Padmavat Review (NO SPOILERS): Intent Versus Effect

I saw it!  Not opening night, but soon enough.  Theater was half full, half the audience was talking and the other half was shushing them, very odd dynamic.  I’m used to all talking or no one, not this mix and match.  Which kind of fit the mix and match I saw within the film.

This is a tough review to write, because large parts of what I want to say I, or someone else, has already said.  If you want to read my discussion of the historicity of the story, and the communalism of the images, read this post.  If you want to read a more detailed discussion of the problems with exactly what happens in the film, read Anna M Vetticad’s review.  If you want to read what I have to add to what has already been said, read on.

 

I’m going to start with what surprised me.  This is perhaps Bhansali’s best movie since Devdas.  Maybe even Khamoshi.  For once, it isn’t just about the visuals.  He has a tight script behind it, with parallels and metaphors and even small moments of humor.  He doesn’t drown himself in emotions, he keeps the plot moving along at a good clip.  And he knows what he is doing with his characters.  He isn’t torn between making them “realistic” versus “dramatic”, it is all high drama all the time.

It’s well known that he has been working on this story for at least ten years.  And that he was involved in a restaging of the French opera based on it a few years back.  And it shows, this is a tight tight script. Purely in terms of narrative, decisions such as making Alauddin’s rumored slave lover into his personal attendant and assistant instead of the chief of his army make perfect sense.  Bhansali wanted a character to balance Alauddin, to be his confidant and partner in all things.  So it was easier to make that historical person into a close friend and secret associate, instead of a public general.  Similar obvious narrative reasons explain limiting Alauddin to one wife, even removing the entire plot around the rival Rajput king Devpal.

Image result for jim sarbh padmavati

(Needless to say, Jim Sarbh was endlessly entertaining in the role)

Bhansali created a combination of the poem and the opera (also based on the poem), in order to turn it into a story that would work for film.  The opera is partly known for being one of the simplest, shortest, and smallest cast operas.  There is not enough there to create a film.  And the poem, meanwhile, complete with visits to sea kings and so on, is much too lengthy.  So Bhansali took some out and put some in and came up with an excellent excellent story.

Image result for padmavati opera

(Opera version)

This is not meant to be a “real” story.  The way the characters were designed, it is clearly intended to be more of a fable or a fairy tale.  It reminds me more of the silly stunt films like Aan and Rajkumar than anything else.  The villain is soooooooooooooooooooo villainous, the evil Brahmin might as well be an evil wizard, and our hero and heroine are like the prince and princess in a fairy story, beautiful and wise and brave and all the rest.  And the visuals, mostly, support that concept as well.  Rather than use VFX to show massive battle scenes, Bhansali drew them in broad strokes, like a simple fable, the action obscured by dust.  The romance between Shahid and Deepika takes place in a consciously fake looking Singhal/Sri Lanka, complete with magical deer and glorious waterfalls and everything else.  The ingredients are all there for a glorious throwback sort of fantasy fairy tale film.  The kind we got in Veer, or Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, a story for children and families to watch together.

(Yes, it really is more like this than like anything else in recent years)

This is the intent.  It is there to trace in dialogues, characters, images, the majority of the film really.  But the problem is, there are small touches to the film which allow it to be read in a different way.  Some of them not so small.

As in Bajirao, there is an obsession with using modern day flags to represent historical armies, Ranveer/Aluaddin fights under a barely changed green flag of Pakistan, while Shahid/Rajputs fight under the saffron.  Why?

At the end of the film, after a fairly well down sequence showing the purpose and ultimate triumph of Jauhar, there is a voice over emphasizing that this was the ultimate victory and nobility of these women, an inspiration that lives on in India today.  Remove that voice over, and it is a moderately troubling sequence.  With the voice over there, it is explicitly saying that suicide before dishonor is the most noble way for a woman to die.  Why?

Those are the two most blatant moments, but there are other subtle troubling aspects.  The specific ways in which our villain is “evil” tend to line up with the current stereotypes prevalent in South Asia surrounding Muslims, there is a strong emphasis on the Hinduism of the Rajputs, again following certain stereotypes currently present.  And, as almost always in a Bhansali film, there is an assumption that women live only to love, have nothing else in their heads, making the mass suicide at the end almost a “happy ending” since they have no purpose now that their husbands are gone.

