Padmavat WHOLE THING! Part 1 (SPOILERS): Ostriches and Pearls and Brahmins, Oh My!

This is a tricky one, on the one hand there is so much in it that I really want to go through step by step and make sure I don’t miss anything.  On the other hand, there isn’t enough in it (and I don’t want to spend so much time) for me to do a “real” scene by scene, shot by shot, style discussion.  So I’m gonna do kind of a half one.  Sort of like I did for Bajirao.  Go through everything that happened, but not in super detail. (no spoiler review is here)

We start with an Ostrich.  In the court of Julaludin Khilji/Raza Murad.  The ostrich comes in, followed by Ranveer, much less interesting than the ostrich.  On purpose.  Ranveer here is styled as an average young man, shortish hair, clean shaven open face, plain black shirt.  Some scars on his face and a little dust, but that is the extent of his character touches.  Meanwhile, Raza Murad is made up with wig, beard, jowls, elaborate embroidered and furred clothes and hat.

Ranveer explains that Raza sent him to get a feather for his daughter Aditi Rao Hydari, and so Ranveer has brought the entire bird.  Raza is so impressed by this, he offers anything Ranveer wants in return, and Ranveer asks for Raza’s “life”, that is, his daughter.  Aditi is listening, and in response to this she looks wide-eyed and giggles.  And I go “oh right! Bhansali women!  Always lovely, always love obsessed, tend to giggle a lot while wearing elaborate costumes”.

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(Aditi is great casting for the role, such a naturally delicate face)

In the next scene, Aditi is dressed up Persian/Turkish style with elaborate gold chains around her face and so on enjoying her wedding banquet, but Ranveer is missing.  One of the old bearded men goes looking for him, and finds him in big fancy embroidered clothing making out with a random (willing) woman in the hallway.  He tries to remonstrate with Ranveer, and in return Ranveer stabs him, and then turns to grab the woman again with his bloodied hands and have sex with her possibly not consensually any more.  Before going to join the wedding dance in crazed glory, flashing his bloodied hands as he dances.  And a woman goes and speaks to Aditi, clearly telling her what has just happened in the hallway, Aditi looks horrified.

This is a great anti-hero introduction!  Starting with him as a seemingly average hardly noticed or remembered young man.  He does one great(ish) act, bringing in the ostrich, and is able to marry the daughter of a powerful man.  But after he has achieved that first bit of power, his true character begins to be revealed.  Power has unlocked cruelty and desire and madness.  And the first to fully realize this is his new young wife, now tied to him.

(He seems a little crazy, but in a youthful boyish way, like this.  It is only later that his true nature is revealed, and yet Ranveer’s performance ties that charming young man together with the manic older man we see later)

If only it weren’t surrounded by troubling aspects.  Ranveer and Aditi, I have no issues.  But Raza I do.  There is no reason for Aditi’s father to be presented as also a slave to bodily desires, gorging himself on good ever time we see him, covered in fur and long hair like an animal.  30 years ago there would be no reason for him not to be presented that way, but there have been 30 years of Hindutva propoganda specifically describing Muslims as innately uncontrolled and desirous, and this presentation falls within that.

I want to draw a clear line.  Ranveer’s presentation is, to me, simply presenting this one particular person.  And it doesn’t go far beyond the historical reality, simply takes the darkest view of it.  It is the court surrounding him where the details have been filled in by images borrowed from RSS recruitment material.  Raza being the most glaring example.

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And Aditi is the best exception.  Sensitive, intelligent, kind, and devout in the best possible way.  She also falls, partially, within the stereotype of the sensitive Muslim woman tragically surrounded by cruel Muslim men.  But, again to me, she feels like a reasonable real character, a good interesting character, the woman who truly fell in love with the “fake” Ranveer, the simple carefree young man he pretended to be, and then suffered for years for that mistake in judgement.  If Ranveer had been the same, and the court around him had been more neutral, then Aditi’s  supremely “good” Muslim would have balanced his supremely “bad” Muslim, making it clear that Ranveer’s evil came from within, not his society.  But instead the society surrounding them titled towards cruelty already.

