South Asian Insider
Opinion and Editorial
"Padmaavat": Trainer Bra For Deepika, Cowboy Boots For Ranveer
Hi-brow, Lo-brow or Uni-brow, I don't care. I enjoyed "Padmaavat". Enjoyed. Not adored. Big difference. Why? Because I am prejudiced. I enjoy OTT movies and generally overlook Sanjay Leela Bhansali's monumental cinematic vanity projects/blunders, like the dreadful Saawariya, which was barely saved from total disaster by Ranbir Kapoor's naked butt. Black made me see red. And Devdas? Well, I semi-trashed it in print to show allegiance to my Bong husband's damaged psyche after we shuddered through the SLB version of the classic. It took Mr. De weeks to recover from the 'sacrilege'. We even considered therapy. A confession: I was secretly practicing "Dola Re" when he was away. SLB films have that effect. You hate yourself for loving them, because that makes you feel culturally inferior!
When I read all the intellectual reviews of "Padmaavat", I asked myself "Are we talking about the same film?" SLB is SLB. He is not Satyajit Ray or Francois Truffaut.These are his films. And they look gorgeous. Nothing wrong in looking gorgeous, right? Gorgeousness is so therapeutic. They also make a humongous amount of money. Which means there is a gigantic audience out there lapping it all up. I belong to that segment. I lap up SLB's extravaganzas. His films are an ode to beauty. His actors resemble gods and goddesses. Every scene is meticulously staged and crafted. The artifice is obvious and delicious. Every movie is a tableau. And often, as lifeless. This one more so. My husband fell asleep half an hour into the private show. I thought, "Uh-oh. This isn't looking good." We had braved police barricades and bandobast to attend the second official screening of the film. The cops had our names! Some of my guests were not very happy being on cop lists! One lady diplomat had brought her body guard along...just in case. The film had better be bloody good, after all this, I said to myself. "We are risking our lives to watch the movie," a thrilled gal pal commented. We felt like wicked and rebellious schoolkids as we ordered tubs of popcorn and glared at the cops defiantly. SLB makes drama queens of us all!
20 minutes into the film, a sense of deja vu; set in. Been there. Seen it. Despite that, I was hooked. Instead of paying attention to the dialogues, which were uneven and pretty odd, I was wondering why the most interesting character in the film - the impish, irrepressible, irresistible Jim Sarbh, playing Khilji's toyboy, no, make that toy 'begum', was not given blue-green-grey cosmetic lenses like everybody else! Not fair! Despite that huge disadvantage, he still stole the show from his master! That is a feat. When the master is Ranveer Singh, playing a savage sultan in cowboy boots. This was a serious problem for most of us. Those unfortunate boots. I expected to watch Clint Eastwood bashing up the baddies. But here was the baddie of baddies, snogging a harlot behind a pillar during his own wedding! Done with that little interlude, he strode up to an impressive plaster-of-Paris throne and murdered his chacha. (Note: in those very same high-heeled cowboy boots). Worse, he is also wearing faux fur. What the hell. Gender-bending is half the fun in an SLB movie. In this particular film, the only sexy, sensual, hot scenes (suggestive and therefore charged with erotic promise) are between Khilji and his ghulam/begum Malik Kafur, cavorting in a huge hot tub. Real steam and all...the other couplings are thanda.
There is about as much sexual chemistry between Padmavati and Ratan Singh as you might find in a sanitised school laboratory. Illey! Zero! He looks at her unblinkingly (Drat! Those coloured lenses again!). And she gazes back blankly. Alas - the beauteous, legendary Padmavati stays obstinately, chastely, disappointingly covered from head to toe throughout, bejewelled, remote and fabulous - like a Tanishq ad! Hey! Didn't they design the jewels for the magnum opus? I looked hard for at least a hint of waist, forget cleavage. I got the impression she was wearing trainer bras under those elaborate costumes. Of course, I am making sexist, piglet comments. But wait - the men are shown stripped down to their smalls a lot. So why not the Rani? Gender discrimination, I say!
There is a lot of noise around the "message" of the film. I find it hard to believe SLB is deliberately playing the Bad Muslim versus The Good Hindu card to appease some phantom political bosses. If that were the case, his film would not be in deep excreta. The character of Khilji is what history tells us - us, the non-experts. He was a beast. A beast who loved tiny, caged birds fluttering helplessly in cages while his tent burns and soldiers die. A killer who cold-bloodedly chokes a cheeky nephew to death without missing a beat. It isn't this part of the narrative that bothers me, it is the over-simplification and embarrassing glorification of the great Rajput traditions. Come on! A noble king who generously grants "permission" to his doe-eyed, virtuous wife to commit mass sati? And he gets projected as the ultimate ruler who bids his consort goodbye after telling her she looks good with a sword in her hands!
Shahid Kapoor did what he had to with the material, exuding a sense of gravitas and dignity despite his insipid graph. He was terrific in key scenes projecting quiet strength and determination. But hey - everybody is raving about Ranveer's energy and Sultan swag. Tell me, when was the last time you saw Ranveer minus energy? He is turbo-charged, crossing a road to reach his vanity van. Deepika Padukone needs a change of pace. Or else she will be playing Padmavati forever. No complaints. She is unreal, and astonishingly beautiful in every frame - forget the trainer bra.
As for me, it was a paisa vasool experience. The movie will make zillions. What about a desi Cleopatra next, SLB? Same star cast. But no boots, please. They'd look even more ridiculous under Roman togas.
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