29 Jan 2018

Movie Talk: Padmaavat: Surprises and Conflicts

Irrespective of the controversies, Padmaavat had a rocking trailer, showcasing glimpses of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's flair for detailing and sheer beauty. After finally catching up with the film, a lot of things stuck out for me:

Rajputs as Heroes, Khiljis as Villians  
Did Bhansali change the screenplay after the initial protests? The way Rajputs are praised sky high in Padmaavat, you may well believe that Bhansali will join the Karni Sena soon. Contrast it with Khiljis depicted as savage, dishonorable, uncultured and power-hungry. Its a Ram vs Raavan fight, as Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), is made to say in the film.

Star Power Over Story 
Clearly, attempts have been made to balance Shahid Kapoor's and Ranveer Singh's star power, at the expense of story and logic. How else do you explain Alauddin Khilji walking in alone into Chittor, making an atrocious demand and still getting away unhurt? How about Ratan Singh citing honor as a reason to return the favor and visit Alauddin's tent unarmed?

That an escaping king would find time to taunt his tormentor before escaping in elaborate exchange of dialogues is hard to believe. The final sword fight is almost a lazy skirmish, but for some moments. It is a Shahid-Ranveer compensatory fight rather than a Rajput-Khilji faceoff. These clearly compensated elements cut off any chances of a fine film.

Padmavati Appears and Disappears 
This was supposed to be Padmavati's film, right? But for the final 15 minutes, we get little of Deepika Padukone. She is resplendent at the start, followed by the decorous Ghoomar song sequence, and is then reduced to giving Shahid Kapoor loving, faithful glances. We have no hint at Ratan Singh's journey either.

Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) is the only character with an elaborate backstory. We clearly see where he is coming from, unlike Ratan Singh and Padmavati. Add to that Ranveer's madcap performance, no wonder Alauddin's deplorable, menacing character engages and connects to a greater degree.

Mass Suicide as a Brave Act? 
I was stunned by the final mass self-immolation scene. In the context of the movie, it is heart-rending. But as we see Padmavati stepping into the CGI-created flames with a smile, the modern context to it is alarming. So, if all your men are all dead and the enemies are sure to ravish you, the only way out for women is suicide? Mixed, dubious signals here.

The Final Question 
So did Bhansali make major changes to the story and the approach after the initial protests? What role did the mass coercion and Karni Sena threat play in making Padmaavat a lesser movie? We can only wait for the filmmakers to speak out some day in our so-called democratic country.

28 Jan 2018

Padmaavat: All Honour and Grandeur, Weak Story

Padmaavat is a film to be enjoyed on its merit, despite the atrocious demands of covering up Deepika's bare waist, the alleged deleted scenes, and lengthy disclaimers.

The Honourable Tale
Rajput King Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) falls for Singala Princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) and they are soon married. Meanwhile, in distant Afghanistan,  Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) gets his uncle, the reigning Khilji king (Raza Murad) murdered to ascend the throne.

Back at Chittor Fort, Ratan Singh banishes the royal priest Raghav Chetan for playing peeping tom on the couple. Enraged, Chetan travels to Delhi, enticing Alauddin by describing Padmavati's beauty to attack Chittor. War looms and Chittor's fate seems sealed against a larger Khilji army.

Wafer Thin Plot, Hindi Film Dialoguebaazi 
Despite the detailed grandeur, gorgeous set design, and painstaking costume design, Padmaavat lacks a strong story. The face-offs between Ratan Singh and Alauddin plays on the Shahid-Ranveer star status rather than logic. Both kings enter each other's territory unarmed and alone. An escaping king still finds time to part with his subdued rival on a dialogue-laced note, just because he wants to.

The CGI is unimpressive and just about holds, disappointing after what we witnessed in SS Rajamouli's Bahubali (2015) and Baahubali 2 (2017) movies. The mountains, soldiers, the funeral pyre and falling soldiers all look unreal. The action is brief and impressive in bits, though the final Rajput-Khilji fight is mockingly contrived with Shahid-Ranveer trading obligatory blows in turns.

What Works? 
The performances, atmosphere, songs and background score hold the film. Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone are both compelling, but they don't get as much to work with as Ranveer Singh does. Ranveer, clearly enjoying himself, nails a difficult part with menacing, intruding darkness, his character keeps the film above average.

Jim Sarbh makes a decent act of an underwritten, punishing role as a deviant Khilji slave. Aditi Rao Hydari is lovingly efficient in her bit part as is the baritone veteran Raza Murad. Anupriya Goenka is consistent, though she falters in a key scene.

Rousing Finale
It is in the final dialogue-less 15 minutes that the film comes alive. The film does end up glorifying self-immolation as a heroic tradition. But seen as a fictional film, this part is both poignant and arousing and makes up for the film's many flaws. Takeaways from the Ketan Mehta classic Mirch Masala (1987) add to the stunning climax.

The Controversy, The Irony 
Bhansali is clearly partial in depicting Rajputs as honorable, brave, upright warriors and the Khiljis as murderous, cheating, savage barbarians. So what was the rogue and coercive Karni Sena opposing? Bhansali is totally on their side here.

Padmaavat is a decent historical entertainer that does not build on its premise. It is an attempt in decorated epic-ness but lacks a layered story. Watch it in 2D, the 3D is just a marketing afterthought.
For me, the best Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie is still that classy love triangle Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999).