'Padmaavat' paean to Rajput pride, negates distortion claims

'Padmaavat' paean to Rajput pride, negates distortion claims

As protesters vandalise malls and halls, block highways and threaten to immolate themselves, it turns out that Sanjay Leela Bhansali's much discussed "Padmaavat" is actually a lavishly mounted ode to Rajput pride.

In what could well be a case of sound and fury signifying nothing, the leitmotif of the Deepika Padukone-Shahid Kapoor- Ranveer Singh starrer, which has dominated headlines for months and is finally releasing tomorrow, is Rajput honour. Not what the protesters have been saying the film is about.

The 165-minute period drama is full of one-liners boosting Rajput pride as it deifies Shahid's Maha Rawal Ratan Singh and Deepika's Queen Padmavati. Ranveer Singh's Allauddin Khilji is the archetypal, if savage, villain, with flowing dreadlocks and kohl-rimmed eyes.

The drama by fringe Rajput groups, now on national media with their angry protestations even before they have watched the film, appears out of place as the film sings paeans to Rajput pride.

Groups such as the Rajput Karni Sena have said the film distorts history and defames their queen Padmavati as well as Rajput pride. Historians are divided on whether she actually existed.

The film does what Rajput Karni Sena stands for: strengthen the Rajputs.

Hoping to manoeuvre itself out of trouble, the film begins with a series of disclaimers, including one that it has no link with history and is based on 16th century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi's epic "Padmavat".

Another disclaimer says it does not intend to hurt anyone's sentiments.

As the film progresses, the many punchlines on Rajput valour prove that the claims made during the politically- motivated protests were baseless.

At one point, Padmavati is compared to Savitri, a mythological character who saved her husband's life from Yamraj. There are also many references to how intelligent the queen is.

"Padmaavat" was earlier scheduled to be released on December 1. However, the makers, Viacom 18 and Bhansali Productions, had to postpone the date as they did not receive a censor certificate.

The censor board had suggested five modifications, including a title change from "Padmavati" to "Padmaavat".

One is Deepika's midriff being covered in the song "Ghoomar" to befit her character as a Rajput queen.

The changes were made close to release date but Bhansali's special effects team has done a swell job, artfully covering her midriff with a red and gold 'koti'.

Karni Sena objected to Padmavati performing the ghoomar, a Rajasthani folk dance, in front of people, including men.

But the dialogue before the song, "Hukum ke siwa ghoomar par koi nahin aa sakta (No one else can watch ghoomar apart from the king), nullifies the objection.

The censor board had also asked producers to add another disclaimer -- that the film does not glorify the practice of sati.

This was perhaps required as the climax, an elaborate sequence of women getting ready for jauhar (mass sati) to save their honour, is powerful and evocative -- shot against the brown of the Chittor fort with the fiery red of the women marching to their death.

Bhansali had earlier said "Padmaavat" is his tribute to the glorious stories of Rajput "honour, valour and vigour" and the director has stayed true to his words.

Throughout the film, men of the community are shown protecting Mewar and fighting for the pride of their women.

In the confrontation sequences between Ratan Singh and Khilji, dialogue writer Prakash Kapadia has given some of the most powerful lines in the film to Shahid, echoing the glorious Rajput history of bravery and sacrifice.

Deepika's final monologue is also a testimony to Padmavati's courage and self-esteem. "Rajputi kangan main utni hi takat hoti hai jitni ki Rajputi talwar main" (The bangles of the Rajput women no less powerful than the Rajput sword).

The focus should actually be on the portrayal of Khilji, presented as a brutal king of the Delhi Sultanate.

Ranveer has tried his best to live Bhansali's vision but Khilji comes across as brutal and murderous, overshadowing the famous ruler's administrational accomplishments.

His thirst for power and self-obsession comes through when he says, "Allah ki banai hur nayab cheez par kewal Alauddin ka haq hai" (Alauddin is the rightful owner of God's every unique creation).

Nothing seems to matter -- neither family nor social obligations -- in his quest to claim Padamvati.

The costumes are beautiful, the cinematography is on point, the background score is impressive though the songs not so and the acting by the three stars could have been better.

However, the cinematic experience of another Bhansali period extravaganza has been overshadowed by the many protests through the country.

It is to be seen how many exhibitors and distributors will take on the protesters and screen the film, and how many viewers brave the threat of violence.  

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