Shah), she was forced to take the reins of his political empire when he was incapacitated. Suddenly aware of her husband’s misdeeds, at the end of the first season, she gets her husband jailed for his involvement in the fodder scam. The second season, when her husband is murdered and she is a suspect, pushing up against her political opponent Chief Minister Navin Kumar (Amit Sial), mostly rolls through as a flashback. 

While thinking through the show’s unique unwillingness to be rousing, to allow a moment to rise to the surface, I had then written that, perhaps, the show is attempting to, with some success, reshape the grammar of a political drama, allowing us to stew in a moment, instead of elevating a moment to a pulping pitch. But you can only stew so long. After a season of optimistic stewing, what we’re left with in this third season is mush, devoid of either shape or centre. Maharani Season 3 is an exercise in exquisite mush-making to give us a political drama that is dull as rocks with some half-baked veins of truth.

Vote for Mummy

Many events, which mirror modern Bihar politics, dot the season’s surface — an alcohol ban like the one Nitish Kumar brought into effect in 2016, mass death from alcohol poisoning reflecting the 2022 Bihar alcohol poisoning incident, a women’s shelter acting as a rape central reminiscent of the Muzaffarpur shelter case, and a kingmaking godman, which might be a nod to Dhirendra Krishna Shastri. The central throughline is proving the innocence of Rani Bharti, who began as a vaporous smidgen, reminiscent of Rabri Devi, wife of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, while also veering away from that parallel because of the glamour that Huma Qureshi effortlessly commands. We know Rani Bharti’s innocence, believe it, and the whole season is waiting for the show to catch up to what we already have taken for granted. However, one of Rani Bharti’s three children also believes she is involved in the murder of his father and her husband, thus allowing into the show teenage resentment, which cinematically speaking, is the worst kind of resentment. It is a grating, monotone buzz, so stilted, so angry, so without foundation as it is in Maharani’s third season.

The emotional hairpin bend, when the son realizes his mother’s innocence, takes place over a phone call. All that anger vaporized into mummy love, touching the other end of children’s insufferable screen presence — cloying devotion. 

For most of this season we see Chief Minister Navin Kumar plot his way to keep his post, as various slams try to dunk his political life. Any complexity that the character had over the past seasons is sacrificed at the show’s altar to Machiavelli. Everyone else — all men — are corrupt, evil, rapacious, or some shades of each. Rani Bharti is in jail, quietly breezing through time, but we see something is simmering.

And this is the grouse. For a show that is named after a female politician and claims to follow her “quest” — as the show notes put it — she is oddly side-lined through this season, barely scratching in a few scenes every episode. Her storyline is buried under the various political scams and scourges. She makes halwa in prison. As the season takes shape, however, you sense a narrative reason for her absence from the very show she headlines. Besides, the time between the second and third season feels unusually long, and this length is stated, but never shown, like a lot of lapses of time that take place through this season. Like her presence, these lapses, too, begin to make sense as the show snowballs in mush. 

A Queen Without a Gambit

It is supposed to be cunning — her absence from screen is not supposed to indicate her absence in the political life of the world, but this kind of observation only makes sense if her absence through the show is erased by a later presence so witty and wily that the show emerges, finally, but at least it does. The writing, bordering on the banal at best, comical at worst, never makes space for such a victory. 

Besides, the show drags its feet in one of the most lethargic attempts at political drama. Where Qureshi’s impeccable screen presence — despite being saddled by didactic writing — buoyed the previous two seasons, her almost-absence from this season sinks its surface in tedium. Every scene takes its time to state its point, some meandering metaphors, a local idiom, some grandstanding, some razzmatazz staging — the show loves its unearned top shots — to say what, sometimes, could have just been a dialogue, or a glance. There is a lethargy with which the show spreads its hands in a long gestating yawn. 

Even the extras, members of the crowd, members of the parliament, are stuck with stock expressions, so that no crowd seems rousing; no call to action feels urged by adrenaline or hope. The scenes in the local parliament, the exchange of speeches that are supposed to be fiery, are so damp and shredded, the raucous raised so shrunk in energy, sucked out of any of that vitality, any of that cunning meta vim which makes the genre both delicious and reflective.

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