Meanwhile, in Sringhal/Sri Lanka, beautiful perfect Deepika is running through a perfect CGI forest aiming at a perfect CGI deer.  It’s a lovely fairy tale kind of look to it, very Bahubali, and then at the end of her chase, she shoots an arrow, and spins with the camera to reveal Shahid Kapoor struck and pinned to a tree.  Deepika takes him to a Buddhist temple (ASOKA!  WOOT!  Brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka!  Well, his son did.  Aryan should totally play that role someday, right?) for treatment, then learns he is a royal guest of her royal father.  Naturally, they fall in love.  In the middle of which, Shahid says he came for pearls and flashes back to why.  His first wife was angry with him for giving away a pearl necklace that was a wedding gift to her and insisted on him getting a replacement, even if the pearls were only available in Sri Lanka.

Now, this is interesting!  First, my friend that I saw the film with didn’t realize this woman was his wife.  Which was partly because she didn’t realize plural marriage was so common among Hindu royalty, but also because the film doesn’t make it super super super super super clear that she is his first wife.  I can kind of understand why, after all Bhansali just did that plot in Bajirao, why go back to the “a man torn between two women” well?  And it also makes sense as a character moment.  I sort of love this introduction to their marriage.  They are still going through the motions, but there is no natural understanding between them.  He didn’t think she would care about the necklace, she doesn’t understand his need to give elaborate gifts to a guest, but he is doing his job as a husband, he is willing to go all the way to Sri Lanka just to make her feel better.  But the marriage is clearly already dying, his falling in love with another woman was not a huge betrayal but rather inevitable.  However, I do feel like just a slight change, seeing Shahid ever touch his first wife in a way that made it clear they were husband and wife rather than brother and sister, would make it more obvious that Shahid is human and has the same human desires as anyone else instead of making him appear far beyond such things in his pretty perfect fairy tale love.

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(It also would have given Anupriya more to do.  She kind of stole the show in the few scenes she was given, and she was very good in Tiger Zinda Hai, I wish she had more scenes in this)

Oh, and Deepika of course is overcome with joy at his proposal and offer to take him back with him to Mewar, because she is a Bhansali woman and they all just want to be with the man they love, no consideration of their own life and needs and desires.

They arrive in Chittor, the grand fort/royal city.  Anupriya Goenka, Shahid’s first wife, resentfully welcomes Deepika, and we learn that Deepika was beloved of everybody etc. etc.  And we see her hanging out with her ladies, giggling and talking about boys (again, Bhansali women, never talk politics or anything else interesting).  They are joking about her first “Ghoomar” dance, which will be witnessed by her husband but no other man.

This is, again, a very very nice small character moment.  The first of many times when we see how Deepika is slowly being turned from a Sri Lankan to a Rajput.  Her clothes have already changed, heavy red saris instead of light flowing Kameez.  And now she is learning of their tradition of the Ghoomar dance, eager to learn it and to do it well.  This is her character journey, going from the outsider to the one who is more noble and dedicated than anyone else.  From the modern political side of things, a few small tweaks to how this story is presented, and it could have been a glorious statement of national identity as something that is learned, not inborn.  But instead, Dips’ journey is still there in these moments, but it is overshadowed by Ranveer and Shahid and the immigrant-to-local journey is hidden.

Meanwhile, back in the north, Raza considers going against the Delhi Sultanate, but is concerned because whoever holds Delhi will be expected to drive back the Mongols.  But Ranveer declares the Mongols are not a concern.  I like that we never see the Delhi Sultanate they are talking about.  It is left open that the Sultanate they depose is run by decent reasonable men.  It is only Raza and Ranveer and their followers (excepting Aditi) who are on this edge of violence and madness.

Ranveer does drive back the Mongols, but we don’t see it. Instead we see him looking at the battlefield, then a lot of dust, then Ranveer riding into the dust and out again holding a Mongol head on a spear.  This was the first moment that made me go “Wait, what did they spend 1.9 billion Rupees ON?????”

I don’t actually mind being cheated of the battle, in fact I think it was a brilliant creative choice, to keep the focus on the character of Ranveer rather than be distracted by the big battles.  But truly, there are no set pieces here that are any larger than what we saw in Bajirao, or Devdas even.  And yet the budget is SO MUCH higher!  It kind of makes me think about the theory that part of the reason the controversy and release were handled so shoddily was because of a tax scam, trying to make sure the film took a lose.  It just seems like there must have been a lot of money hidden in it somewhere, because it certainly didn’t show onscreen.

(Nothing in this film comes even close to this song.  Also, happy birthday again Kavita!)

We go back to Mewar at this point to check in on Dips and the gang.  She meets the wise Brahmin of the kingdom, the king’s chief adviser, whose character name and actor I cannot find!  So I will call him “Brahmin”.  He asks her a series of questions which reveal both her wisdom, and his.  And gives her his blessing.  It is all very Hindu and respectful and so on. Which just makes the twist later that much more interesting.

