Padmaavat movie review: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film does what Karni Sena wanted to do
Cast: Deepika Paukone, Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
First things first.
Does Padmaavat cast aspersions on the Rajput valour? No.
Does it present the Rajputs of Mewar, who ruled in the 13th century, as heroes? Yes.
Does Karni Sena have reasons to oppose Padmaavat? No, unless they believe that Rajputs actually won against Alauddin Khilji.
Has Bhansali gone overboard in praising Rajputs? Kind of yes, though he claims Padmaavat is a work of fiction and mostly based on Malik Muhammed Jayasi’s epic poem of the same name.
Last, the protests by the fringe groups hold any meaning after watching the film? A big no.
In fact, the film does what the Karni Sena stands for: Uphold the Rajput flag.
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Let’s talk about the film now. How much do you know about Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh)? To most, he was a tyrant, cynical ruler who wanted to win the Rajputana to become India’s most powerful king. Also, that he had a slave-cum-companion Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh) and some quirks that probably made him an acceptable leader for the Afghans who were attracted to India’s wealth.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens his most spectacular film, in fact one of Bollywood’s glossiest till date, with Jalaluddin Khilji (Raza Murad) witnessing his young nephew’s idiosyncrasies. Alauddin is asked to bring ostrich’s hair, instead he brings a chain-cuffed ostrich. He dances with a mad abandon and shows scant respect for rules and women, including his new wife Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari).
It is but obvious that he would want to see Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) after listening to a dejected priest Raghav Chetan wax eloquent about her beauty, comparing it to moon, ocean and solace. Padmavati, the princess of Singhal, is married to Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) who lives by the Rajput code of ethics. How do we know? Because he keeps repeating them throughout the film. Needless to say that ‘Rajput’ is most oft-used word in the 163-minute film.
The grand sets and better-than-average CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) captures the attention in the beginning. The slow pace of the film gives the audience time to adjust to the milieu. Ranveer Singh hypnotises you -- his body language, terrifying eyes and passionate walk screams of the preparation that has gone into the role.
Alauddin Khilji is also the best written role in the film. The scenes between Khilji and Kafur are dark, strange and layered. Bhansali leaves doubts in your mind about their characters despite telling you about the nature of their friendship. Jim Sarbh, with his accent and peculiar mannerism, shows us the different facets of human bonding. In one of the scenes, he is caressing Khilji’s back with a fan made of peacock feathers, and demonstrates how hard it is to decipher power play in this master-slave relationship.
Their, Sarbh and Singh’s, excellence is also visible in the scene where he looks from behind a curtain as Khilji forces himself on a woman. The sexual undertone makes us see their relationship in a new light.
Padmaavat is projected as a clash of ideas about love and war, and how they hold different meanings for different people; in this case, rulers.
Bhansali knows that his biggest asset is the myth around his lead characters and he tries his best to explore that. You don’t meet any of the major characters just like that. There is a proper build-up around all the three major players: Khilji, Ratan Singh and Padmavati.
Padmaavat is also a talkative film. If Shahid Kapoor’s Ratan Singh is not shy of forcing his ideals down our throats, Ranveer Singh’s Khilji also explains his barbarism and love for betrayal in as many words. On top of that, you get to hear the parallels in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It’s a proper king-queen-enemy set up with absolutely no subtlety.
The techniques of battle formations could have come handy here to shift focus from the predictability of the film, but Bhansali refuses to come out of his own mind palace. Like most of his films, the love triangle with one evil vertex remains in the middle of it. Probably, he wants the audience to take sides.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Ranveer Singh breaks this triangle by winning the viewers over in the first half, which is better paced than the second one. He isn’t confined by the slow motion horse-riding shots, and has the maximum impact among all the actors.
Deepika Padukone’s character is left behind in the ego battle of two men. She leaves the centre-stage for the two hotheaded war commanders more easily than expected. She returns to salvage her pride and position in the film, but it’s too late by then.
The music, by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is another letdown. Ratan Singh and Padmavati maintain a filtered language in most part of the film except the songs where lyrics get closer to Khilji than them.
Sudeep Chatterjee’s camera understands the delicate nature of Bhansali’s filmmaking. He begins with a hand-held chase of Deepika Padukone and proceeds on to frame beautiful long shots. In one simple motion, he pans out his camera from a dancing Deepika performing ‘ghoomar’ to over the shoulder shot of Ratan Singh, in the process showing two totally different perspective of the same situation.
Conceptualised as a clash of cultures, Padmaavat is more about Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s larger than life vision than the story of Padmavati’s ordeal and why she was forced to take extreme steps to protect her honour in a world dominated by men. There isn’t any serious attempt to dig deep into Padmavati’s subconscious. Thankfully, Deepika Padukone manages to shine over a glittering canvas. She is the cohesive force that holds the film from reducing to a simple tussle between two sword-wielding men.
Padmaavat is sparkling, extravagant, dazzling, magnificent and wonderful. It’s a feast for the eyes. It leaves you craving for something more meaningful than a mere re-telling of Jayasi’s poem. But it has enough to bedazzle you, so go for the sheen and Ranveer Singh’s lunacy. After all, Padmaavat has passed so many hurdles to reach you.
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