New Delhi: As protesters vandalise malls and halls, block highways and threaten to immolate themselves, it turns out that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s much discussed “Padmaavat” is actually a lavishly mounted ode to Rajput pride.
In what could well be a case of sound and fury signifying nothing, the leitmotif of the Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh starrer, which has dominated headlines for months and is finally releasing on Thursday, is Rajput honour. Not what the protesters have been saying the film is all about. The 165-minute period drama is full of one-liners boosting Rajput pride as it deifies Shahid Kapoor’s Maha Rawal Ratan Singh and Deepika’s Queen Padmavati.
Ranveer Singh’s Allauddin Khilji is the archetypal, if savage, villain, with flowing dreadlocks and kohl-rimmed eyes. The film was shown to journalists in Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday. Groups such as the Rajput Karni Sena have said the film distorts history and defames their queen Padmavati. But as the film progresses, the many references to the queen prove that the claims made during the politically-motivated protests were baseless. At one point, Padmavati is compared to Savitri, a mythological character who saved her husband’s life from Yamraj. There are also many references to how intelligent the queen is.
Hoping to manoeuvre itself out of trouble, the film begins with a series of disclaimers, including one that it has no link with history and is based on 16th century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic “Padmavat”. Another disclaimer says it does not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments.
The censor board had suggested five modifications: One is Deepika’s midriff being covered in the song “Ghoomar” to befit her character as a Rajput queen. The changes were made close to release date but Bhansali’s special effects team has done a swell job, artfully covering her midriff with a red and gold ‘koti’. Karni Sena had objected to Padmavati performing the ghoomar, a Rajasthani folk dance, in front of people, including men. But the dialogue before the song, “Hukum ke siwa ghoomar par koi nahin aa sakta (No one else can watch ghoomar apart from the king), nullifies the objection.
Rajput groups had protested about a dream sequence between Khilji and Padmavati. However, there is no such sequence in the film. The censor board had also asked producers to add another disclaimer — that the film does not glorify the practice of sati. This was perhaps required as the climax, an elaborate sequence of women getting ready for jauhar (mass sati) to save their honour, is powerful and evocative — shot against the brown of the Chittor fort with the fiery red of the women marching to their death.
Bhansali had earlier said “Padmaavat” is his tribute to the glorious stories of Rajput “honour, valour and vigour” and the director has stayed true to his words. Throughout the film, men of the community are shown protecting Mewar and fighting for the pride of their women. In the confrontation sequences between Ratan Singh and Khilji, dialogue writer Prakash Kapadia has given some of the most powerful lines in the film to Shahid, echoing the glorious Rajput history of bravery and sacrifice. Deepika’s final monologue is also a testimony to Padmavati’s courage and self-esteem. “Rajputi kangan main utni hi takat hoti hai jitni ki Rajputi talwar main” (The bangles of the Rajput women are no less powerful than the Rajput sword).
The focus should actually be on the portrayal of Khilji, presented as a brutal king of the Delhi Sultanate. Ranveer has tried his best to live Bhansali’s vision but Khilji comes across as brutal and murderous, overshadowing the famous ruler’s administrational accomplishments. His thirst for power and self-obsession comes through when he says, “Allah ki banai hur nayab cheez par kewal Alauddin ka haq hai” (Alauddin is the rightful owner of God’s every unique creation). Nothing seems to matter — neither family nor social obligations — in his quest to claim Padamvati.