‘Padmaavat’: A Stinging Failure Of A Movie

Amidst grievous controversies, “Padmaavat” (formerly titled “Padmavati”) ultimately got the green signal from the Central Board of Film Certification. It was released on January 25, 2018, in 4000 theatres nationwide.

Till date, it is said to be one of the biggest budget Bollywood films. It came under severe scrutiny. The film underwent five modifications, it had to include myriad disclaimers and the ‘I’ in its name had to be struck off. There were nationwide protests prior to its release. It is said the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali had made this movie based on the epic poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi – “Padmavat” (1540).

In short, the film’s story takes us to 13th century Afghanistan where Alauddin Khilji, played by Ranveer, plots to seize the throne of Delhi from Jalaluddin Khilji, played by Raza Murad. Alauddin Khilji is the antagonist, who is also portrayed as a man of questionable character and a brutal murderer. He commits adultery on the night of his wedding and also murders the minister who witnesses his sexual liaison with another woman – while his would-be wife Mehrunissa, played by Aditi Rao Hydari, patiently waits for him.

Meanwhile Maharawal Ratan Singh (played by Shahid Kapoor), the Rajput ruler of Chittor travels to Sinhala to get pearls for his first wife. There, he meets the Singhal princess Padmavati (played by Deepika Padukone). They both fall in love and get married. Apparently, Padmavati is so gorgeous that each man would like to love her and then marry her.

During their love-making, Parmavati realises someone’s watching them. It was none other than the priest whom they had sent to exile. The priest, who promises to take revenge, reaches out to Alauddin Khilji. He informs Alauddin about the beautiful queen of Chittor as he figures out Alauddin’s fetish for women.

Then the movie takes a Bollywood-style arc – the battle field, and the other nuances like the other movies. There were lots of fights, songs, killing, daredevil stunts. But ultimately, the movie ends on a tragic note – with Maharawal Ratan Singh getting killed. He is actually back-stabbed by Alauddin’s slave, Malik Kafur (played by Jim Sarbh). However, the Rajput pride is retained as Alauddin still cannot get Padmavati, because she commits jauhar, along with the other Rajput women.

As a movie buff, I went to watch it yesterday, as I was sure that it would create an impact on my mind. I also took my daughter along with me so that she could learn some history lessons. But the movie proved to be otherwise. NDTV has given it two stars out of five. It was a difficult watch – both for me and my daughter – as the movie lacked lustre and a story. In my opinion, any sane mind will opt to walk out of the hall, but I sat through it given the fact that I had paid for the tickets.

The controversies started with the Karni Sena, supposedly a Rajput clan, claiming that the director had distorted the facts and that he had portrayed the queen Padmavati in a very bad light.  The controversies reached such an extent that Akhilesh Khandelwal, an Indian politician and a BJP member, made a Facebook post announcing a reward for anyone who attacked the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali with a shoe.

The thing that haunted me was the demonic portrayal of Muslims – as savage meat eaters (more like blood-thirsty vampires, in my eyes). On the other hand, the Rajputs were all fair, pretty and well-mannered. The film also showed that Muslim men keep their women oppressed and get into multiple affairs, whereas the Rajputs can go to any extent to save the honour of the women. The movie clearly pin-pointed a ‘caste system’ through aesthetic means.

It also seems to endorse the perspective that we cannot trust a Muslim person as they are merciless, selfish, womanizers and can go to the extent of murdering someone of their own blood for their personal gains. I fear that this cliche may evoke Muslim sentiments. Alauddin Khilji was not a very good man, as we all know him through our history books. But I don’t think he was as exaggerated a monster, either, to gorge on raw meat, blood and run behind women whenever he saw them.

In the movie review by NDTV, Saibal Chatterjee says, “The first thing that strikes you as “Padmaavat” unfolds on the screen is how tepid the opulent, overwrought film is in spite of its visual flair and technical wizardry. Its beauty, as is usually the case with a Sanjay Leela Bhansali extravaganza, is skin deep. It is magnificent but overly manufactured […] There is pizzazz aplenty in this overlong horses-and-swords yarn, but it is all so superficial – if not wholly superfluous – that nothing that the excess-obsessed filmmaker throws into the boiling pot can rustle up a broth sizzling enough to keep crackling over a runtime of nearly three hours. What’s worse is the dubious ideology it peddles to uphold notions of history favoured by the nation’s current political dispensation.”

As a film about the 13th century, I don’t believe that there is any point in discussing nazar and neeyat, as these are relatively-contemporary terms and are a misfit for those times.  In one scene, Padmavati is accused for her beauty – to which she retorts by saying why the man shouldn’t be blamed for looking at her with lustful eyes. Probably, this is meant to show that women back in those eras were very firm and bold. But, this becomes equally contradictory when the queen asks permission from her king to commit jauhar as she cannot die unless her husband permits it.

I think that the movie gives a strong message which the patriarchal society can cheer about. As Saibal Chatterjee further observes“The tale, derived from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s 16th century epic poem, floats on the surface, willing us on to embrace the constant sensory stimulation that the director presses into the service of his ‘grand’ vision of a period of history when unblemished Rajput warriors waged valiant wars while their acquiescent women unquestioningly adhered to a patriarchal code of conduct. In the face of the obduracy and valour of the King of Mewar, Padmavati’s oh-so-noble husband, the fierce Muslim invader is forced to rethink his methods and fall back on ever-increasing brutality and skullduggery, driven by his growing obsession with Rani Padmavati.”

While watching this movie, I tried to connect it with “Baahubali”, which is also based on historical events. Though that movie had some inane stunts, it was a gripping watch – and one would certainly love to watch it again, along with children.

I would like to say to all those Sena members (who are running riot by scaring children and threatening the director) that there is no need to take such a big revenge. The Rajput community has been given a pretty good portrayal – so the Karni Sena can go home and take a rest. But, I fear that people will surely have a wrong notion about the Muslim community due to this film. This is highly dangerous in the current scenario. With the country burning in violence and hatred in name of caste and religion, it is certainly not a good film to watch – especially since the story is so bad.

For me, the only thing one can take from the movie is the acting of the stars. There is no doubt that the acting was good indeed. But, as an individual and as an Indian, I would like to ask Mr Bhansali what made him direct a movie which is loaded with patriarchy and is potentially divisive in the name of religion. It speaks of atrocities on women but also belittles the Muslim community.

Our Constitution asks us to be secular – and I don’t think this movie will leave a mark in the box office, for this very reason. Though it has already collected some revenue by the negative publicity, I am pretty sure that once people see this movie, they will urge the others not to watch it – just like I did. I saved them from spending money on this thoughtless movie.

It’s my belief there is only one religion – love. Bhansali should have rendered that factor visible, rather than potentially igniting communal feelings.

Do not watch the movie to increase your knowledge in history – and do not take your children either, as they will get bored and may also get the wrong messages. But you can still go and watch it, if you are fond of costumes, jewellery and if you want to learn a little bit of acting.