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Padmaavat review: Nothing new to offer

'As the film progresses, you tire of the been-there seen-that spectacle.'
'You want a story. You want good dialogue, not the corny words you are hearing.'
'You want an emotional connect. You want a tighter film.'
'Sadly, with Padmaavat, that's not what you get,' says Savera R Someshwar.

Deepika Padukone in Padmaavat

It's not easy being Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

It's not easy when opposition, violent at that, rolls over like an angry black cloud, threatening to engulf your latest dream -- just as it had threatened your earlier ones -- preparing to destroy it even before it can completely take shape.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a man of tremendous courage to have faced all the problems he has -- from violent protests, to death threats against him and his lead actress, to state-wide bans, to court cases, to threats of jauhar -- and to refuse to curtail his creative process, to step back from his latest film, Padmaavat.

 

Yet, given all of this, there is no denying the fact that a film takes on a different life when it releases.

It will be subject to praise, to criticism, to disdain, to love.

It now has a new master, the viewer, who will decide its fate not just at the box office but, more importantly, in their hearts.

And so it will be with Padmaavat, which has -- during its making -- faced tremendous opposition from royalty to commoners alike.

There is no doubt -- and this is something that the film-maker has proved time and again -- that when it comes to mounting a magnificent spectacle, Bhansali has few challengers in the Hindi film industry.

Padmaavat's locations are majestic, the costumes glorious, the make-up perfect and the songs lovingly choreographed (ah, yes, the special effects could clearly could do with more finesse).

His queens -- Deepika Padukone as Padmavati, Aditi Rao Hydari as Mallika Mehrunissa and Anupriya Goenka as a barely there as Nagmati, Maharwal Ratan Singh's first wife and the Maharani of Chittod -- look suitably gorgeous and carry off their exquisite costumes with grace and ease (Yes, Deepika's nubile waist has been digitally draped in the Ghoomar song to soothe offended sensibilities).

His kings underscore, and re-underscore, their stated characters to ensure there is no confusion.

Shahid Kapoor as Maharwal Ratan Singh and the hero in this saga is suitably courageous, even if he is shown to completely ignore his first wife on the arrival of the second.

Ranveer Singh as the rapacious, power-loving Allauddin Khilji is suitably bestial in his gluttonous appetite for the pleasures of the flesh as he wolfs down chunks of meat and sates his physical desires with equal enthusiasm, throwing in guttural growls to express almost every emotion -- from rage to lust.

Both sport suitable scars as witnesses to their bravery in the battlefield.

There is no subtlety here; black is black and white is white and Bhansali, clearly, wants no shades of grey in his magnum opus.

The 'good' Hindu hero, mostly dressed in creams and whites, is heroic and honourable; the 'evil' Muslim villain, mostly dressed in black, is shown to be animalistic, with no control over his desires, be it political or carnal.

A romance with his male slave, Malik Kafur -- Jim Sarbh, who seems confused as to whether he is acting in a film or performing in a play -- otherwise hinted at, is clearly outlined when Ratan Singh's minister disparagingly refers to him as Allaudin's begum.

Padmavati's perfection too needs contrast to be highlighted -- her beauty blinds the equally beautiful Mehrunissa who feels her husband cannot be blamed for his obsession; Nagmani has to be shown as a petulant wife against the perfect partner that is Padmavati.

It is this play of black and white that is the foundation of the confusing fairy tale world Bhansali has created.

In this world, a princess who seems to have great faith in Buddhism is also a hunter.

In this world, a princess can get close to a man she does not know.

In this world, a missive by an enemy king as a challenge for battle can set afire by a Rajput queen even before her husband, the king, reads it.

In this same patriarchal, masculine world, Rajput soldiers readily take orders from the younger queen.

The biggest tragedy of Padmaavat is that it has nothing new to offer. We've seen Bhansali create similar picturesque frames before.

We've seen those overhead shots showcasing dance performances.

The dialogues are stilted and old-fashioned -- 'Loha lohe ko kaatha hai,' Singh explains his decision to battle solo with Allaudin.

There are familiar references to both mythology and history.

Padmavati, who is hunting a deer, accidentally shoots Ratan Singh like Prince Dashrath did Shravan Kumar. Only, here, it results romance and not a tragic death.

She brings her husband back from the jaws of death, like Savithri did Satyavan.

Like the soldiers hidden in the Trojan horse, Padmavati sneaks in Rajput soldiers as her maids.

If Babur inspired his war-weary soldiers by renouncing wine in the battle against Rana Sangha, Allaudin inspired his siege-weary army by flinging the Khilji flag to the ground.

Bhansali even pays tribute to the famous climax of Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala. But that powerful, unforgettable, climax become a farce here.

And as the women move towards the giant pyre, Bhansali employs a couple of unnecessary shots that leave a bitter taste when he focuses his camera on a couple of child brides and a heavily pregnant woman. It smacks of a cheap attempt at evoking emotions.

Which is what Padmaavat misses out on.

As the film progresses, you tire of the been-there seen-that spectacle.

You want a story.

You want good dialogue, not the corny words you are hearing.

You want an emotional connect. You want a tighter film.

Sadly, with Padmaavat, that's not what you get.

Rediff Rating: