Dubai: Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's operatic epic, Padmaavat, may remind you of a stunning mannequin at a store that cuts a pleasing figure but is eerily vacant when you stare into its eyes.
While it is impossible to dislike Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor's turbulent, violent love-story, it isn't life-altering or stirring. The passions that seem to run high among royals simmer for too long and the collective bravura gets a tad tedious.
In theory, a big part of me wanted to fall insanely in love with the visually-spectacular Padmaavat, a tale of a revered Rajput king (Kapoor) and his beatific, feisty 14th-century Hindu queen (Padukone) considering all the birthing troubles that its makers had to swat before their laborious creative project could be approved for release.
But a pity-party for filmmakers being held to ransom aside, if you were to just size up the flashy folklore independently on its merit, it comes up as strictly serviceable period epic that drums up idealised version of Rajput valour. It’s an unapologetic paean to Rajputs, who are up in arms right now worrying about whether they have been wrongly depicted.
At every turn, it’s drilled into us that the Rajput warrior caste has unshakeable scruples — like how their king would never attack a wounded opponent, no matter how formidable, or when the enemy is a guest at their palace. It sounds romantic, but it can also seem fool-hardy and isn’t particularly persuasive when your opposition is legendary for his ruthlessness.
Padukone, dressed in impossibly regal outfits, radiates grace in her role of a royal bride who is forced to make some tough decisions in her life. Her statuesque aura lends gravitas to her role as the fierce queen who seems more accomplished than her valiant mate, King Maharawal Ratan Singh, at strategising and winning battles.
While Kapoor looked relatively diminutive to Padukone, he was impressively stoic and naturally noble in his role of a scrupulous monarch. However, he dwarfed in comparison to Padukone’s feline grace. She was a natural fit when it came to uncorking conspiracies and manipulating Khilji’s demonic obsession with her. But it took us some to time to warm up to Kapoor and Padukone as a love-soaked couple who looked absolutely fetching.
Kapoor was subtler than Singh, who bit into his role of a morbid, libidinous conqueror Alauddin Khilji with a rabid intensity. In some of the scenes, the lusty emperor from Delhi — who had this all-consuming desire to possess Padmavati as one of his conquests comes across as a deranged, bestial bloke. How this snarly nutter can let his libido dictate his military conquests is a question that doesn’t escape us either.
Subtlety is not one of Bhansali’s stamps. Everything around Padmaavat is opulent, even the emotions are protracted.
For instance Jim Sarbh as the homosexual slave-turned-Khilji’s insider Malik Gafur preferred to go down the melodramatic route. His dialogues of yearning for his menacing master sounded stilted. Actress Aditi Rao Hydari as Khilji’s tormented wife fares better with conflicted emotions towards her evil life-partner.
While all the actors were earnest in their roles, it’s the reductive and predictable plot that lets them down. Scenes are carefully contrived to manipulate audience reactions. The climax in which a pregnant woman with a young child walks towards committing Jauhar (self-immolation) to ward off capture from Khilji and his troop was a new low. While suspending belief and surrendering to a period epic unconditionally is a pre-requisite to enjoy a lavish costume drama, the last scenes in which the spirited Padukone gears up for suicide in a poetic manner comes across as unbecoming. The battle scenes are long, so take a plunge into Padmaavat if you are the mood for a grand spectacle that celebrates love, honour, life and death on a strictly superficial level.
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor