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).

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