By Hamza Shafique (Instagram / Facebook)
This story is a folklore and everyone knows how it ends so what I am about to say next cannot be considered as a spoiler. The last sword fight sequence between Alauddin Khilji and Ratan Singh followed by Rani Padmaavati's walk into the pyre is one of the most aesthetically shot and executed scene I've ever seen on silver screen. It’s a cinema spectacle where everything gels perfectly together and creates a very balanced, intense sensory experience for the audience. Having said that rest of the film is a total opposite story.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known to have stories about extreme characters in extreme situations, there is nothing normal or ordinary about his stories. For example, in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ we have a husband whose love for his wife is so extreme that he even helps her to get to her lover, then in Guzarish we get to see two more extreme characters one is a quadriplegic who wants to take his own life and other one is his devoted nurse who loves him enough to take his life, similarly in Black, Devdas, Baji Rao Mastani in each of his film you get to experience some sort of extreme side of the principal characters. But there has always been a balance between the humanly aspects and extreme element of the characters. This balance made all these previous characters relatable and helped audience to connect with their extreme stories as well. This balance is missing here. All the three characters are written to their extreme ends, that protagonists (Rajput Raja and Rani) appear as God and the protagonist (Sultan Khilji) appear as Demon. And then to put these larger than life characters with in a very simple storyline somehow took the life out of this otherwise spectacular visual experience.
Screenplay is not consistent and drags at times, especially in the first half. I wish the pre-wedding moments were written better and were given more time instead of typical ‘Rani Dressing Raja’ sequences, which by the are way too many. At one point, I started to wonder if that's only what old Rajput Rajas and Ranis did all day (dress each other and look each other in the eyes for hours). Screen play could have been easily reduced by 30 mins. Screenplay re-iterates Alauddin Khilji’s savageness and Self Righteousness of Ratan Singh over and over again. There are moments after moments and dialogues after dialogues that say the same thing repeatedly which makes it overall a jarring experience. Even the songs like KhaliBhali and Ghoomar felt forced with in the plot to repeat the glory of Mastaani and Malhaar. Don’t get me wrong there are moments of sheer excellence as well, one of them I have already mentioned earlier, along with that the scenes between Khilji and Ratan Singh are very interesting and between Khilji and his Malika Jahan played superbly by Aditi Rao Hyderi are also intense. I wished screenplay had the balanced natural flow because currently it seems like a checklist induced screenplay.
Bhansali's direction is as usual good but feels repetitive and most of the scenes will remind you of his previous work. Even the famous chandelier scene from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam can be seen here.
I have issue with the cast as well but not their performances, which is a first for me.Shahid Kapoor has given his best to portray the one dimensional character of Ratan Singh but with his surfer beach body and boyish looks , lacks the charisma of a Rajput Raja who is going against the magnanimous screen presence of Ranveer Singh in the avatar of Alauddin Khilji. Even his voice lacked the gravity which never let the right level of intensity to build on screen. His efforts are sincere and he is a talented actor but he in my eyes will look convincing holding a surf board on the beach rather than holding a sword against a savage sultan.
Deepika is beautiful and her eyes deliver all the emotions perfectly but as per the script demand she doesn’t look eternal enough. May be all that heavy ornaments and costumes over powered her screen presence. I really wished that she didn't have that big nose pin so we could actually see her whole smile. I kept on thinking how beautiful Aishwarya looked as a Rajput princess in Jodha Akbar and role of Rani Padmaavati required someone with that sort of screen presence. I mean, when Aditi Rao Hyderi as Malika Jahan complements the beauty of Rani Padmaavati (who btw doesn’t compliment her back-arrogance alert) while radiating more than her in elegant Turk-Afghan Princess’ attire, you know there is something wrong. Speaking of Aditi Rao Hyderi, she as Malika Jahan wife of Khilji really impresses here and her part is small yet I believe is the most well written. Her scenes required intense emotional display where she also shines bright.
Ranveer Singh as Khilji is the real sultan of this drama, his performance will make you believe in Khilji’s madness. Ranveer portrays all the aspects of his character very well, his scenes with Aditi Rao Hyderi are the most brilliant ones. Raza Murad as Jalaluddin Khilji and Jim Sarbh as Malik Kafur are also convincing in their parts. This is one the best performed film I have seen in recent times.
Technical aspects of the movie are also inconsistent, at one point you get this amazing backdrop in Ghoomar song where every little detail is perfect yet at the same time you open the film with a mediocre laughable CGI ostrich. War sequences go from brilliant to comical in seconds thanks to the inconsistent CGI work. I am not sure what happened here, maybe he had to redo few of his scenes followed by the massive public/political issue with the film and that impacted the quality. Nevertheless, overall Bhansali at least succeeded in creating a very realistic and beautiful 13th century world which is a visual experience that needs to be seen on the biggest cinema screen possible.
Music is also good but nothing stands out. Ghoomar stands out but sounded more like an anthem rather than a melody.
Overall Padmaavat is just an ordinary film with few extraordinary moments and to be honest this is exactly what it looked from the trailer (if you remember by trailer reaction).
With all its flaws, it's still a very well-directed, superbly performed and technically strong production which deserves to be experienced in cinema, if not for the drama but for the visual experience it offers. I wish Bhansali go back to his Devdas, Black, Khamoshi style of storytelling soon, I go with 3 stars.