*May contain spoiler*
I remember vividly how there were only a few historical films released in Bollywood ten years ago. As the oldest country in the world, spanning thousands of kingdoms, literature, culture and folklore, I am always amused why Bollywood’s movie mogul didn’t take chances with their abundance of materials. When Padmaavat slated to release last year and got pushed back due to nonsensical controversy, I chuckled and realised perhaps cultural-richness doesn’t necessarily translates to cultural-tolerance.
Set in medieval India, Padmaavat tells three different characters that intertwined. In 13th Century India, the King of Rajput, Ratan Singh married the most beautiful princess Padmavati as his second wife. Meanwhile in Delhi, a power-hungry ruler Alauddin Khilji steps up the ladder and become a sultan. When he heard about Queen of Mewar’s beauty from a banished priest, he laid siege to Chittor (the capital city in the kingdom) to capture queen Padmavati.
Power-hungry, evil character that plans to capture eternal beauty to further his glory in Padmaavat resembles Hindu’s epic poem, Ramayana. However, the film is actually an adaptation of 15th century poem that features a fictional princess amidst two real historical figures.
Said to be the most beautiful woman in all India, Padmavati believes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Played beautifully by actress Deepika Padukone, Padmavati is an interesting character study. She is not like her male counterparts: loud, agitated and hasty. She thinks before she talked, she hunts, she strategies with her commanders before rescuing her husband and wore the most exquisite saree and odhnis; carrying herself like a true queen.
Albeit being fictional, Padmavati left an impression on me. She has a powerful presence that moved the plot forwards. The film even supported this: building her up, putting her as equal to her husband, but only tarnished in the end when she committed self-immolation or Jauhar: a real practice carried out by actual Rajput’s queen and female royals to avoid male foreign invaders. I like the unconventional ending, but perhaps it’s one step forward and two steps back kind of dance, depending on your point-of-view.
Meanwhile, the two male characters completed each other. Actor Ranveer Singh seems to enjoyed playing his first villainous role who happens to look like an Indian version Khal Drogo. Despite not being historically ACCURATE, it’s still entertaining to watch his psychopathic and maniacally funny act of conquest with his eunuch slave, Malik Kafur (lovely Jim Surbh).
Actor Shahid Kapoor as Ratan Singh (King Ratnasimha) is a stark contrast to Allaudin. Always clad in white, poised and controlled with good manners, Shahid showed some serious acting chops in this film as Ratan Singh, especially when faced against Allaudin who stayed six months in front of Mewar’s fort before entering with a disguised treaty.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest period film is dramatic and beautiful yet it still sings the same melancholy song: good versus evil and doomed love story. However, the love letter to Rajput’s culture thankfully elevates the film. Having an eye for style and class, Bhansali still managed to offer visually pleasing aesthetic captured by cinematographer, Sudeep Chattejee, completed with some poetry dialogues and lively folk music. Despite some horrible CGI effects and unnecessary long duration, Padmaavat should entertain most of its audience who are drawn to see the controversy around the film.
A controversy started because a group of people think Rani Padmavati is a sacred identity that shouldn’t be portrayed in a film. A fictional character portrayed in a fictional film. I sense the irony here.
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