Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (2018) Movie Review
Star Cast: Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sara Jane Dias and Anupriya Goenka
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Written by Prakash Kapadia and Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cinematography by Sudeep Chatterjee
Censor Certificate: UA & Runtime: 163 Minutes
There is no right or wrong when you decide to tell a story but you do need a skeleton, skin, bones, muscles, and structure for it to form a shape. In Bhansali’s world, there is a skin and muscle but all-important bones are always amiss these days. He is completely driven by his ambition than the storytelling passion. We can say this because he concentrates more on visuals but doesn’t really give them a meaning in this film.
We see many carefully, aesthetically constructed artistic wide shots with subjects being placed at middle or at a distance most of the times rather than them coming into the forefront. We wonder are we here to watch a story or lavishly crafted paintings on the screen that pass with each frame. Aiming to a create a painting is not bad but even paintings need a life, need a subject. They cannot just be random thoughts, however beautiful they end up being.
Now, why does Padamaavat lack a structure? To answer this question, we have to look into the story of Rani Padmini alias Padmavathi. It is a legend that could be true or fiction but this story belongs to Malik Muhammad Jayasi. In this story, Padmavathi has a childhood, a character that makes her what she is and why she became such a popular legend. The writer never claims any historical relevance and hence, we don’t have to worry about that aspect in any manner.
But in Bhansali‘s vision, there is a place for beautiful fountains, well-choreographed dance numbers, and beautiful locations but we wonder what is the significance of lavishness when the story is said in such a bland way. We see Alauddin Khilji getting some backstory and all important Rani-sa pushed to the back burner to just walk into the Jauhar Kund in the end while a big pulsating background is urging her to do so and celebrating it has a heroic moment.
For any story to be pleasing we need characters and need to connect with them as well. While the aesthetics are there, the dialogue is very artificial and we can see that actors are trying to behave in a certain manner than really being those characters. Ranveer Singh does give a great performance no doubt but is Alauddin Khilji so “Demonic”. Even if it is a poet’s vision, doesn’t the movie adaptation rules say, keep the characters grounded before they can fly? We see raw passion and demon like attitude and many characters even call him that. Can a person so unpredictable like the one depicted in the film, command a huge respect among his peers? He may be self-centered but can he really be level-headed in a battle and calculative??
Leaving the demon aside, even the goddess seems to be highly devoted to just being an object of lust rather than a person with character. We don’t see a graph in her character, she starts at point A and remains there until the end. Even Ratan Singh, the other major character played by Shahid seems too one dimensional without much character. If we are not allowed to connect with the two main leads of the story and are more in sync with the antagonist what can we expect? A glycerine filled eye unnecessarily appearing in every close-up that Ratan Singh and Padmavathi share???
There are no two ways, in saying that Bhansali is a craftsman but he is more indulgent in his creative process than letting it flow. We see him carefully spending ounces of time on creating visuals but many lack strength and depth. Some might say, protestors did not allow him to make his movie or forced him to censor few scenes. We do not really know what is his script at the filming stage or what version of cut did he send to censors. All we can see is the final product we see on screen.
According to that, a princess who believes in Buddhism goes for a hunt, a Sultan dances with his soldiers, he applies holi colors in a weird way and eats like a Demon. We needed to see why Rajputana Kings believed in certain morals. We needed to see how a stranger who believes in Buddhism accepted by Rajput customs or vice versa. We needed to be able to fall in love with the love story of Ratan Singh and Padmavathi to feel a connection. Rather we get samples of how unpredictable Khilji was and what opportunities Ratan Singh had. So, without a proper rhyme or reason we just see a King trying to stay true to some values but why are those so important? We see Rani Padmini or Padmavathi a talented hunter, in the film itself, but she never tries to take the matters into her hand and kill Khilji. For a person who could decide if Ratan Raja’s wounds are healed or not, for a person who puts her pride before anything, why sacrificing in Jauhar Kund became the best option? What made her think it is a win? Why did she willfully made that sacrifice and what compelled her to not revolt against the Demon? Can such character study be a crime to expect in Bhansali costume drama? We can never get to the bottom of caricaturing of the characters even if we sit and peel out all the layer(s) in the film.
We just see hints at the popular legends but are never given enough reason for it. In a scene, we are shown Alauddin burning down the history that doesn’t have him in the prominence but still, we got to know about his ancestors why didn’t that same happen for a the Singhala Kingdom of that time? Why there is a gap? Why it took 200 years for this story to come out? Why did the original poet say it is all fiction? When it is why that fiction needed such celebration almost 500 years later? Rather than producing a film that answers all these questions with pertinent story development all we are asked is to bask in the glory of visuals a team of craftsmen carefully executed for one indulgent filmmaker. We are asked to enjoy 3D without proper imagery that supports the technique. A film is a story told on celluloid with characters that engulf us into the story and let us indulge in them. If we just get some cool looking visuals and nothing much to support the story, how can we expect it to be a cohesive story? Why do I care for a story supposedly happened in 1303 AD in 2017? What purpose does knowing Rani Padmavathi’s life serve morally, cinematically and historically? At least a cinema should serve its cinematic purpose that is to engage you in the story.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali needs to understand one thing that the ambition of visual story-telling is great but visuals cannot compensate for the lack of research and well-developed script. We can see more neurotic behavior with reason in a similar type of story in DARR. We can understand why Kiran feels lonely there. But what made Rani-Sa lonely? Why does a ritual that has been adapted by Rajput women for so long should be seen as some great positive almost God-like sacrifice by this particular queen? Even Parvathi in his vision needed to meet Chandramathi and dance with her for Devdas in his vision. We could say to ourselves that she loved him so much that she couldn’t resist. There were reasons given to think so. Here we are asked to fill the gaps ourselves if we can but no reasons are given in what direction should we understand everything. As a viewer, you could enjoy the performance, the visuals but all important heart is missing here, so be prepared.