Review: Padmaavat

Well, after many delays both political and personal, it finally happened. I watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (formerly, Padmavati). The whole ordeal is too tiresome to repeat here, but after an order from no less than the Supreme Court of India, the film was finally shown around the world. And the verdict is…

This movie is visually lush and features some really outstanding acting. Much praise has been heaped on Raṇveer Singh’s portrayal of Alauddin Khilji and I feel that it is deserved. Alauddin is fierce and brutal, but he is also desperate and one wonders what goes on in his internal world or what happened in his past to make him so obsessive.

Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone also perform well, but frankly their characters are given much less to do. Despite making her the center of the story, Deepika’s only real role in advancing the plot is to be beautiful. (SPOILER ALERT) Her shining moment comes quite literally at the last second as she leads a mass suicide (more on that in a bit.) Shahid’s character is meant to be the moral opposite of Alauddin’s but largely ends up reacting to what is going on rather than influencing it. I admired Shahid and Deepika’s performances because they were able to make so much out of so little more than anything else.

A special acting recognition goes to Jim Sarbh as Khilji’s servant Malik Kafur. Malik is just as obsessive as Khilji, but his attention revolves around his master. He more than holds his own in every scene, which is not easy when Raṇveer is bringing such overwhelming intensity to his own performance.

I have an issue with feeling inspired or admiring of a story that ends with hundreds of women self-immolating, including expectant mothers, girls, and old women. I understand that the cultural and situational context were different but these things must be addressed very sensitively in a world where many women are still pressured or forced to end their lives for reasons of “honor.” I marvel at the sacrifice these men and women undertook, but the film’s thin storyline does little to make it’s unbelievably tragic end feel warranted. Because this movie is based on a certain amount of actual history, the ending could not be changed. But the preceding two and a half hours could have been better spent.

Anyone who is in the least curious should watch Padmaavat. The incredible visuals, musical numbers, and immense effort on the part of the actors (particularly Sarbh) make it worth the price of admission. (The sultry song Binte Dil, sung by Arijit Singh, still sticks in my head.) I for one would like another Raṇveer-Deepika pairing in the future but maybe next time give Deepika more to do.

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