Set interruptions, a bunch of sword wielding lunatics plus a set of ‘jauhar’ confused individuals later, Padmavati (I refuse to call it Padmaavat, censorship does not apply here) finally rolls into screens this Republic Day weekend. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and starring the power trio of Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapur, Padmavati tells the story of the Rajput queen Padmavati, who selflessly immolated herself and a bunch of other young brides to preserve the respect of the Rajput clan upon invasion by the forces of the cunning and cruel Alauddin Khilji. There’s no point diving into the semantics of what is fundamentally wrong with the entire scenario presented above, because the story is not one that was written yesterday, so let’s look to judge the film as what it is; A film.
And is it any good? Fuck, no.
Padmavati is a three hour drag fest filled with hollow characters, terrible CGI and a plot so flimsy, Deepika Padukone may have well been carrying into the fire during the climax of the film. What’s worse is that it’s instantly noticeable; The film begins with such shameless expositional dialogue, you almost immediately recoil in your seat. And unfortunately that where it starts to fall apart; Bhansali usually the master of spectacle and technicality, makes certain choices that are so far removed apart from what he stands for, it comes to you the viewer as a bit of a shock and not in a good way. At times watching Padmavati feels like watching a low budget Hindi TV show and that’s the biggest criticism a Bhansali film can receive.
Its time we addressed Bhansali’s newfound penchant for half assed CG. It nearly derailed Bajirao Mastani (an INFINITELY BETTER film) when it was introduced in the climax and here it all but destroys the entire project. It’s laughable how bad it gets; There are complete sequences, full of emotional weight and gravitas that are completely overshadowed by the use of some of the worst visual effects work I have seen on screen. The showdown between Shahid Kapur’s Rawal and Ranveer’s Khilji in the third act of the film is meant to be a landmark moment in the movie. Instead, it looks like two dudes performing choreography under a studio light against the backdrop of a green screen. Bhansali has always known to be a perfectionist which is damning cause most of the film looks horrible and when that starts to happen, you know the film’s got real problems. Even Guzaarish, for all it’s faults, looked stunning and that was his worst film in years until this shitshow rolled in.
Now getting to plot and performances; Its galling to see a film where the eponymous character is reduced to background decoration whilst her surroundings take precedent. You can’t really fault Padukone here; She’s not really in this film at all and I’m fairly certain Ranveer Singh’s Khilji had more dialogue than her. If you knew nothing about Padmavati at the start of the film, you wouldn’t really care for her by the end cause her character has no growth whatsoever in the film. It’s extremely disappointing and frankly a little insulting to the audience who walked in expecting a story about the mythical Rajput princess and got whatever this was, in the process. It also doesn’t help that Padukone and Kapur have ZERO chemistry together thereby making all their scenes an absolute snoozefest to sit through. Kapur in fact is so wooden, his performance drew unintentional laughter from the theater I was sitting in.
Now for the real stars of the show; Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari and Jim Sarbh. If anything saves this film from total humiliation, its the trio’s performance. Singh is at his cackling best, Hydari is terrific whilst also being stunningly beautiful and Jim Sarbh is fantastic as Khilji’s nefarious Hand. The political climate in the country would certainly have not allowed it to be, but maybe this film needed to concentrate more on Khilji’s exploits, which it does anyway for the majority of the film. Maybe have the Padmavati -Rawal storyline supplement the story cause Khilji’s story arc is really what keeps you hooked for brief periods in time. One can’t help feel that somewhere along the way Sanjay Leela Bhansali lost track of the story he wanted to tell.
Padmavati is easily Bhansali’s worst film in a long, long time, an infuriating three hour struggle through a plodding storyline. Do yourself a favour and sit this one out, because there are plenty of ways you can choose to spend your time at theatre. Hell, it’s Oscar season, the weeks are going to be filled with excellent films to watch. Avoid this like the plague. There’s only so many flaws that you can disguise with opulence before you start to lose sight of the important factors that make a film.