Tag Archives: padmavati

Intensity, Extravagance, Familiarity

After much controversy and debate, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati – renamed to Padmaavat – officially released worldwide to packed movie theaters and thundering box office sales. Following suit from his previous films, Bhansali once again explores historical fiction, situating this one in the 13th century context of the Indian subcontinent’s politics and the lives of Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), and Sultan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh).

Also in the milieu are archetypal characters one would expect to find in any historically-based drama film – Nagmati (Anupriya Goenka), the disgruntled first wife of Ratan Singh, Raghav Chetan (Aayam Mehta), the scheming revenge-plotting expelled Brahmin priest, Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari), the neglected and abused wife of the tyrant, and Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), a subservient servant who is (not so) secretly in love with his maniacal monster of a master.

There is no doubt that Bhansali knows how to create a visual spectacle and display extravagant opulence on the big screen. But for viewers who have seen Bhansali’s body of work as a filmmaker, there are no surprises or particularly new elements in Padmaavat that distinguish it from his more recent films. Like Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat musically and choreographically features a traditional Indian group dance, an ode to and display of traditionally strong and energetic masculinity, a sensuous expression of lust (“Binte Dil”, which resembles a male/queer version of “Ang Laga De” from Ram Leela), and a romantic heartwarming ballad. The action and fight sequences are all too predictable and the level of violence and gore is extreme.

Padmaavat is rooted in and filled with Hindu mythological tropes and themes. Bhansali clearly draws comparisons of Padmavati to Goddess Durga and Savitri and Alauddin Khilji to Raavana – both directly through the dialogues and indirectly through the cinematography and the characters’ actions. His directorial touch and attention to detail in certain scenes throughout the film do not go unnoticed but in fact provide more insight into the inner workings of his characters. That said, there is no real plot in this film, which makes it feel like a drawn-out ordeal for viewers who are left waiting for a significant sequence of events.

Any discussion of Padmaavat would be incomplete without mention of the mass self-immolation (jauhar) that marks the climax and resolution of this film. It goes without saying that this ending is intense and powerful, particularly on a large screen, but it left me feeling confused about choice and empowerment. It certainly raises questions surrounding the chronological context of women’s roles and rights then versus now.

As a feminist and mental health professional in-training watching the jauhar scene in the audience, I felt angry and helpless, as I struggled to identify an alternative to this form of collective suicide. Part of me secretly hoped that instead of committing suicide themselves, the women would set Alauddin Khilji and his troops on fire, with an alternative ending of Padmavati ruling the Rajput kingdom thereafter as Queen. Needless to say, if Bhansali’s goal was to re-author this narrative from history, that would have been a empowering ending to make the story of Padmavati even more relevant in a 21st century context.

Coming to the performances, the highlights of Padmaavat are definitely Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh, whose chemistry and passion for power are a treat to watch. Despite the one-sided love and adoration of Malik Kafur, the queer subplot between him and Khilji is much appreciated as a welcome change from the heteronormativity of Indian cinema and testimony to the fluidity of gender and sexuality across time in Indian culture and history. Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone hold their own as strong leaders, and their display of Rajput pride in their roles as King and Queen of Mewar cannot be overlooked. While Shahid’s dialogue delivery and punchlines reverberate with resonance, Deepika’s are not quite as effective, falling short of the power-packed performance expected of her.

Sanchit Balhara’s background score personifies epic grandeur, especially in the climax as all the red-clad Rajput women run towards the fire. Ganesh Acharya’s signature choreography in “Khalibali” reflects Alauddin’s madness personified through movement, which Ranveer Singh executes excellently and energetically.

Final Verdict: Padmaavat is an intense and extravagant display of greed, opulence, materialism, and power. For those who are familiar with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films, there is nothing particularly novel or unique in Padmaavat.

120 Padmavatis in the SF Bay Area

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.


Deepika Padukone on “Padmavati”: “We Will Not Live in Fear.”

Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film, based on a story by Malik Muhammad Jayasi set in 1540 A.D.  

Deepika Padukone (DP) took some time to chat about her hopes and fears with India Currents Culture and Media critic Geetika Pathania Jain (GPJ) on the topics of jauhar, intolerance, and the limits of artistic freedom.

