'Padmaavat' (2018): Movie Review

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Padmaavat, Ranveer Singh, Alauddin Khilji

When one talks about the extreme long shot, one is immediately reminded of the great Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Of course, David Lean takes the idea of an extreme long shot to a whole new level in Lawrence of Arabia with the famous Sherif Ali introduction sequence, shot using a specially designed 482mm telephoto lens. When I watched the rushes of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat the first thing that caught my attention was the use of the extreme long shot. Given Bhansali’s long association with Vidhu Vinod Chopra at the beginning of his career, it is easy to imagine how Chopra’s fascination for Kurosawa would have rubbed off on Bhansali. There is no doubt whatsoever that Bhansali is the undisputed king when it comes to visual mastery in Hindi cinema. All those who had any doubts were finally convinced after watching Bajirao Mastani. And, with Padmaavat, Bhansali has done no damage to his reputation as a showman par excellence. For, here is a film that’s so rich in terms of grandeur that one can’t help but gasp at the beauty of the images that Bhansali arranges together as a motion picture about the glory of the legendary queen of Mewar, Padmini aka Padmavati.   

If cinema were all about the beauty of the image then all gifted painters would have become great filmmakers. Now, Bhansali too can be described as a painter but one who knows how to tell stories through the language of cinema. And often he paints his cinematic canvas endeavoring to celebrate the India culture—an aspect that makes him different from most other Hindi filmmakers. While Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was an adaptation of Maitreyi Devi’s Bangla novel, Na Hanyate, his Devdas was based on Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s popular Bangla novel of the same name. Bhansali’s previous film, Bajirao Mastani, was based on Nagnath S. Inamdar’s Marathi novel, Raau. His latest offering, Padmaavat, is based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem, Padmawat. Bhansali’s ingenious showmanship has helped bring back these nigh forgotten literary gems to life. His films are without doubt culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.
Extreme Long Shots in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat, David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Akira Kurosawa's Ran
Extreme Long Shots (in clockwise order): Padmaavat #1, Padmaavat #2, Lawrence of Arabia, Ran
But unfortunately the celebrated filmmaker has been on the radar of some extreme right-wing groups in the recent times. While his previous two films, Bajirao Mastani and Ram-Leela, too, drew the ire of certain outfits over their controversial themes and titles, the things got worse when he got manhandled by the members of a fringe group called Rajput Karni Sena on the sets of the Queen Padmini movie in Jaipur. Subsequently, the Karni Sena grew more belligerent, leading to the postponement of the film’s release by over a month. Now, the CBFC cleared the movie after the makers agreed to change its title from Padmavati to Padmaavat in addition to other prescribed changes. But the Karni Sena has refused to budge thus, continuing to vehemently oppose the film, resorting to vandalism and violence in different parts of the country. School buses have been attacked and automobiles have been torched. Despite a clear verdict from the Supreme Court to release the film all across India, the state governments have failed to provide the necessary assurances to the cinema owners. The Multiplex Association of India has already made it clear that the film will not be screened in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa.

Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat
Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat  
Having watched Padmaavat at a special press screening at Delhi, I can tell with absolute certainty that the film doesn’t do any disservice to the Rajput community. That the film tries its best to glorify both Queen Padmini as well as her consort Rawal Ratan Singh. I now wonder what the protests are all about. For, there never was a more glorious portrayal of the Rajputi tradition in Indian cinema. In fact, Padmaavat seems so invested in the idea of glorifying the Rajputs of Mewar that after a point it appears to lose all objectivity. In the process the film even fails to be true to Jayasi’s Padmawat. The end result is a film that can best be described as one-dimensional. While its visual appeal is immense, the storytelling seems to take a backseat. The characters are plain black-and-white with little scope for shades of grey. The dialogues are loud but they lack the desired punch. Also, the songs and music are nowhere near the subliminal brilliance of the aural orchestration we got to experience in Bajirao Mastani.  One area which Bhansali yet again gets right is acting (despite being a bit predictable with his casting choices). Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of Alauddin Khilji is a real tour de force. He carries the film on his shoulders, stealing every scene he is a part of—not that there are many that don’t feature him. Both Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor are quite solid but they are simply no match for Ranveer’s ferocious performance. It’s difficult to think when was the last time that a Bollywood film completely revolved around its antagonist. Among the supporting acts, Jim Sarbh and Aditi Rao Hydari impress as Khilji’s slave-general Malik Kafur and wife Mehrunisa, respectively. Veteran actor Raza Murad makes an impressive cameo appearance as Jalaluddin Khilji.   

Shahid Kapoor as Rawal Ratan Singh in Padmaavat
Shahid Kapoor as Rawal Ratan Singh in Padmaavat

My major concern with Padmaavat has to do with its shameful portrayal of the legendary Sufi scholar Amir Khusrow. Instead of celebrating a great poet and musician like Khusrow, Bhansali chooses to mock and ridicule the beloved disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin by portraying him as a sycophant without any agency and working in absence of any creative freedom. Now, Khusrow and his monumental body of work do not represent a religion in particular but actually eulogize an ocean of cultural exchange that defined India in the 13th and 14th centuries AD. Bhansali would have been much better off had he done away with the character of Khusrow instead of portraying it in such a flippant manner. Padmaavat dazzles, taking giant cinematic leaps in the field of visual effects. But it lacks the treatment that a story of this scope deserves. Sadly, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, despite all the ingredients, ends up making a rather feeble film that's all style, little substance, perhaps out of the fear of Karni Sena and the Rajput community. One can only wonder what this movie would have been had Bhansali got the right to fully exercise his creative freedom?

Rating: 6/10

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  


Padmaavat Trailer

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  1. I have not seen the movie and did not intend to see it. But the reviews have been rather fun to read. Thank you!

  2. Epic film. The scenery, costumes and battles were amazing. Sadly, the subtitles here in America were so poor in their contrast that we miss at least half of the story. Sad! A


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