Padmaavat: Behind all the grandeur lies a regressive message, lack of objectivity
A queen so beautiful that her face, to appropriate a line, launched a thousand ships. A king so brave that he will fight to save her honour till death. And a barbaric marauder who wants to acquire her for she is “naayab”.
The story is as old as stories themselves. So, what made Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat such a hot button topic that it had the self-appointed custodians of a particular community protesting for months and women threatening self-immolation while liberals fighting with the same vigour to ensure Bhansali have his say? It was perhaps the particular queen, Padmini, that the auteur chose as his muse, or it was the fight for freedom -- freedom to tell the story you chose, tell it the way you want to in a society -- from censorship by the mob.
Now, that the film is out and pitched battles have been fought over it -- on streets and in newsrooms, on Twitter and in living rooms -- many of those who fought for Bhansali are also disillusioned for the Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor-starrer propagates the same old gender, religion and caste divides. It venerates one community and demonises another with impunity. Women are shown as nothing more than a sum of their gender -- to be guarded, acquired and sacrificed depending on how their menfolk are faring. While the film’s detractors accept that the film will have the ethos of the time it has been set in but they are surprised that Bhansali’s lens wasn’t modern enough to showcase it all through the prism of today.
Bollywood actor Swara Bhaskar has already talked about the unwarranted glorification of jauhar and sati in her open letter to Bhansali. Here, we take a look at a few other pain points in Padmaavat...
The flag-bearer of Rajputana shaan
Over the past one year, the Karni Sena raised several objections to the film -- it distorts history and casts aspersions on Rajput valour. The film, ironically, is a lyrical ode to the ‘Rajputana shaan’ made, if reports are to be believed, at the cost of almost Rs 180 crore. The number of times we are told about how a Rajput would rather die than break rules makes it sound like an advertisement for the same organisation -- only one which is aesthetically more pleasing.
Was this how Bhansali always wanted to film Padmaavat or did he give in to the protests? That is hard to say but if it is indeed the latter than it is disappointing indeed.
So much talk about the Rajput pride reminds one of Kay Kay Menon’s character Bana in Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal. Another custodian of Rajput pride, he waxes eloquent about what the community stands for but as audience, his misplaced pride is not venerated even once in the film. He and his beliefs are placed in the proper perspective, something Padmaavat absolutely fails to do.That is a responsible depiction of things as they exist, not glorifying past mistakes and failures.
Suppressed, mute women
If there is one remarkable thing about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films apart from the grandeur, it is the women characters. Be it Rani’s never-say-die spirit in Black or the ruthless matriarch played by Supriya Pathak in Ramleela - Goliyon Ki Raasleela, Bhansali’s women have always been full of life who refuse to bow down to adversities. Having set such a high standard for himself, Padmaavat is a major letdown. Be it the mute spectator Mehrunisaa (Aditi Rao Hydari) or Deepika’s Padmavati or even the badi rani in the Rajput house (essayed by Anupriya Goenka), every woman lacks agency in this film. Their life itself depends on the men around them.
Incidentally, there are token ‘progressive’ dialogues given to each of these characters. But when a wife continues to strive for the husband’s happiness just a moment after chiding him for having killed her father, it is nothing more than tokenism. Perhaps, this is an edited version to satiate the protesters, but the fact that Bhansali has presented all the misogyny in a glorified form, without even a frame or gaze criticising the attitude is disappointing.
Alauddin Khilji - the monster
A day before the release of the film, Ranveer Singh called his character in the film a monster. And that is indeed what the actor plays -- from the way he eat to the way he behaves with women. After watching the film, historian Rana Safvi said, “The rulers followed the exact code of conduct and etiquette as in Persia. It would have been very formal — the eating, dining and sartorial choices.” Ranveer’s Khilji is quite the opposite - loud, no respect for rules or people around him and almost an animal like demeanour. Interestingly, even Jayasi, whose poem is the official basis of the film, did not portray Khilji as a barbarian.
The ‘Bollywood’ Hindi
Bollywood has often displayed special love for the Hindustani language - Hindi spoken with a heavy dose of Urdu words. Both Shahid and Deepika - who play Hindu royals in the film - use Urdu-heavy language in their speeches, conversations and especially songs. Words like ‘khoobsurat’ and ‘haadsa’ are not originally Hindu but were adapted in the language later. The words, ‘sundar’ and ‘durghatna’ would be used instead if the person speaking is not yet influenced by the Urdu language. The language in the film is more reminiscent of the 70s Bollywood films than the historical/mythical story of Padmini.
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