And then, “Ghoomar”!  By the way, I’ve seen comments and stuff online about “I wish I had seen the uncut version of the film” or whatever.  This IS the uncut version!!!!!!  I know that not just because I watch movies incredibly closely and I could not find an odd moment in it to indicate a cut, no line of dialogue that refers to something we didn’t see, no storyline left hanging.  It’s possible, even probable, that there was something Bhansali shot and ended up not using, but I am almost positive this is the final director’s cut that we are seeing right now.  It is very different from, for instance, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.  Which was clearly missing scenes.  And the DVD release revealed that yes, it was.  Not many, but about 5 minutes of screen time cut to remove Fawad Khan, which made the plot feel kind of more whole somehow.  The only blatant obvious change is the awkward CGI covering up Deepika’s torso in Ghoomar.  That’s the only change, no more than (for instance) what was done to the “Choli Ke Peeche” number in Khalnayak.  A slight addition of modesty, making her performance slightly less sexual.  That’s it, that’s the only change to the content of the film.

(This is the edited version, you can see the sort of awkward red effect on Dips’ torso.  Also, another moment in Dips’ journey of becoming more Rajput than the Rajput’s by birth)

And then we go back up north!  Where Raza is learning that after his latest successful battle with the Mongol’s, Ranveer didn’t even bother to come back and give Raza tribute right away, returning to his own stronghold first.  Which leads to a fascinating confrontation between them, and the introduction of my favorite character/performer!

Raza arrives and declares he has brought a gift, a slave.  It seems like it might be a job, because the slave is veiled in white silk, as though it is a beautiful woman, but is revealed to be Jim Sarbh, a man.  Who declares that he will do anything Ranveer wants.  And Ranveer casually asks him to kill the two guards holding him.  And then turns back to Raza to thank him for the gift, and Raza asks about the new red jewel he is wearing.  Ranveer resists giving it to him, Raza grabs it and tries to snap the chain, Ranveer pulls away, Raza snaps it anyway.  And then Jim Sarbh kills the two guards, as asked, and Ranveer grabs Raza in an embrace and kills him.

Oh!  I forgot a thing!  We see Ranveer just before this “celebrating” his victory by throwing pearls on a woman standing in chains holding two torches, clearly being punished.  She is the princess of his recently conquered territory and is refusing to bow to him.  This might be a reference to Aluaddin’s third wife, Hindu princess of a conquered territory.  Her child became Aluaddin’s successor.  Again, a sign that the historical Aluaddin was a brutal conqueror, but not a religious maniac, his religion was separate from that to the point that even his own wife was not necessarily forced to convert and his half-Hindu son was his successor.  And again, in terms of Ranveer’s role in this film, I don’t necessarily need for that information to be added.  His villainy in particular is clearly just something that is driving him.  But I would like for something to indicate that there were Hindus in the greater society around him and they were just as good or bad as the Muslims.

This tiny scene of Ranveer with his maybe second wife does establish him as a sado-masochist.  And not one of the good ones who do it with mutual consent and just for fun, but one of the bad ones who can only enjoy themselves when the other party is not enjoying themselves.  We had hints of this in his early scenes, but this moment confirms it.  In a very nice PG13 kind of way, there is no needless rape or titillating sexual images, but it is clear that this character enjoys seeing women afraid of him and is frustrated by this particular woman refusing to show fear.  Oh, and there is the tiny beautiful narrative construction moment of Ranveer using pearls as an attack, a weapon, while for Shahid and Deepika, pearls were what brought them together in the first place.  It’s the little things like that which I appreciate, and make me realize how much better constructed this film is versus Bhansali’s last few films.

(Pearls!  Are they usually a symbol of sexytimes, or is it just this song that makes me think that?)

Meanwhile, back in Mewar, Shahid and Deepika are having a sweet wholesome marital night of love.  Shahid barely touches her, but her hair is down, and things are romantic.  And then suddenly Shahid throws his knife and goes to the door because someone is watching them.  There is no one there, but there is blood on the knife, he hit someone.  And Deepika notices the scent of sandalwood, and reminds him that there is only one person in his kingdom who uses sandalwood.  And so the I-don’t-know-the-actor Brahmin is brought in.  He protests innocence, but Shahid throws back his drapery to reveal the scar.  And declares that for the crime of spying on the Queen in private, he will be thrown in the dungeon.  Not executed, because it is wrong to kill a Brahmin.  Deepika stops him, says that such a poison should not stay in the kingdom, and suggests banishment instead.  The Brahmin leaves, which threats to destroy them all.

I find this Brahmin character so FASCINATING!!!!  In the best possible way.  He is inconsistent in a way that you can keep puzzling and puzzling over, but doesn’t feel like just a poorly written character.  He is wise and has some minor mystical powers, enough to read people and see some details of their past.  But he is also petty.  He desires the Queen, enough to spy on her.  And he wants revenge for disrespect, just like anyone else.

The Brahmin-Shahid-Deepika interaction is very Puranic, in the best possible way.  Hindu stories are rife with lessons on the balance of power, on the struggle to always choose the right path, on the conflict of human desire versus duty.  A Brahmin who is wise and powerful, but also weak and petty.  A King who is trying to do his duty to the Brahmin as he is trained, but also protect his kingdom.  A wise queen who sees an alternative option.  There is a wonderful theme here of the ultimate corruption of all religious figures, the abuse of power through the respect they have forced others to give them, and so on and so on.  Only, again like Deepika’s assimilation story, it is a little hidden under the other themes that are dominating the film as it is in this moment of release.

(Amrish Puri plays a magnificent evil Brahmin/witch doctor type.)

And now we have the parallel version of this same story in Ranveer’s kingdom.  Ranveer is now Sultan of Delhi.  And he takes his crown to bed with him with Aditi, who is (understandably) a bit uninterested and reluctant considering that he just killed her father.  There is also a brilliant moment here where Ranveer suggests an alternative view of the murder.  That the Sultan was aging an weak, needed new blood, Sultan’s are always created this way, and so on and so on.  Another theme!  Through out the film there are moments of questioning history.  Ranveer provides the alternative version here, later he will actually be burning historical texts.  It’s not that Bhansali is presenting the “true” version of events, he is being careful to show us how history is manipulated, there is no “true” version necessarily.  The scene ends with Ranveer putting the crown on Aditi’s head, pulling it down over her eyes.  And then noticing music playing and calling for Jim Sarbh, who has been listening and watching outside the chamber.  Jim runs away and then back as though he was coming from farther and gets Ranveer’s order to find the flute player and have him brought before him the next day.

Deepika and Aditi are both wives being slowly covered in their husband’s identity rather than their own.  Jim Sarbh and the Brahmin are both advisers eager for more power and respect from the one they serve, and driven by inappropriate desires to eavesdrop on their private chambers.  Aditi and Anupriya are both first wives who have grown farther and farther apart from their husbands.  There are all kinds of pairings carefully arranged in the script to make us see how all of these people are essentially the same except for one being “good” and one being “bad”.  Or rather, being varying shades of grey.

The next day The Brahmin is brought before Ranveer, of course it was him playing the flute.  He reads details of Ranveer’s life, that the red jewel now in his crown was important and so on.  He has real Brahmin powers, this is not presented as trickery.  It adds to the fairy tale/magical realism feel of the film.  But then he lies (possibly), telling Ranveer that the beautiful Queen of Padmavat will be what makes him the ruler of the whole world, he must conquer her.

This is the central argument of the film, that Ranveer possessing, or even seeing, Deepika will somehow be more-bad than what he has already done to other women.  It is left open as to whether that is because she really will make him ruler of the world, or because Ranveer believes that.  This is not simply desire, this is a goal he sets for himself to achieve.  Failure is more than disappointment, it breaks him entirely.  Perhaps possessing her would not have been some magical tool to unlock the world, but certainly FAILING to possess her makes him weak.

And I’ll stop there!  I think I am about a quarter into the film, which is pretty good, should be done with the whole film in just a couple more posts.  Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll deal more with Jim Sarbh’s character in later parts.

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44 thoughts on “Padmavat WHOLE THING! Part 1 (SPOILERS): Ostriches and Pearls and Brahmins, Oh My!

    • I love Swara Bhaskar. And speaking of movies, I first noticed her in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and then later in Aurangzeb. Both films that deal with “traditional” kinds of stories and settings, nothing dramatically radical. But affirm the right of a woman to life and happiness as she chooses it. It’s not hard to do! You can do it without needing to break the whole mold.

      She’s right, it is all in the exact details of how it is filmed. The mere fact of the women committing Jauhar is one thing, glorifying it this way is something else. The theme repeated through out the film, which I mention here, is that somehow Ranveer possessing Deepika will help him conquer the world. There is a way to shoot that sequence so that the emphasis is on Deepika believing this idea, and knowing that escaping him at any cost will somehow destroy his confidence and make him lose. But that is just Deepika. There is no reason to glorify, or even show, what happens to the other women. The Opera already changed the ending, making it into Sati committed only by Deepika. And of course there is no real historical information one way or the other about it.

      In the original poem, the point was a pyrrhic victory, Alauddin loses by winning. It wasn’t to glory Jauhar itself, but more generally the idea of fighting literally until you had nothing left, so that the enemy wins exactly that, nothing. There would be a way to show that too, the women tearing down the valuables of the castle and throwing them into the flames, and perhaps the two queens staying behind to die together at the last minute and distract from the escape of the other women. Or heck, just have the women die in battle like the men did!

      It’s a theme that pops up over and over again in Indian art work, the glorification of the “noble” Indian woman who is so aware of her modesty that in her sensitivity to having it affronted, or even just at the thought of having it affronted, she will kill herself. The southern director Shankar is particularly bad in this regard, there is a sequence in Robot/Enthiraan that I found WAY WAY worse than this one, because it is modern and accepts that a woman will die before/after dishonor as the natural way of things.

      It’s also often handled well! Our hero’s revenge will be set off when his sister/wife/sister-in-law kills herself because she cannot stand an insult, and the suicide is treated as a tragedy and a wrong done to the hero’s family as much as if the rapist/attacker had killed her himself. Which is only slightly different, but is something I feel comfortable with. I guess because in that case it is suicide following survival, an unfortunate result of the bad thing that everyone wishes hadn’t happened, rather than as a prevention. And our hero makes it clear in his reaction that he would rather his “Dishonored” female relative had lived and is not proud that she chose death.

      On Sat, Jan 27, 2018 at 9:58 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Yes! QSQT! That’s another one. The reaction of the family being “I am so sad and devastated and furious at the man who made her feel like she should kill herself” instead of “I am so proud that she chose death over dishonor”. It’s still dishonor leading to a woman killing herself, but it’s the reaction to the suicide that makes all the difference. And they even flip it at the end and have the man commit Sati, in a way. The true “sati”, by the way. The figure after whom it is named was Shiva’s wife who killed herself in shame when she realized her family was dishonoring her husband. It wasn’t because her husband was dead, or anything related to some sort of sexual based honor, it was pure social honor just like a man might have. And her husband was furious and devastated and so on. At least, in the versions I have read.

          Ittefaq is a really good recent one. The suicide isn’t a major part of the plot, but it is treated as a complete tragedy, and the woman was explicitly encouraged to live on and build a life and be happy post-rape and everyone is furious and upset when she is not able to. Like, every character of the movie recognizes this as a clearly bad thing that happened, the suicide on top of the other bad thing that lead to it. And there is an assumption that it will be a scandal if it comes out, because of course everyone else in the world will also recognize that the suicide was bad.

          On Sat, Jan 27, 2018 at 10:28 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. The Brahmin character’s name in the film is Raghav Chetan. And I loved your synopsis. I didn’t realize the connection of pearls in both Padmaavati and Allaudin’s story until I read it. Looking forward to reading more!

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    • Thank you! for the compliment, and for the name. I still can’t find out who the actor was (and I want to give him credit, he did a good job), but I will keep my eyes open, usually the cast list is updated as the days go by and he should show up.

      On Sat, Jan 27, 2018 at 11:15 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Big question — CAN it compare to Bahubali?? I feel Bahubali is THE standard for costume drama, raja-rani type films in India now. Interesting that they skipped the actual battle scenes. Initially I wanted to watch the film just to see how the battle scenes compared to BB. Now that I know they skipped it, I wonder what the hell is in the film anyway.

    Also, totally interesting point about the money laundering. Perhaps that needs to be investigated more.

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    • It absolutely cannot. The only similarities that are specifically Bahubali influenced, to me, is the look of Sri Lanka/Sringhal which is similar to Devasena’s kingdom. Very blue and soothing and sort of hyper real and pretty. Beyond that, the general ideas of moral grey areas and weak Brahmins and everything, that’s just Puranic. The battle scenes are terrible. Well, not terrible, but not at all Bahubali. And not meant to be, I think. The big clashes of armies he mostly obscured with dust, as an artistic decision to keep the focus on other things. And the other battles that we see, he focuses on or two specific characters as they die, not the grand sweep of things. It’s not a movie to see for the big battles.

