Bollywood’s most controversial film of recent times finally gets a release. Does Padmaavat, its director and star cast justify the noise?
By Jas Pandohar
You would have to be stationed on Mars to have missed the brouhaha surrounding the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat. India’s most extravagant filmmaker doesn't do things by half. When he makes an opulent historical featuring three of Bollywood’s brightest stars everyone hears about it.
However, Bhansali himself must have been surprised by the controversy that attached to his opus from the very start. Protests and death threats by certain Indian groups against cast and director hampered its production and release due to the misguided belief that it insults a legendary 14th-century Hindu queen.
Having conceded some edits (including the movie’s title) and inserted recommended disclaimers against historical authenticity and accuracy, audiences (in the UK at least) can rest assured no one will be offended by Bhansali’s depiction of Queen Padmavati, one of Rajasthan’s most revered mythological figures.
A magical cinematic experience, Padmaavat is a fairytale retelling of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Sufi poem of the same name originating from 1540. Tailor made for the big screen; the characters, plot, costumes and scenery combine to create a stunning visual treat. Both Bhansali’s direction and the lead performances are never lost amongst the movie’s grand scope.
The story begins in Afghanistan where fearless warrior Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) shows off his might in a bid to impress and eventually overthrow his master to become the Sultan of Delhi. A menacing character, his lust for power and flesh knows now bounds. A fact his poor wife (Aditi Rao Hydari) knows to her own detriment having seen her father (Raza Murad) die at his hands.
Meanwhile, miles away in a forest in India, Maharawal Ratan Singh, the Rajput King of Chittor (Shahid Kapoor), falls victim of the charms of Padmavati, the Princess of Singhal (Deepika Padukone). Felled by an arrow she shoots through his shoulder while out hunting, he falls in love with her splendor as well as her skills.
Fast forward and the pair fall in love, marry and Padmavati becomes the new Queen of Chittor. Adored in her new kingdom, news of Padmavati’s brains and beauty reaches tyrant Alauddin, who becomes obsessed with the idea of possessing her in order to boost his own legendary status. Egged on by a conniving Brahmin guru previously banished by the king from Chittor, Alauddin hatches a plan of attack.
Not one to let his Queen be glimpsed, let alone kidnapped, a military standoff between Ratan Singh and Alauddin ensues and leads to him being seized and imprisoned back in Delhi. It’s left to Padmavati resolve to rescue her king from Alauddin grip and return to their royal kingdom.
No historical epic would be complete without a brutal but well choreographed battlefield scene and Padmaavat offers one up. Yet it is the shocking climatic scene instigated by true brave heart Queen Padmavati that will be remembered long after the end credits roll.
Padukone shines as the serene and strong queen to Kapur’s honourable king. She’s never looked or sounded as good. However, it’s Singh’s tornado like portrayal of Allauddin that steals the show. His arrogance and psychotic obsession with Queen Padmavati is mixed with the right amount of crazy, humour and menace. It’s a role Singh plays with relish.
Special mention to theatre actor Jim Sarbh who essays the role of Malik, Allauddin’s effeminate right hand manservant come deadly assassin. He serves up some of the juiciest lines with just enough sauce to highlight their one sided male romance.
At two hours and forty-three minutes duration, Bhansali packs a lot in and mercifully restrains from dragging out key scenes. If you like your Bollywood bold and beautiful, Padmavaat will not disappoint.
Padmaavat releases in cinemas UK-wide on 25 January 2018.
India / 2018 /
2 hours 44 minutes / Cert 12A