Mumbai: Naysayers be damned. With her latest film "Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi", which crossed Rs 40 crore in its opening week and is being praised for a power-packed performance, actress Kangana Ranaut is proving why the epithet 'Bollywood's queen' suits her.
Whether it was as the Rani of "Queen" or the Jhansi Ki Rani of "Manikarnika...", Kangana seems to have conquered the space of women-led cinema, following a lull in her career owing to films like "Katti Batti" and "Rangoon", and a web of controversies.
According to trade analyst Atul Mohan, "Manikarnika..." registered the biggest ever opening weekend collection for a woman-led film in the history of Indian cinema.
Film and trade business analyst Girish Johar said it is worth appreciating that Kangana faced several hurdles and triumphed in bringing alive a film of such a mammoth scale.
"It's a Herculean task well achieved," Johar told IANS, and said her job is to draw in the audience, which she has succeeded in doing with "Manikarnika..."
Her acting and gravity defying stunts have been lauded.
"I honestly think Kangana Ranaut was possessed by the spirit of Bruce Lee. Even the gravity defying stunts looked believable because of the searing intensity on her face," opined filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma.
Is this the return of Kangana?
"Return? She has always been around," industry expert Vinod Mirani told IANS.
"Well established stars, especially good actors don't fade out. A lot of stars like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn have give a line-up of flops but they come back when a script is good."
From starting a career with "Gangster" to building up credibility as a versatile actor with films like "Life... In a Metro", "Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai", "Fashion", "Tanu Weds Manu" and "Queen" - the National Award-winning actress, who hails from a small town in Himachal Pradesh, has made her space with a vengeance.
She is outspoken like few in the industry are, and has faced her share of rows with industry bigwigs. But above all, Kangana, as Mirani said, is a "great actor".
"She carries 'Manikarnika...' solely on her shoulders. The film's budget is high, but the ladies audience is expected to salvage it," Mirani added.
With "Manikarnika...", Kangana has also stepped in as director -- something which had landed her in a fresh controversy.
Nevertheless, there's an encouragement for her directorial talent. Actress Raveena Tandon, for one, is impressed.
"Directing this magnificent extravaganza seems like a challenge which you have successfully and effortlessly fulfilled," actress Raveena Tandon wrote on Instagram.
Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, who gave Kangana a career-defining role in "Fashion", said the actress is a "one man army in life and also a one woman show in the film 'Manikarnika'".
"Your flawless performance is captivating, intense, controlled, with sheer brilliance. You deserve all the accolades and awards for 'Manikarnika', hands down," Bhandarkar tweeted.
Vibha Chopra, Head - Distribution, Acquisition and Marketing - Zee Studios International, is glad the film is finding traction across markets as she feels Kangana's performance is one to reckon with.
"The strength and heroism that she brings to the screen is something that is being massively appreciated across the markets. Kangana's portrayal as Manikarnika is unfading and will have a lasting impact on audiences in India and internationally.
"Markets, now, are changing. Their acceptance of films driven by female heroes is increasing," Chopra told IANS.
Raveena, who essayed powerful characters in films like "Daman" and "Satta" at a time when heroines rarely got roles with strong characteristics and a voice, sees a ray of hope for women.
"After watching the movie ('Manikarnika...', I am very sure this is going to bring a change in the perspective of the minds of the people that women by their own can't achieve what they dream of.
"The movie is a treat to watch and makes one proud that we are born of the same soil as our brave sheroes were."