      I wasn’t thinking money laundering particularly, although that could be it, more just money disappearing. Maybe Bhansali films fudged the budget figures and pocketed the extra, or someone else along the chain did it. Or maybe Viacom18 had a loss somewhere else and wanted to move it into the production column and so used Padmavat to explain it. Something like that, because I sure don’t see where the money went onscreen.

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 3:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Come to think of it, bhansali had a great opportunity to do a big impressive battle scene in both bajirao and this film. He does. Which can only mean he cannot do those. If budget is not a concern, not doing a lavish battle scene can only mean the director doesn’t have it in him to plan and execute those. Even small budget histroricals manage that even if their CGI sucks because their central figures are known for wars.

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        • Yep, definitely feels like the director can’t do it. Good battle scenes are surprisingly hard! Jodha-Akbar struggled with that too, opting for hand to hand combat as much as possible.

          On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 8:52 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • And yet south indian films can manage them pretty well. Also, indian tv. It’s just bhansali who can’t. People should stop bankrolling him for films. He’d do much, much better if he does a saas-bahu tv soap that runs for 50 years with slo-mo sequences lasting for weeks 😂

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          • Oh, I would LOVE to see a Bhansali soap opera!!!!!! Heck, that’s what Bajirao should have been. 20 years of Bajirao torn between two wives, evil stepmothers, bad brothers, the whole thing. And on to the next generation with rival brothers. Oh, I would watch the HECK out of that soap!

            On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:19 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • You do realize it would be JUST what’s in the film stretched via super slo-mos and looped super slo-mo reaction close ups?? If he could make anything where the story moved an inch he would have done that in a film already! 😂

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    • I am sure a real one would have been cheaper! And such an odd choice of where to use the CGI, no big battle scene, but a really really hyper realistic Ostrich. although now that I am thinking about it, I think they had to make hyper real ostriches from Jagga Jasoos, maybe it’s the same CGI company and since the tech was already built, they just used it again?

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 4:49 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Which I find funny in a “laugh so I won’t cry” way. They have to CGI an ostrich, but you can show real women jumping into flames.

          On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 8:26 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I read the title and the comments and I kept on thinking why somebody would spend money on creating CGI ostriches? Why not use the real ones? And why ostriches are so important in a movie about Rajastan? Only now after reading your comment about Jagga Jasoos I realized that english word ostriches and italian word ostriche have very different meaning. Ostriche in italian means oysters.

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        • Now I want to see that movie!!!!!!!! Ranveer arriving proudly dragging an Ostrich behind him!!!!

          On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 8:32 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I was left shaking with rage after reading some of the comments under your posts about this movie. Thank you for trying to be balanced.

    I want to say alot of things but nothing done in anger is ever a good idea, so for now..

    I am a practicing Muslim woman, with aspirations and dreams and achievements. I have a supportive family of men and women, who didn’t instruct me to wear the hijab, that was my own choice.

    My ancestors were from India and were actually rajput in sect. To the argument that they were forced to accept Islam, of which I have no idea as no one here was present then, I would like to say, I love my religion and if I was not born a Muslim, I would still choose it.
    Perhaps my ancestors might have been Hindu but I am not out of my own free will.

    I love the freedom my religion gives me, the strong encouragement to charity and goodwill, the self actualization.

    In Hinduism, there is no divorce and women are instructed to take their husbands as a god, your value, in traditional Hinduism depends on your husband even if he is abusive. Hence, sati and jaguar.

    Suicide due to failed love affair, has been glorified repeatedly in Indiab films which encouraged it in reality and also, not until the mid 80s(sunny deol, looking at you, sad person) , were Muslims depicted as irredeemable villains.

    To suit politics, directors will pander. Please, the free thinking man, you stop.

    If people can rampage and go all mob mentality over a movie which they didn’t see and a fictional person, how easy to manipulate people like that into violence?

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    • Thank you so much for commenting. Too often the voices of Muslim women are absent from the discussion about and around them. And thank you for reminding people here that you exist and are reading. I feel like some of these commentators may have forgotten that they are speaking in a public forum and there are those reading who can be affected and hurt by what is said. As Bhansali did as well, forgetting that large parts of his audience are Muslim and will be hurt by what he is showing.

      Your perspective on Islam is one that I have heard many times from many people. In my own experience, the majority of Muslims are Muslim by choice, because the appreciate the values it teaches and the philosophy it holds. And obviously, that includes men as well as women. And because they hold those values, they are charitable and honest with themselves and others and many other good things that come from the Muslim teachings.

