We had purchased our tickets as a group with the express purpose of making it a dress-up event. I chose to be the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khaljī, who is the villain of the piece in the movie Padmaavat. A sea of red, pink, yellow, green ranis dazzled the entrance of the theatre. They spun in waves of ghoomar dance around a yellow turbaned dhol player. As I looked around at the resplendent ranis I felt I had let the Sultan down. My black tunic with silver salwar-pants and silver stole was not a match to the hot milky sweet chai tea latte sipping queens who jangled their bangles and flashed their jewels. The ladies of the Bay Area had Cinderellaed their way to having a ball. But what of Alauddin Khaljī?
The film opened and in strode Alauddin. His hair fanned out over his striking muscular body. He led an ostrich into the Sultan’s court. The Princess had requested an ostrich feather from her father the Sultan. What she got was a whole live and kicking ostrich. In return Alauddin boldly asked the Sultan for his daughter’s hand in marriage. A bird for a bird.
A few scenes later Alauddin had killed the Sultan and throttled his wife’s brother, the Sultan’s son. Nothing seemed to stand in his way now as he strode across the land as the new King, conquering all. Rippling beneath the wolf hide flung across his shoulders was a heart with endless desire. A maniac light emanated from his blue grey eyes that were underlined by two black lines. A jagged scar shone beneath. I sheepishly looked at my tame clothes. So woefully inadequate was my Sultan attire that I quietly drew in a unibrow and stained my lips red thereby transforming myself from the villain of the piece to its tragic heroine. No one, I thought, could impersonate the Alauddin Khaljī that Ranveer Singh had created.
Ranveer Singh, the actor who had made his mark as Bollywood’s romantic hero, had risen from the grave of Khaljī with all the drama of a power-hungry super-villain who grabbed the audience’s fascination with the gnashing of his teeth. Riveted, the audience cowered under the unwavering will of the Sultan who tore at their mindshare as easily as he devoured raw meat in large chunky mouthfuls. The fate of the audience was a bit like the soft Rajput Raja, the husband of the beautiful queen. All were mincemeat in his hands. Led in horrified fascination the raja, the queen, the court and the audience were all terrorized, their attention seized by this monstrous performance.
By the time he broke down the walls of the fort with persuasion, guile, perseverance and treachery in order to capture the queen and the land the audience rushed behind the women towards the funeral pyre ready to jump in alongside them in order to escape the beast bounding down the hallways of the palace.
Ranveer Singh’s Khilji remains unmatched. He is Emperor Palpatine A.K.A. Darth Sidious of Star Wars, Joker of Batman and Scar of Lion King all rolled into one.
A student of Indiana University Bloomington, Ranveer had neither good looks nor the physique of a typical Bollywood hero. A copywriter in an advertising firm Ranveer’s B to B (Bloomington to Bollywood) journey displays a strength of will that he shares with the character he plays. Khaljī and Ranveer have a lot in common.
“My natural predisposition is to be an extremist. Risks excite me. I know that when I choose to endorse a condom brand in a country like India, it could go either way. When I choose to be a part of the first ever comedy roast in India, I know it could go either way,” said Ranveer to GQ. Choosing to play the villain of all villains in a nation where the line between real and screen life is blurred and onscreen personas are worshiped as gods or vilified for life, Ranveer says he took a risk yet again.
As we single filed out of theatre all 120 Padmavatis stretched out their stress curled bodies and reached out for sweet sesame-seed-crusted Rajasthani gajak being handed out by Sarini Kakkar and Nina Daruwalla. Someone broke into the ghoomar song from the movie and the ranis on cue started swaying to the number. The spell was broken. Alauddin was left clawing in the ashes.
Bay Area Padmavatis raised about $2400 for the India Literacy Project, a volunteer based non-profit organization dedicated to the cause of literacy in India. By empowering every individual they strive to be a catalyst for 100% literacy in India. The fundraiser for India Literacy Project that took about 120 women to watch Padmavat together was bravely organized by Dr. Sheetal Gokhale and Kavita Agrawal.