And this is where I begin to think of intent versus effect.  Bhansali’s intent, as I trace it through the majority of the narrative, was simply to tell a fairy tale in a fairy tale manner.  And yet the effect could be hugely damaging.  Does his intent even matter?  Is that reason enough to make this film, knowing the controversy that would inevitably ensue, the way it would be twisted?

I don’t know, but since many other reviewers, and myself in an earlier post, have already covered the effect, I thought I should take a moment to step back and look at the intent instead.

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30 thoughts on “Padmavat Review (NO SPOILERS): Intent Versus Effect

  1. It is surely tempting to make a film out of a poem and an opera based on the poem if one is an visual artist like Bhansali is…in addition when one has creatively worked for the staging of the opera. However, obviously, Bhansali isn’t only an artist, he also is an Indian with his own opinions (political, religious, etc) which he wants to be reflected in the movie….or he felt he should do it (for whatever reasons).
    So it seems that he somehow poisoned a fairy tale…

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  2. I haven’t read the other reviews you mention, but from your take, what it seems like is yet one more confirmation that Bhansali bit off more than he can chew. He has serious issues with adaptations, whether acknowledged or not (there are credible accusations that Khamoshi is an unofficial remake of a European film). I am done with SLB. I don’t think he understands human beings. They are just props in his fantasy world.

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    • Yes, this is exactly what I will be getting into in my SPOILERS review. He adapted a story without understanding it, and he added elements that are just generally present in the culture right now without thinking through what they mean or what their result would be.

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  3. Hi ! I have watched the movie two days ago and I was really eager to read your review, just to see if you felt the same way as I did. The trailer itself was full of cultural prejudice and I was hoping to be surprised while seeing the movie. Actually, I was not. From the poem, Bhansali took some aspects but no parrot in sight, no temple (Shahid and Dips could have met, like in the poem, in a Mandir, it would have been very “Hindu” and more accurate, (or at least closer to the poem) no explanation. I have some questions, by the way… Ranveer, at the beginning, has his hair completely shaved, and, as the movie goes on, his hair grow longer and longer. Why ? Is there a hidden meaning ? Is there a link with Games of Thrones ? 😉 Another thing : There is a wrestling scene and people shout “Sultan, Sultan”, is there a link/wink towards the movie Sultan ? Without spoiling : Someone is a blatant buddhist at the beginning and then is a fierce devotee of Shiva, how and why ? Do you have some ideas ? I do not know if you share my point view, but before the movie, i had “great expectations” but, after watching, I thought it was “much ado about nothing” considering the turmoil of Rajput people compared to how Muslim people are treated in the movie.

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    • I assume Ranveer’s appearance became more wild, his hair was longer and his clothes bigger and all of that, as time went on to show how he was less and less in control, more and more animalistic. Very similar to Shahrukh’s Asoka, his most human and restrained period was when his hair was shorn, before and after he was wilder.

      I hadn’t thought about the Sultan link, but maybe!

      I think I know the character you mean who goes Buddhist to Shiva. I think it is yet another moment of Bhansali’s idea that a woman’s whole life revolves around her husband. Her character’s journey is to become more and more “Rajput” through out the film, her clothes, her religion, her cultural understanding, her whole ethos. Culminating in the final moment.

      I was pleasantly surprised by the minimal amount of Muslim bashing in the film compared to what I was expecting. Which just shows how low my expectations have become, both for Bhansali and Indian culture in general.

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  4. I didn’t enjoy it for a variety of reasons but I’ll wait until you make the spoiler review to go into detail.
    I feel the pacing was so slow in the second half and I frankly got annoyed. I enjoyed the first hour, but then it slowly started grating on me and I felt it was all shine and sheen and drama and little substance.

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    • Yes! I was struck when I realized the opera was so short. Because it felt like about a third of the plot in the second half was just to draw out the running time, there was no purpose to it. Essentially you could have just had one siege, and skipped everything that happened in between and made it a 90 minute movie.

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  5. Same issue in Baijiro Mastaani, at the end when he is in the water. It’s supposed to be dramatic but I was almost checking my watch.