      Jodha Akbar, which on the whole I like as a film and as a treatment of Indian history, also fell victim slightly to glorifying the “Hindu” way of womanhood. Our Muslim hero offers the Hindi heroine divorce if she is unhappy, and she is shocked because a Hindu woman marries only once and treats her husband as God and so on and so forth. It is so odd to me that there is this joint not just acknowledgement but valorization of the Hindu teachings that a wife is totally subservient to her husband, and yet films never argue that a Hindu woman needs to be rescued from her terrible religion.

      I find Malayalam films such a breath of fresh air because, for once, they seem realistic in their treatment of religion. A Muslim family can be progressive, and a Hindu one regressive. Or vice versa. It depends on the family and the teachings you choose to take from your religion. That has been my experience living in a country with no strong religious identity, every religion has a peaceful philosophy at the center of it, that is what makes it spread and keeps people following it. And every religion has a possible extreme interpretation that can lead to violence. It’s simply about how you chose to live your life and follow what you believe. And it is shocking how in popular culture recently it has become acceptable to say that Islam is innately “bad” while other religions are innately “good”.

      One final thing which I myself find cheering. I have been seeing this slide towards Islamaphobia for decades, as you say in Hindi mainstream films it has been since at least the 80s (coinciding with the Mahabharata on TV and the Ayodha movement). And yet it feels too often like I have been a voice in the wilderness objecting to it, no one else has even cared. As recently as when this trailer first released, I was shocked by what it showed, and could find no other coverage that even addressed the representation of Islam. And now, finally, people are speaking out, large numbers of people, it is part of the conversation and out of the shadows. Which is the first step to making things better.

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 5:30 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Pearls have no particular meaning in Indian culture.However my mom was told by her MIL that “pearls for tears”. So perhaps to women of my grandmother’s generation pearls had some significance.Although, since that particular phrase is English, I guess it’s an English superstition which made its way to India.

    As for Padmavati, the poor woman had her back to the wall.She can’t be blamed for choosing to do away with herself.Her choice.At the same time if she had chosen to survive, she shouldn’t be blamed either.Both choices are brave.But I bet women of that age had been brainwashed from childhood that ‘jauhar’ is the honorable thing to do.But to expect every women faced with that situation to commit suicide to protect some man’s idea of honor is reprehensible.I remember reading /hearing somewhere that in Hindi films the hero had sisters just for them to be raped.It is callous but it is true to some extent.The sister character is pure and affectionate and has no other purpose but to be a trigger for the hero to go on a rampage punishing the villains.Too often it is not about the tragedy which happened to the woman but about the hero’s anger.

    Khilji can’t be compared to the Mughals who treated their Hindu subjects (comparatively) honorably.I don’t think there’s anybody other than Akbar who allowed his Hindu wives to keep their religion.

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    • I’ve heard that too! That pearls mean tears. It’s definitely an English saying, but it also fits with how they are used in this film, Dips even compares love to a tear. Interesting to think about.

      Thanks for mentioning that women of that time had been brainwashed since childhood, which is exactly what disturbs me and others about this film. Women of THIS TIME are being brainwashed since childhood, right now, by this film. There were little girls in the movie theater with me clapping and cheering as the little girl onscreen went into the fire. That’s how it works, you are taught at a young age that this is noble, told stories over and over again of how great it is, and the seed is planted in your mind. Rape survivors already always have such guilt, it is routine to put them on suicide watch because they want to die. And now here is yet another source telling them to do it, to give in, to kill themselves. There’s a reason there are laws on the books in India against inciting to suicide, something which in my experience is unique, because it is such a danger here and now in Indian society for women to be pressured to kill themselves. Bhansali seems to be thinking that he is only showing a historical reality, but that is because he is blind to the fact that it is a present day tragedy for millions of women around the world.

      Khilji let his wife keep her religion, as I mention in the synopsis. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t a terrible person, but it is a reminder that you cannot apply today’s religious values to past times. In the past, religious identity was not necessarily as simple and easy to define as it is now. Wasn’t necessarily something people cared about in the same way as now. Perhaps it never even occurred to Khilji to expect his wife to convert, because religion was not considered a public definable identity as it is now. And if you look at 1400-1600 world, the Mughals treated their subjects of another religion better than most other places in the world. This was the same era of the Spanish inquisition and the protestant reformation in Europe. “Christians” were torturing, hunting, and killing those of different faiths. But today we do not say “don’t trust a Christian, remember the Spanish inquisition”, or try to relate the completely unrelatable Spanish royals from that era with, say, the British royals from the modern day. That is what bothers me, somehow in the discussion surrounding the film Khilji is being limited to only his religion, and is being compared with others with whom he has nothing in common besides his religion.

