Tejas Nair | January 27, 2018
Rating – 6/10
There’s a sequence in Padmaavat where Deepika Padukone’s character is being interviewed by a mantri. The answers she gives impresses him so much that he stands there for a while looking like he slipped into a reverie of self-introspection. The answers that she gives is what the film is all about – love and sacrifice.
After watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest feature, Padmaavat, I’m at a loss for words to differentiate between the happenings IN the film and all that preceded its tumultuous release in certain states of India. Both are tragedies but it’s important to realize that one of them has had more consequences than the film will ever have.
For the uninitiated, the film, which was formerly titled Padmavati, was denied certification and subsequent release in December 2017 after certain religious organizations in India staged massive protests claiming that the film had taken too much cinematic liberty and had allegedly tweaked historical facts. The fabricated nature of the story apparently hurt their sentiments, which led them to threaten the cast and crew of the film, with one organization even announcing a bounty on director Bhansali’s head. Things took a virulent turn and even led to several deaths and property vandalism in the country, which gathered heat in the week ahead of its release. Things are still not calm in the country, but for people who appreciate art without sentimentality, Padmaavat is a treat, albeit with some issues.
Ranveer Singh plays Alauddin Khilji, an immoral emir who boasts of a peculiar thirst for obscure things as his most primal quality. He has no issues killing his own people or breaking the rules of the game if they mean his path to attaining everything that’s inimitable becomes easier. That is why when he hears of Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), the most beautiful and courageous of the women in ancient India, he instantly wages war against a kingdom ruled by her husband Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), a scrupulous and honorable king who always puts his people ahead of him.
For a story that reeks of Indian mythology, Padmaavat looks like a tweaked version of Ramayan, with a few major changes. For anyone who’s interested or at least knows two or more things about Indian mythology, the ordinary story is going to be the number one issue. Bhansali and Prakash Kapadia’s treatment of the plot borrowed from the 16th-century poem ‘Padmavat’ by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, on the other hand, is calamitous to both the characters and the audience. They use history and mythology to reflect the issues of the modern world. With subtle references in dialogues to issues like that of sinful behavior, gender discrimination, eve-teasing, and power abuse, Padmaavat tries to glint at how things have stayed the same even after millennia of development. The request for a ban on the film is a horrid example.
The story is further let down by polarized performances. On one hand, we have Singh who, always in the realm of overacting, controls every scene he is in with his charismatic portrayal of an evil man. He is never tired (of his actions), something the audience may feel towards the end as the plot drives to and fro, and is relentlessly energetic in search for obscurity. It’s obvious from the first frame that he is the evil man, and Singh’s eyes help him emote better and effortlessly evince the wicked soul of his character. The opposite is true for Kapoor, who maintains a deadpan expression throughout the film. This may be a trait that he exercised to show his Rajput background, but it does not really add up to the cinematic extravagance that is obvious everywhere else. He, on the other hand, is submissive and acts as a slow and bashful adversary to Singh’s Khilji.
The second biggest issue with the film is Padukone’s performance and character development. For a character who is the primary topic of the film’s source of conflict, she has very little screen space. And when she does appear, Padukone delivers a steady monologue and saunters back in her nine yards. Bhansali has again garnished current social references on this character, similar to a character last revered in the recently concluded Bahubali franchise, that would make all the feminists come together and rejoice. It works to an extent, and thanks to the perfect timing of the film, complements the worldwide movements against male domination (read #MeToo), but when a film adds too many references, it becomes diluted. Padmaavat suffers from this type of dilution.
It is loud and bright in its production design. Reminding you of the war sequences in the Bahubali franchise and Game of Thrones (because they are recent), it relies heavily on enormous shots of the battleground and avoids detailing. Bhansali’s grand production setups are the highlights of his filmography, and with Padmaavat, the grandeur has only increased. Watching women draped in scarlet saris dancing with flaming mini domes in hand in enormous podiums inside gigantic castles is why one goes to a Bhansali film, and the experience one gets from being exposed to such spell-binding events is undefinable.
Bhansali’s music is also captivating and gels well with the plot, but I’m not too ecstatic about the many songs, except for Ghoomar, which only extend the running time. Despite the shortcomings in the story, the grand experience is still achievable which only peaks as the film ends with a breathtaking climax.
Padmaavat is a craftsman’s joy and depicts a lot of elements that currently dictate the world. It’s a tragedy film that emphasizes on all the hate and crime that is around us, and concludes that there is only one solution. Watch Padmaavat for the grand production, Ranveer Singh and his character’s wickedness, and for a reminder about this tragedy called life.
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