To everyone out there agitating over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Padmaavat” and the potential impact (demeaning ones of course, why on earth would anyone be agitated over a positive impact?) that it may have on the Rajput pride and image, you may rest easy: the director didn’t need a memo from the Karni Sena and all the other self-styled ‘armies’ on hand to keep it ‘sanskaari’. His entire film is a relentlessly opulent, magnificently-mounted paean to the Rajput ‘aan baan & shaan’.
Well, just in case you are one of those rare (do you even exist?) people who haven’t been breathlessly following the film’s troubles, here’s how it goes: the Rajput king Ratan Singh (portrayed by Shahid Kapoor) is the hero, the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji (portrayed by Ranveer Singh) is the villain, and the object of their mutual adoration is the utterly gorgeous Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), who will always and forever be an epitome of the “good” Indian girl, and later, wife! When she first appears on screen, she is fleet of foot and clear of eye, a joyous free spirit who has a will of her own. By the time it all ends, she ends up committing ‘jauhar’, her life and death circumscribed by male notions of honour. Patriarchy FTW, everyone!!)
And while we, of course, cannot judge the actions of the dramatis personae who presumably lived in the 13th century (even if they were mythical creatures, created by the poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi) by present-day gender roles, it is evident that the director has quite a problem on his hands: how do you show a beautiful queen jumping into a pyre, along with hundreds of her compatriots (one shot even includes a pregnant woman and a little girl), without glorifying the act? Simple: You stuff the beginning and the middle acts with so much glitter and glamour that we are expected to be swept away. Which we dutifully do! There’s a mesmerizing kind of beauty in the way Bhansali creates his frames (even if your eye begins to be overwhelmed by it) that you cannot deny.
Coming to the performances, Deepika Padukone has seldom been lovelier. She wears those stunning costumes, never letting them wear her, even if her waist is decorously covered in the Ghoomar song (ALERT: viewers may see a flash of the said body part in other parts of the film). Shahid Kapoor sports kohl in his eyes, and clearly articulated muscles in his chest, often left bare but puts up a decent acting performance. But all said and done, this film belongs to Ranveer Singh’s Khilji, who bites into mounds of meat (serving well the prototype of the Muslim savage) and his part with such relish that your mouth almost begins to water.
Overall, it’s a magnificent attempt by the director to bring to life a relatively lesser known epic from our history (?) and the cast do sufficient justice to his vision for it to be a hugely entertaining watch.