Padmaavat Review

While Deepika Padukone (left) scores a six as Padmavati in “Padmaavat,” the film belongs to that powerhouse actor, Ranveer Singh as Khilji (right). He owns the film on-screen as much as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali does behind the screen. (YouTube screenshot photo)

SLB Films and Viacom 18 present “Padmaavat”

Produced by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sudanshu Vats & Ajit Andhare

Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali & Prakash Kapadia, based on a poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi

Music: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Raza Murad, Jim Sarbh, Anupriya Goenka, Sharhaan Singh, Manish Wadhwa & others

MUMBAI—There is a lot that is good and a few things that are bad about this film, which is designed to be an epic. But what the film "Padmaavat" certainly does NOT have is anything objectionable (apart from the oh-so-slow pace, especially in the first half) or controversial.

Yes, I will nitpick on this small point that writer-director Bhansali always keeps ignoring in their films – the superfine discrimination between Hindi and Urdu! Neither of the languages existed in those times, but convention ordains that Hindus speak Hindi and Muslims talk in Urdu. When television serials and inferior movies can be careful of this, why not Bhansali and his team of writers and lyricist?

The carelessness rampant in this department sucks when Khilji’s deputy Malik Gafoor (Jim Sarbh) uses the word “itihaas” (pure Hindi) in place of “taareekh” (Urdu) for “history,” while there are Urdu words scattered all over the film among the Rajput characters and the songs.

Leading the negatives in the film are the songs. Not one song, “Ghoomar” included, stays with you after it is over! From a man who scored gems in all his earlier films, this is quite an unexpected anti-climax from Bhansali, the composer. The lyrics too lack any substance. The background music (Sanchit Balhara) is decent, but also a tad over-loud. The pace of the film is painfully slow for the subject matter, and at a now condensed 2.43, it could be still shorter by 20 to 30 minutes.

Adapted from the poem of the same name by Malik Muhammad Jayasi (there is widespread historical opinion that Padmavati did not exist AT ALL, though Allaudin Khilji had attacked Chittor and defeated Raja Ratansingh), the film is a spectacular painting of love and valor mixed with the dark strokes of lust.

In the first scene, we are introduced to the Turko-Afghan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), a man so despotic that he wants to marry his paternal cousin Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari) and yet has physical flings even on the day of his marriage! He soon kills Mehrunissa’s father (his own paternal uncle) Jalalludin Khilji (Raza Murad) and aims to capture Delhi.

Meanwhile, in Chittor, Ratansingh sets his eyes upon the ethereally beautiful Padmavati of Mewar (Deepika Padukone) and marries her, much to the chagrin of his first wife Nagmati (Anupriya Goenka). Ratansingh introduces her to the royal Rajguru (wish I knew this actor’s name – he is good!), who, however, spies upon their intimate moments. So Ratansingh sentences him to a long jail term, but Padmavati decides that he should be banished.

And when Khilji wants to grab anything “naayaab” (extremely beautiful), this cunning man (who has joined up with him) tells him about Padmavati and her incomparable beauty. After this. Khilji has only one aim in life – to make Padmavati his own. But despite all his scheming ploys, he fails.

Having watched this opus in the splendor of IMAX 3D, I can only state that the film may lose a lot of its charm in the normal 2D format. This is a film in which the emotional connect is intimate and personal, rather than like the universal sentiments expressed, say, in a “Bahubali” franchise. Ergo, it needs a scale and grandeur that capitalizes on form to deliver the content.

The war scenes and fights, especially the Ratansingh-Khilji bout, are so well done. The palace intrigues at both Chittor and Delhi are shown graphically and surgically – wish the crispness had been maintained through the rest of the film.

The departments that help escalate Bhansali’s vision AND passion are clear – led by DOP Sudeep Chaterjee, they include the teams and heads of department in make-up, costumes, choreography, production design and VFX. But it is Bhansali’s devoted grip on his style of cinema, where the camerawork and lighting may be dark and brooding and yet be mixed with grandeur and lots of color, that seals this film as yet another classic from a man for whom all his films – good, bad or in-between – are like paintings in which every single stroke has something to say.

Bhansali, as is his norm, assembles television actors without a set film image for the smaller roles, but while the end-credit titles rolled fast, we could not fathom who played Ratansingh’s loyal general, or his mother: they were both exceptional! Anupriya Goenka, last seen as the nurse in “Tiger Zinda Hai,” is quite good as Ratansingh’s first wife.

In a uni-dimensional role, Aditi Rao Hydari, as the meek and long-suffering wife of Khilji, is impressive, even if she has to do most of her work with her eyes. Raza Murad as her father is a delight. Jim Sarbh, as Gafoor, does tend to ham on occasion but is otherwise the perfect mix of the evil and the comic.

Shahid Kapoor tries his level best to enhance his character of Ratansingh from the sketchy parameters of the role, but succeeds only on occasion, like in his sequences with his wife. Deepika Padukone scores a six as Padmavati, whose entire performance hinges on her expressions. She is amazing and also looks like a dream.

But lock, stock, barrel and more, the film belongs to that powerhouse actor, Ranveer Singh. He OWNS the film on-screen as much as Bhansali does behind the screen. You loathe his essay of Khilji, look at him with renewed respect as an actor who is less than eight years around but has the rare capacity to bring to life such a deeply evil character. Eyes, body language, smiles or tenor, he proves that dedicated actors can go beyond the vision of a script or even of a passionate director.

Rating: ****

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