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‘Padmaavat’ review: an insipid love letter to Rajputs

A bunch of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s recent films have been marked by a blatant gaze at, and celebration, of the male body — the towel-wrapped Ranbir Kapoor in Saawariya; the glisteningly-oiled Ranveer Singh in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela or Singh’s rippling muscles as he bathes in Bajirao Mastani.

The one scene in Padmaavat that made a modicum of impression on me was of Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji (Singh) in the bathtub with his ghulam (slave) Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh). Bhansali plays on their male bonding, giving it a homoerotic touch. Unfortunately, even as he tries to push the envelope of queer identity politics in Bollywood, Bhansali ends up using it as a mere tool to underline all that's wrong with Khilji; his beastliness, dissolution and debauchery.

It’s too much to expect depth and layers in a film which deliberately lives on the extremes — an absolute demonisation of bad/dark/deviant/outsider Khilji (read Muslim) and cringing flattery of good/fair/normal/countrymen Rajputs (Hindus). What logic then for the curiously hurt Rajput pride when all the film does is singularly exalt the community one declamatory, old world dialogue after another, glossing over any remotely questionable chinks in their armour?

Padmaavat
  • Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
  • Starring: Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapur, Jim Sarbh, Aditi Rao Hydari
  • Run time: 2 hour 44 minutes
  • Storyline: Based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem Padmaavat, it is about legendary Rani Padmavati, wife of Ratan Sen, king of Mewar, who immolated herself to save her honour from Alauddin Khilji.

Take the carefully choreographed and orchestrated jauhar. Bhansali does try to make a warrior queen and political strategist out of Padmavati and lends a touch of resistance and rebellion to the act a la Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (replace chillies with burning coal) but that hardly balances out the eventual glorification of it, totally out of depth in these #MeToo times. More so because the primacy of the man and his honour is perennially underscored. For the jauhar, Padmavati has to seek her husband’s permission; even her death is in his hands, and not her own.

Forget these ideological, political, feminist quibbles, my biggest issue with the film is that it is a yawn fest. If there’s one disclaimer that Padmaavat should have rightfully sported, it is "any lapse into boredom is purely unintended and coincidental". For once, the tired reviewer in me demands the indulgence of adjectives — Padmaavat is an interminable expanse of unadulterated dullness.

I may have had several bones to pick with Bhansali school of cinema — the unapologetic gloss, the visual excesses, the heightened emotions — but he does have the ability to whip up just the precise amount of drama in the right sequences, with flamboyance and flair. He also has a great ear for music and orchestrates some pulsating choreography in song-and-dance set pieces.

In Padmaavat, however, neither does he manage to hit the right notes when it comes to the soundtrack nor is there a single sequence which lingers on. No character reaches out; no moment is able to move you. Padmaavat may well be Bhansali’s most sterile and insipid outing since Saawariya and Guzaarish. It manages to wear down and exhaust rather than engage.

The colours, costumes and jewellery scream luxury and weigh the actors down but very strangely I also felt the glitzy spectacle getting dwarfed in 3D IMAX. The opulence doesn’t seem as awe-inspiring, the special effects, especially in some of the battle scenes, are plain tacky and the actors seem like cardboard dolls of themselves in the long shots, acquiring a human visage only in extreme closeups, which is when Deepika Padukone (and Aditi Rao Hydari too) looks extremely regal and radiant, which she anyhow always does.

There is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lurking in her leaps and jumps in chasing a deer. Padukone and Shahid Kapur, however, don’t have the sensual connect, the way she has had it with Ranveer Singh in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela and Bajirao Mastani. Singh, on the other hand, may be called Khilji here but the character and its interpretation is along the same lines as the unbridled sexual assertion, aggression and machismo of his character in Goliyon… The severely muscled and overly gymmed-up body stays as does the 'Tattad tattad' kind of dance. The likeable actor is dangerously close to falling into the "eccentric, flamboyant" trap. Hope someone rescues him from it soon.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2020 8:49:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/padmaavat-film-review/article22503940.ece

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