‘Padmaavat’ is Lavish, But the Story Soon Fizzles Out
The disclaimers before the movie repeat one more time that Padmaavat is a fictional film.
Based on Malik Mohammad Jayasi's poem by the same name, it states again that it has no intentions of causing harm or disrepute to any person or community, and further clarifies that it doesn't encourage sati.
It then takes us to 13th century AD Afghanistan, where barbaric rulers are talking about grand plans to invade India or "Hind", as it was called back then.
This is then quickly followed by the serene idyllic landscape of Singhal where warrior princess Padmavati meets Raja Ratan Singh and the cupid 's arrow strikes literally and metaphorically.
The king, already married, is so smitten by Padmavati’s charm that he immediately proposes marriage, and the Ghoomar song with Deepika's midriff covered with sanskaar and CGI isn't too far behind.
Padmaavat Now Ceases to be Just a Film
The only problem is Padmaavat now ceases to be just a film.
The long battle it had to fight for a simple release, the ridiculousness that one had to endure with the Karni Sena and erstwhile members of the Rajput royal family up in arms because of what they deem to be a grave attack on Rajput pride and valour without even seeing the film, Padmaavat – now bereft of an ‘i’ releasing in a theatre near us – is a win for freedom of expression and the basic tenets of democracy.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus seems to be overwhelmed by all this. As one watches it, one wonders how much of the fear of backlash weighed on the maker’s mind.
Were the long eulogies to Rajput bravery (not once, but scattered many times during the course of the film) an afterthought by the team to calm ruffled feathers? Because they did not always appear organic to the narrative.
Was Khilji always visualised as this completely barbaric and single-tone dark character with not one redeemable feature?
The answers to these one would never know. But judging by what we see in this 163- minute long saga, it is easy to be hypnotised by SLB's eye for beauty and its poetic depiction on screen.
In this movie, one can also see a simple good versus bad narrative with unmissable religious undertones.
Khilji is the ‘Yamraj’, ‘Ravan’ figure to Ratan Singh's ‘Maryada Purushottam’ act.
The Quintessential Bhansali Grandeur
Somethings are quintessentially Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The grandeur, unmistakable magnificence, the spectacular sartorial choices, the gems and jewellery and "all days are wedding days " kind of finery that looks all the more inviting when seen through 3D glasses.
The lavish frames captured by Sudeep Chatterjee’s camera with the humongous palaces, never-ending war fields, horses ravaging enemy territory and the clanking of metal on the battlefield – Padmaavat commands attention, revels in it, makes the most of it and looks breathtaking in every perfectly crafted scene.
But the Story Fizzles Out
Though upholstered majestically, the story somewhere fizzles out. Ratan Singh is too good, Padmavati is too stoic, and Khilji is just simply a beast. It’s difficult to ignore the rather simplistic good versus evil narrative with unmissable religious undertones.
This good versus evil battle would have been tiresome except for the enthralling beauty and the commitment of the actors.
Shahid Kapoor imbues his Raja Ratan Singh with an understated goodness and moral authority. Deepika Padukone looks ethereal playing her part with unmatched grace, and Ranveer Singh lets loose his inner electrifying energy turning into an ogre, wreaking havoc in his wake.
Also praiseworthy is Jim Sarbh in the role of Khilji's eunuch slave and suggested partner Malik Kafur.
But sadly, his role, like that of Ratan Singh's first wife played by the able Anupriya Goenka or Khilji's wife (Aditi Rao Hydari), is never quite sincerely explored .
The beauty of Padmaavat leaves us mesmerised, but as fas as storytelling goes, it isn’t exceptional.
As for Karni Sena, they must now have their finger on their lips!
3.5 Quints out of 5!
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure India gets your message.)
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)