[To provide context to this discussion. Press reports regarding opposition to the film, Padmavati have been increasing in number. Members of a group called Shri Rajput Karni Sena, have vandalized property and even assaulted Sanjay Leela Bhansali. There is opposition to an alleged love scene between Padmavati and Allaudin Khilji (played by Ranveer Singh) in the film. Deepika has been speaking out against the intolerance, and has even engaged in a sparring match with Subramanian Swamy on this topic. Bhansali has been provided police protection after death threats were leveled against him. The release date has been postponed indefinitely at this time.]

GPJ: Deepika, congratulations on your upcoming film, Padmavati. Our readers at India Currents are super excited about it and looking forward to it. Do you have a message for our readers?

DP: Please tell India Currents readers that we are very proud of the film we’ve made and we are equally equally excited! There’s been so much anticipation about the film, about its release, based on everything we’ve seen so far, and we can’t wait to share this experience with everyone.

GPJ: So you’re working with Ranveer Singh again, and he has a darker role as Alauddin Khilji in this film, an anti-hero who invades Chittor. How does it work, as an actor?

DP: It’s very hard! In two films, we are cast opposite each other as eternal lovers, you know, you have RamLeela and you have Bajirao Mastani, and then to put us in a film where we are in a hate story, so to say, it’s emotionally very very hard.

GPJ: I’m going to ask you about some of these controversies that we have been hearing in the press. It seems there is some concern about how the film will be received and whether there is the potential to hurt the sentiments of some groups of people. Do you have any comments on that?

DP: Firstly, I find it appalling just to see how people are reacting, certain groups of people are reacting,  or what they’re reacting to. Just based on hearsay, without having any facts to back what they’re saying. It’s kind of hilarious and appalling at the same time.

GPJ: You are referring to the protests against the film.

DP: And the only people that we’re answerable to is the (Indian) censor board. And we’re not going to succumb to these threats or to this pressure and we’re not going to live in fear. Because we’re not answerable to them.

GP: I’m going to quote a line from Ajay Gehlawat, a film historian, who discusses Bhansali’s strategy of using “historical accounts to retell a contemporary story?” Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen similarly note that “History is always written and re-written from the point of the present.” Do you want to comment on that?

DP: I feel like people need to trust. We’re very proud of the film that we’ve made. It’s the story of a woman and her story and the sacrifices that she made for her people. And we should be celebrating this moment. Instead, it seems to be completely the other way around, and for what? And what can anyone say without even having seen the film?

GPJ: Well, like the rest of the world, I have not seen the film yet. But just the title, Padmavati suggests that it’s a female-centric film, that it’s the story of this amazing woman who lived in the fourteenth century, and of course when we look at her from contemporary eyes, it’s hard to put ourselves in that situation. Could you comment on the practice of Rajput women committing jauhar, a form of mass suicide to avoid capture and sexual violence during war?

DP: I don’t think I can question that, to be honest. Times change. Things that are relevant then may not be relevant now. And vice versa. So I don’t think we can really question what they did or didn’t do, or what they practiced or didn’t practice. But for me, it’s much larger than that. For me, like I said before, it is about the woman that she was, the courage that she had, what she believed in, what she stood for, her intelligence, her vulnerability, those qualities that make her a woman. That’s the inspiring part for me.

GPJ: When we talk about the growing intolerance and backlash in India, would you feel that working in Bollywood film industry is losing its charm?

DP: If anything, we serve a purpose – people turn towards us because we are the one industry that gives you moments where you can escape from reality. Where you can feel love, feel unity, feel positive, feel happy, laugh. Cinema is that powerful. And it’s sad that people don’t see it. Or, certain groups of people choose not to see it. And I think no amount of opposition from a small group of people will kill the spirit of the much larger audience that understands the power of cinema. And it’s definitely not going to kill our spirit. If anything, it’s fueling it further.

GPJ: That’s good to hear. As you said, Bhansali films are all about the spectacle, stunning scenery and choreography, the songs and the beautiful ghoomar dance that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it seems like it will be a visual treat and hopefully one that will bring people together rather than divide them. Congratulations on your beautiful dancing and you look luminous in the film.  And I think our India Currents readers will be very excited to see you on the screen! Stay strong!

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Critic at India Currents.