Visual splendour, splendid valor….lost message….Padmavat(i)

Desolate landscapes, swirling dust, red-ochre-yellow-white hues, bejewelled complicated costumes, soaring music and elaborate sets…..these are a given in any Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. And Padmavat faithfully follows the SLB song book.

A visual treat from the first frame, the long range shots of the desert, the moving camera Padmaavat_posterover the typical Rajasthani fortress and splendid use of diffused lighting with rich red hues in costume, jewellery and make up.
The music soars and the Persian-Afghani music segements are far better than the Rajasthani folk- even the Ghumar song doesn’t hit the same high notes that SLB’s previous songs have done. We are probably spoilt by numbers like Dola re, Deewani Mastani and others.

For a story based on a poem, the writing falls short-not helped by a screenplay that wastes too much time setting the scene and covering landscapes.
The screenplay also lacks coherence in explaining some of the actions, which seem bizzare – The opening sequences show Raja Ratan Singh Rawal of Chittor wounded by Padmavati, Princess of Singhal while she’s hunting. He falls in love with her- obviously she’s gorgeous…. but you never understand why she falls in love with him? She is an emancipated young woman, who hunts in the forest- but is okay with going off to a conservative kingdom where women are still in purdah??

Anyways….lets not let logic interfere with a good story!

The princess is a raging beauty and when she comes as the 2nd wife, the first wife is rightfully quite upset….Raja Ratan Singh, does not seem to feel the need to resolve the situation- seriously, he brings a wife and the director does not think a couple of dialogues are warranted?
And illogically, for a society in purdah, somehow Padmavati manages to go for most of the movie, without it.
Her beauty however tempts everyone and she causes the banishment of the Royal priest, who swears revenge and goes and tells Allauddin Khilji- the barbaric Sultan of Delhi. Who again inexpicably intensely desires someone who he has never laid eyes on or seen images of…

Once you get over the potholes in the screenplay, you can actually enjoy the performances in the film.

STANDOUT…..a very very tough choice between Ranveer Singh as Khilji and Jim Sarbh as Malik Kafur. My vote finally went to Jim Sarbh, it must have been super tough to tone down his obvious macho personality to pull off the slave who intensely desires his master, but knows he’ll never be considered as an equal.  Ranveer’s portrayal of Khilji, is inspired- Khilji comes across as a hafeem crazed megalomaniac, cruel, uncouth and evil. But it is exagerrated to the point of  being fantastic and some of the scenes are clearly OTT.

Deepika as Padmavathi is gorgeous- not quite in the same vein as her Mastani in Bajirao-Mastani, but ravishing in her ornate Rajasthani Ghagras and jewellery. But what is missing is her ownership of the role of Padmavati. As Leela in Ram-Leela, she was fiery, As Mastani, she was dignified and but passionate. As Padmavati, she is somehow tongue-tied- even the dialogues are not memorable. I waited in vain for something like “Shrad sirf apnon ka kiya jata hai, parayon ka nahi” but had to settle for the insipid “Rajputi kangan mein utni hi takat hai….”
And sadly the real Rajput queen, Ratan Singh’s first wife, is seriously undignified and cowardly. Comparing her to Kashi Bai was very depressing.

Shahid as Raja Ratan Singh, got the short end of the stick, not aided by the fact that he couldn’t pull of the look. But he does well, stays dignified and somewhat pig headed and truly annoyingly wrong. As a king, one expects a little more from him.

But, more than all of this- the most serious cinematic flaw in the film was that the turmoil of breaking purdah was missing. So much time was spent setting the romance between Shahid and Deepika, the needless Holi scene and the most critical part of the story was rushed…..The Rajput aan-baan-shaan came across as unrealistic and silly, not valourous.

The characterization of a whole people as barbaric – making out the Muslim rulers as tribal, practically chewing raw meat was unwarranted. Surely Khusrow who’s poetry is exquisite did not make up all the stuff he wrote about the Khiljis! All that debauchery depicted in SLB’s version was way more than artistic licence called for!

And the elephant in the room- the glorification of an archaic custom- Jauhar….Again SLB did not spend time building up the reason- it seemed ridiculous. In reality, Jauhar was enacted when defeat was certain. The rituals were collective not individual, Deepika decides to commit Jauhar and then gets on a pedastal to rally the women.
The movie would have done better to contextualise the custom and show the desperation that leads to it. Even more ridiculous was the 15 minute visual treat of the Jauhar scene- not required.

Finally, the standout song was Binte Dil – loved the middle eastern twang and notes in the song and inspite of all the hype, Khali Bali is not a patch on Malhari!!

Final verdict – Its a movie, mostly fiction- watch it as such, hopefully people don’t go to see a Bollywood extravaganza to learn more about Indian History!

Rating: 3/5