When the trailers for “Padmaavat” released early last year, I was disappointingly underwhelmed with the towering fort walls, the music, and opulent costumes. Talk about déjà vu. It was all starting to feel recycled from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s last two films.
If you’ve watched the highly anticipated film ‘Padmavaat”, chances are, you may find the cinematography and the song-dance “Ghoomar” reminiscent of Bhansali’s other works.
Bhansali has made a name for himself with his signature look and bigger than life productions. Before I go further, let me say that I consider “Padmaavat,” “Bajirao Mastani,” and “Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela” to be, if not a series, then sister films. Also, if you haven’t watched this movie yet, please leave this page. I don’t believe in spoilers.
Though I am a huge fan of the cinematography, acting, and soundtracks of the last two films, my biggest issue has always been the plot. While I excused “Ram Leela” because it is based on “Romeo and Juliet,” which is just as scatterbrained, I left “Bajirao Mastani” crestfallen at the disconnect between scenes.
However, being a lifelong fan of Bollywood period pieces (Hrithik Roshan’s sword scenes in Jodhaa Akbar, anyone?), I was still brimming with anticipation for “Padmaavat” since the first trailer dropped early last year. I began the latest film with the lowest of expectations in terms of plot. I was there to see Ranveer Singh slay in his first role as a villain, envy Deepika Padukone’s luminous beauty, and check out Shahid Kapoor as a regal Rajput king.
The first incarnation of “Padmaavat” was “Padmavati.” It was meant to be a female-centric film that celebrated a woman worshipped for her strength and values. But months of unchecked violence over a dispute, which is not even based in truth, stole Padmavati’s namesake. In fact, the only character who gets his character fleshed out is Singh’s Alauddin Khilji – ironic considering which character is supposed to be the lead.
For much of the film, it’s a pissing contest between Khilji and Kapoor’s Maharawal Ratan Singh. One wants to possess Padmavati, while the other seeks to protect her while upholding his Rajput values. The king’s values are so unyielding, that at a certain point, you’re going to be rolling your eyes at his stubbornness. The clash heats up finally when Padmavati decides she is done listening to what she “should” be doing.
It’s the last half hour of the film that showcases the queen’s true ferocity. It’s her negotiation skills and intelligence that saves her husband. In an unexpected twist, you see Khilji’s wife, Mehrunissa, step up to back her in a strong “women supporting women” moment.
It’s the final scenes of the movie, the final battle between the women of the Chittor fort and Khilji, that makes this movie completely worth it. The vivid red of the women’s ghagra coupled with their screeches will forever sear this scene into my memory.
I wish Sanjay Leela Bhansali had tapped more of that sheer feminine power in this movie. In all three films, there are always little nuggets of potential that give you a glimpse into what the movie could have been. Though the grandiose and lavish nature of these films is what pulls in crowds of epic proportions, seldom do I ever a Bhansali film fully satisfied because of the disservice he does to developing his vibrant characters.
“Padmaavat” had the potential to explore so many facets of the female experience. What pushed Padmavati to leave her home kingdom and follow Ratan home to become a second wife in the desert? What did his first wife have to say about that? How did Padmavati and the first wife balance their relationship?
I walked away wanting to know more about Padmavati. It was Padukone’s acting prowess that saved this character from becoming a complete bore.
I was thrilled to see that “Padmaavat” had done a better job of tying the film together better than its predecessors, but if Bhansali would devote more resources to bringing his characters to life through their words or actions rather than how many jewels adorn their chunni, his films would finally cross the threshold from notable to timeless.
The author does not condone the outdated practice of sati. The review of the final scene is in the context of the film.