By Sanghmitra Kumar
As I sat uncomfortably on my unclean seat at the cinemas (yes, there was popcorn everywhere and no I didn’t drop them, they were there from the last session), a thousand thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered in anticipation what Bhansali must have portrayed in the film that caused a hooligan uprising in India. As I looked around at the house full theatre, a timid inner voice said that the movie isn’t going to be that great but it surely captured public sympathy.
The movie isn’t long as being said by some. 2hours and 44mins is pretty standard for a period film (Jodhaa Akbar was almost 4 hours), however, the film does tend to get a little lethargic and repetitive. The unnecessary cuts are kind of obvious and don’t really help. Above all, knowing how the story is meant to end constantly reminds you of the impending doom and make the two and half hours all the more uneasy.
Apart from that, Bhansali is a genius. Every shot feels like a masterpiece painting. I’ve always felt that our generation is drifting further and further away from our country’s magnificent history, but the grandeur of Padmaavat’s sets, costumes and par excellence cinematography teleport you back to 1303 AD era of royalty, valour and culture. The entire film, literally, is poetry in motion.
Deepika Padukone has come a long way from Goliyon ki raas leela Ram Leela in terms of her acting and expressing abilities. She looked ethereal from her first shot to the last and needless to say, there is no other actress in today’s day and time that could’ve played Rani Padmini as gracefully as Deepika.
Ranveer Singh is a master of his craft. From the cheesy loafer of Band Bajaa Baraat to the Romeo of Ram Leela, to the great Maratha king Bajirao and now to the evil Khilji – this man can be sculpted as his director desires, making him such a delight to watch. As he portrays the barbaric Mughal king drowned in self obsession, lust and greed, a part of you would start hating his onscreen presence. He portrays every nuance, every expression with such finesse.
Shahid Kapoor was a surprise. When the news of him being cast by Bhansali did the rounds, many of us kept thinking he was a miscast and God knows what such a great director must be thinking. When the trailer came out, I’m sure we never felt as right. Wrong! Never doubt brilliance. Shahid’s portrayal of the principled, confident and dignified Rajput King was at par with the rest of the star cast. In fact, somewhere he made Ranveer’s performance look better. We hated Ranveer’s barbaric Khilji throughout the film because somewhere Shahid’s Ratan Singh melted our hearts for his conviction and integrity.
Jim Sarbh creeps you out as Khilji’s obsessed rejected lover. Aditi Rao Hydari makes her mark as Mehrunissa. The actors who played Gora Singh and Badal Sonegra were outstanding.
The climax, especially Rani Padmaavati’s jauhar is so dramatically and magnificently shot that it stays with you for at least a couple of hours, if not days.
As I walked out of the cinemas, my thoughts turned into questions, I tried answering for myself. Does the film glorify the “sati tradition”?
To me the answer is a definite no! Many have argued that the queen should’ve “fought back” rather than committing mass suicide. Some say that the film lionizes a social stigma and so the entire basis of the movie is unethical. When you think of it though, as per the poem on which the film is based, Khilji lusted after Padmini. He wanted her as a trophy, not as a wife or a beloved. In such circumstances, should she have submitted herself after the death of her husband to Khilji? Wasn’t jumping into the fire, a strategic move to defeat the enemy? She fought with her mind rather than a sword.
The question here shouldn’t be whether self immolation is justified, Bhansali, through his craft, has stirred bigger underlying questions of gender inequality. Is this all a woman worth? Is she just a pretty face that should’ve been kept in harems as a mark of achievements back then and in our homes as trophy wives now?
When Padmini jumped in to fire, she didn’t ask for the future generations to continue pushing women to burn as a mark of tradition. Ramayana doesn’t glorify the agnipariksha. So rather than questioning Bhansali on “glorifying” a custom, shouldn’t we question those who made torturing a woman a custom?
I do feel, that apart from being politically motivated, the real reason for the Karni Sena to go a rampage is not because they want to protect the honour of their Queen Goddess (because that’s what the film is doing) rather, it is to save the world from watching how a woman’s ability to self sacrifice is at par, if not greater, than a man’s ability to attain veergati.
Valour is not gender defined and perhaps, it is just this that our country’s patriarchal culture/custom/law and order makers don’t want you to watch.