For last few months, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s supposed magnum opus, Padmavati, err, "Padmaavat," was in the limelight not for its potential genius of a film but the Rajput Karni Sena’s vandalism, assaults, protests and death threats against the maker and actors. The film finally released on Thursday, and FINALLY being able to write a review of the film is nothing less than the feeling of attaining nirvana for me right now.
"Padmaavat" is an irony – in more than just one important sense. The first is the “oops” moment the Karni Sena must be having after watching the film. There is literally no scene, no dialogue and no scope whatsoever for the film to degrade the Rajput honour. Not a single thing. Rather, Bhansali could really use a tagline - “'Padmaavat': an ode to the Rajput valour”. With the characters pronouncing the Rajput morals throughout the film and the infamous “jauhar” (self-immolation) by the queen that supposedly preserved the Rajput honour, Bhansali has made exactly what the Karni Sena would have made if given the chance. The Rajputs are law-abiding, moral, blameless people- mainly exemplified by Rawal Ratan Singh (played by Shahid Kapoor). Kapoor looks his career-best – the sleek athletic body, intense kohled eyes, lustrous hair and masculine facial hair make him an irresistibly good-looking Rajput king who, sadly, speaks more and does less. Bhansali fails to utilize the potentials Kapoor possess to portray Ratan Singh; and that is one of the saddest things I experienced watching the film. The repeated, boring, mouthful lines in praise of the Rajputs were all Kapoor had to contribute to the film.
Padmavati (played by Deepika Padukone) is shown as an intelligent and sophisticated lady who does not have much to do except the “jauhar”. Padukone shows her excellence nonetheless. The silent drop of a tear upon hearing the news of Ratan Singh’s death is Padukone’s unsurpassed brilliance that will pierce your soul in a second. Her beauty, which illustrates the one thing the film revolves around – Padmavati’s beauty, is nothing less than surreal. Yet, the gorgeous looking couple that Kapoor and Padukone make, does not receive many opportunities to intensify their chemistry.
Padmaavati’s ‘jauhar’ to avoid giving in to Khilji has been depicted with awe-inspiring artistry by Bhansali which proves why he’s a genius
With all said and done, "Padmaavat" exclusively belongs to Ranveer Singh. Singh plays the vicious, daredevil, ruthless tyrant Alauddin Khilji. Khilji might not have won rani Padmavati but Singh has surely owned "Padmaavat" the film. Here comes the second irony about Bhansali’s epic, Khilji is portrayed by Bhansali as the brutal, savage, immoral antagonist, the one to be loathed; but Singh, with his brilliance, has made Khilji put the other characters in the shade. In Khilji, Singh has given Bollywood its ultimate villain for centuries to come (I’m really not bothered if that’s an exaggeration)! The manic laugh, the petrifying gaze, the brutish walk, the captivating expressions scream passion, ambition, desire, savagery and lust with unabashed fluency.
As much as Bhansali promised that "Padmaavat" does not distort history, looks like it does. No, it does not show an intimate scene between Padmavati and Khilji, but it does show Khilji as a barbaric, savage and rustic ruler which may or may not have been historically true. Bhansali’s bias is plain as day. Considering the vibrant visuals of the film, again ironically enough, Bhansali paints the characters solely in black or white. The Muslims are vicious, uncultured, deceiving barbarians while the Hindus are sophisticated, moral, kind people beaming with elegance and self-willed principles.
Padmavati’s jauhar to avoid giving in to Khilji has been depicted with awe-inspiring artistry by Bhansali which proves why he’s a genius. The cinematography is breathtaking in the entire film but the jauhar scene surely stands out. The women draped in red sarees running to jump into the fire with the hypnotizing background music, the pregnant woman and the little girl among the self-sacrificing women and a panicked villain witnessing his defeat with awe- the spectacle is bound to give you goosebumps. However, the goosebumps you get are a problem when you think about it. Despite the disclaimer from Bhansali that "Padmaavat" does not support any sort of self-immolation, the thrill you experience denotes the glorification of Padmavati’s suicide. Of course, Bhansali could not have changed history and made Padmavati go on with her life after being captured and molested by Khilji; but a standpoint should have been incorporated in the film and not just in a disclaimer. When accused for inviting violence through her beauty, Padmavati defends herself blaming the wrong intentions of the onlooker - apart from that single line Padmavati articulates, there is no comment from the maker that would tone the patriarchy of the film down.
The bias, the patriarchy or the lack of depth, nevertheless, does not diminish the significance of the splendid performances and the enchanting visuals. Bhansali has always known his aesthetics. And you can see it in "Padmaavat" too. Among the brilliant performances, Jim Sarbh’s performance deserves special mention. He plays Khilji’s slave Malik Kafur, with whom Khilji supposedly had a romantic relationship. Bhansali chooses not to clarify but suggests this through Malik’s lustful, longing gaze at the king. Sarbh does a magnificent job at portraying the enigmatic character. I feel sad looking at the potentials, the scopes the film missed, or was forced to miss. While watching the film you will find yourself longing for more- that “more” was probably in the film which had to be cut off due to the threats or perhaps Bhansali himself chose his way. Whatever the case, "Padmaavat" is a tragedy- the film that could have been the epic of the millennium, turned out to be quite a plain tale of good vs bad.
But again, Ranveer Singh, where are you even going to keep ALL those awards you’re collecting this year?!