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    • I was literally checking my watch. Basically for the last half hour of that movie, there were so many false endings and it just kept going and going. This one never got that bad, although it came close

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  6. Pingback: Padmavat WHOLE THING! Part 1 (SPOILERS): Ostriches and Pearls and Brahmins, Oh My! | dontcallitbollywood

  7. Having been burnt bad by Bajirao, I have no intention of ever wasting money on a Bhansali film. Indian TV soaps have the same kind of costumes, same kind of super slo-mo drama, and same kind of much ado about nothing throughout the plot. In fact, I can’t wait for Pakistanis to upload an uncut torrent of this film just so I can watch the uncut film and because specifically for the manipulatively capitalistic, country-destroying publicity stunt this film has become, I want to watch a pirated version of this film in protest!!!

    Moving on… I have a theory- I don’t think the first ever jauhar was “voluntary”. Given how manipulative the rajputs are about their history (if the jews of nazi germany were our rajputs, they’d probably have claimed the millions at Auschwitz CHOOSE to gas themselves to attain nirvana and the rest starved themselves to death in hunger strikes and THAT’S what defeated the Nazis!)

    My theory is- when the rajput armies saw their defeat in wars being imminent, they locked off the women and set them on fire themselves. Since no woman lived to tell the tale and if no one involved ever told a historian or bard about it, there would be no record of it. And if someone decided to use a little disinformation and tell the tale of how rajputs burned their women alive only they sugarcoated it and said “Oh the women CHOOSE to do so because honor!” that’s what history would remember it as. I strongly feel history needs to be looked a through the feminist lens. And if I look at jauhar, it reeks of conspiracy and mass murder. Because that’s what sati was– glorified incitement of suicide for what should have been the natural heir of the deceased male! Jauhar too, if you think about it, made sure the defeated rajput king left no rightful heir to the kingdom. Since their entire clan was potentially wiped- the men and male heirs in battle and the women in jauhar- the kingdom was open for easy occupation.

    A historical fact is- Rajputs raped rajput women of the rajput kingdoms they attacked. In fact, all armies raped and plundered in the lands they invaded- ALL OVER THE WORLD! The rajputs- who are famous for not having won anything against any major emperors of India- have been the butt of all jokes following their response to this film is the sentiments of the rest of india who see the rajputs for the regressive, backwards, idiotic segment of Hindus that they are!

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  8. actually during ancient times women had fear that even after they die their bodies would be raped so prevent this they would burn themselves.
    As for the movie i don’t think i’ve an issue with the movie after reading all the reviews because the movie was set in the 1300s so Sati was common in those times plus he made the movie based on the poem so he can’t twist the ending.
    Haven’t seen the movie yet(also not sure will get the time to watch it) so i’m curious is there a talking parrot in the movie as well?

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    • No talking parrot! And the thing is, he does twist the ending, or at least chooses how to present it. And he changed so many other things, he clearly was not trying to he historically accurate, or accurate to the poem, just picking and choosing. And so he chose this particular version of Jauhar and this particular way of presenting it. It came SO CLOSE to not bothering me! He just needed something to show that this was the 1300s, it was a different time, thank goodness women have other options now. But instead he explicitly said “let us all try to be like these women and protect our honor as fiercely now, today.” I’m glad the Sati disclaimer was at the beginning, but I kind of wish it had been at the end, right after the sequence it was referring to, just to remind us “okay, it’s only a movie”.

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:08 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • yikes!!! can’t believe actually did that.Well at least there is no talking parrot .Thank god for that.I was wondering will he or will he not include the parrot.But yes they could’ve included a disclaimer in the end.Anyway let’s see if i get to watch it next week.

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  9. Pingback: Padmavat Full Coverage Index | dontcallitbollywood

  10. Pingback: Hindi Film 101 Swara and a Reply to Swara About Padmavat as a Case Study in Appropriate and Inappropriate Public Discussion | dontcallitbollywood

  11. My mom ended up seeing Padmavat and she said it was a decent movie. She felt that it was too much like Bajirao Mastani though. Also she said that Ranveer acted really well but his character/makeup was really creepy.

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    • That is an excellent review! It was a decent movie, the villain was a bit over the top, and it was very similar to Bajirao Mastani. This is exactly the kind of review I want from an audience member, honest and straightforward and not over-thinking it. Way better than the hyperbolic “best” “worst” that people seem to fall into.

      On Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 2:19 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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