Director : Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast : Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hyadri, Jim Sarbh, Raza Murad.
The legend of Padmavati is widely known, at least in the north of India. The film version is inspired from the work of Malik Mohammad Jayasi called Padmaavat, an entirely fictional account of how Alauddin Khilji saw the reflection of the beautiful Rani Padmavati of Chittor, and decided to make her his own, and how the Rajputs fought the Khilji armies to stop Khilji and his evil plan, a battle to save the honour of their beautiful queen and save the Rajputana pride.
It is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, so here is what HE WANTS US TO SEE.
Splendour and grandeur. Everything is beautiful in every frame. The animate and the inanimate. Larger than life, lit to perfection, detailed enough for you to see the furthest flag in the frame fluttering in harmony with the background score.
The costumes and jewellery, stunning and rich. From the heavily embroidered and embellished clothes of Rani Padmavati, to the elaborate work on Rawal Ratan Singh’s ensembles, to the darkly draped layers that Khilji wears, even the palanquins are dressed to perfection as the white fabric flutters against the red of the ghaghras worn by the ladies.
Sets and effects. The lamp lit forts, the shimmering fairy tale jungles of Sinhala (Padmavati is the princess of this kingdom in SLB’s tale) the battle field with horses and elephants and giant cannon throwers draped in yards and yards of white fabric.
A love triangle. Rajkumari Padmavati glides through the forest much like the Hiran she is hunting when instead of the animal, the arrow from her bow finds its way to Ratan Singh, the Rajput King of Chittor. They fall in love, and he proposes, they marry. She becomes Rani Padmavati of Chittor. Enter the big bad villain Alauddin Khilji, desirer of all things priceless, Nayaab! He hears of the ethereal beauty of Padmavati and decides he wants her.
The film has Deepika Padukone playing Padmavati. She definitely looks the part. Her eyes do most of the talking, and when given a chance she shines through in her lines too. Shahid Kapoor as the proud Rajput warrior king is a strange concoction of rippled body and rigid expression. The meat (pun intended) goes to Ranveer Singh, and he chews lustily into the role of Alauddin Khilji. His scenes sparkle with energy, and he ends up making even unintentionally funny situations palatable. He creates a villain we haven’t seen in sometime. Jim Sarbh as the homosexual aide, who would kill at Khilji’s pleasure, puts in a good act. Aditi Rao Hyadri is well cast as the submissive wife to Khilji who eventually stands up for herself.
So this is a spectacle of SLB and we know he does the best spectaculars in Bollywood.
NOW, HERE IS WHAT I SAW.
The story of Rani Padmavati, which even those who didn’t know about it, do so by now, thanks to the Karni Sena. This fictional lore may have worked in its time and age, when women had no rights or voice, their existence defined by males, had no freedom to even form an opinion. But hell, this is 2018 and a filmmaker chooses to tell a tale in all its splendour, trying very hard to distract us with stunning visuals and ghoomar and ghaghras, from the statement the film eventually makes.
A woman as something to be possessed. A man is allowed to have multiple wives. Pride and honour are only found in a certain religion. A certain religion is full of evil monsters who chomp on meat and lust after women. Gays are to be made fun of and ridiculed.
Bhansali has chosen the top heroine only to relegate her the titular role of a woman weighed down by jewels and jauhar. You see sparks of a smart woman, but eventually it is a woman who needs her husband’s permission to end her life. This story may justify the need to save their “Honour” i.e be taken captive by the muslim ruler and his barbaric force, but don’t forget, Sati in certain parts of the country, was for every woman who became a widow, as if life stops to exist for them also the moment their husband breathes their last.
In the current scenario, the choice of the subject is questionable when we all know where it ends. Now what one was waiting for was what will be the stance SLB will take. There are films made every year about the Nazi Regime, the World War, Rape, Human Trafficking, Drugs, Cartels. And here lies the difference. They are made with a clear motive of NOT glorifying the sordid past or the abominable acts, or the illegal, criminal practices. They are a lesson in what we do NOT need to repeat from history, or applaud in the present. I was hoping for a positive, subversive spin on this tale.
If in Ramleela and Bajirao Mastani, his leanings were veiled, here they out in the open, thumping the message home.
He takes a stand and makes the most regressive magnum opus I have ever seen. A film that has consumed crores to present us with misogyny and bigotry in the times we live in. Times when the politics of the country is so skewed, women are being subjected to rampant rapes and mutilation, the caste divide is widening and crimes are being committed in the name of religion, where your dietary preferences can get you your personal lynch mob… where the LGBT community is treated the worst for the film that takes umpteen digs at gays… I question the existence of the film, the way it is.
It is all presented in such an easy to consume style, gorgeously mounted, with superb acting by Ranveer, Deepika looking mesmerising, her face air brushed to bring peaches and creams to her skin, well… She had to be that beautiful I guess for two rulers to throw logic aside. There are twists and turns, betrayals and deceit, dances and dalliances… That one can almost, almost forget what is being served.
As the climax approached… the dread took over. It began as a sermon on what it means to be a Rajput, as if the film had already not drilled it in our heads with “ye Rajput wo Rajput” and then what it means to be the pristine Rajput woman. As Padmavati prepares herself with all the other women to jump into the burning pyre I was squirming in my seat.
Let’s face it, the climax is not a surprise. Everyone knows where the film is headed, but without actually seeing it, I didn’t know whether Jauhar will be glorified, or shown as something from the regressive past of this country, something that should be regretted today, shunned and shamed.
But no, Padmaavat glorifies it to the skies. It is the best shot sequence, from framing to choreography to sound design and costumes. And as the film maker chooses to show a pregnant woman and a girl child walk towards the fire… my fists clenched in anger. Is this the price we continue to pay for being women?