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 5:54 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yup. The Paro and Chandramukhi in Dev D are way way way more empowered than how they’re shown by bhansali in Devdas. Dev D shows Devdas to be the chutiya that he was while Bhansali glorified and justified his alcohol addiction. I feel like Bhansali has deep seated mommy issues. He just cannot see women as people. They’re always props. Covered in costumes.

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    • Pearls are associated with Saraswati and the moon. You wear the white pearl if you have a temper problem or lack concentration as a student. I don’t know the origin of that story. Pearls are also what swans eat and in kalyug, crows would eat pearls! There’s also an association with Krishna which I don’t remember atm

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “In the original poem, the point was a pyrrhic victory, Alauddin loses by winning. It wasn’t to glory Jauhar itself, but more generally the idea of fighting literally until you had nothing left, so that the enemy wins exactly that, nothing.”
    That indeed would have been a good idea to showcase (f.ex. in a way you suggest) and apt to Padmavati’s intelligence.

    I like all the additional information you give and I get through the comments. I also read Swara’s open letter and I really wonder why Bhansali put the weight on this aspect (‘reducing women to vaginas’). Or does he give more alternatives than the princess who refuses to bow to him?

    I agree with you how the suicide in Ittefaq is motivated by the fact that the girl cannot heal from the horror because of the never-ending compassion shown to her since one got to know her name. It was a very good addition and important not only for the plot.

    The dance: I have to say that I was negatively distracted by the set…the palace seemed so fake…was it a genuine palace or constructed for the movie? I really would have preferred a hall in the palace with more splendour…

    Money spent: The thought of fraud /money laundering doesn’t seem wrong to me…

    Already excited for your other parts…at least you make the movie an interesting watch 🙂

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    • Yes, exactly to Ghoomar. That was another moment where I thought “what did they do with all the money?” It was supposed to be this spectacular set piece, and it wasn’t. The set was dim so we couldn’t see or appreciate elaborate details, the costumes weren’t that interesting, there weren’t even that many dancers!

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 7:53 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • There are many instances, in Indian history alone, where women “chose honor”. But from reviews I’m reading and hearing from people are so heavily leaned on the jauhar being the only thing one remembers from this film that it sickens me. That’s literally like saying jumping in the well was the point of the Jalliawalan Bagh Massacre!!

      Or maybe no-one can think beyond it given how a rajput women’s outfit threatened to commit jauhar if the film got released. They haven’t yet. That’s the real tragedy.

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      • There’s many instances in all histories. that’s another thing that is kind of insidious, holding up “choosing honor” as specifically an Indian value, something we can be proud of for being different, instead of a basic human response to a certain kind of threat. In American cowboy movies, it’s routine to have a moment where you had the woman a gun with one bullet, so she can shoot herself when in risk of capture. Zombie movies too come to think of it!

        And in 1857, it was something the British did in fear of the Indians.

        On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:09 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Chandrashekhar Azad chose it to avoid death under capture.

          In the context of women, the entire “honor resides in the vagina” needs to be outlawed around the globe. I’d support a communist world solely for this.

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          • the bigger argument of “as non-combatants, they will not die in battle but will inevitably be killed once the battle is over, so why not choose the manner of your death?” argument kind of works for me. But only in very very extreme situations. There were also some people in Britain who killed themselves during World War II, there was a particular date when it was rumored that the Germans would be arriving, and they chose to die rather than risk capture. And of course the Japanese horrors in WWII (perhaps the worse treatment of prisoners of war, and captured women in modern times) lead to all kinds of women who killed themselves before and after because they could not go on. Or were killed by their captors once they were done with them. Interestingly, my mother was just telling me that the researcher who did the most work learning about these women, interviewing thousands of survivors, published her book and then killed herself, presumably because she couldn’t live with what she had heard even second hand.

            Have you seen the film The Searchers? It is an American classic western and it deals with this whole situation. Our hero’s family is massacred by American Indians, only the teenage daughter surviving but being kidnapped by the killers. He searches for her for years and, slowly, his mission changes from finding and rescuing her to finding and killing her. As he learns that she has “gone native”, become part of the group that took her, married an Indian man (not uncommon, the American Indians often accepted captives into their tribes, or traded them into other tribes, and treated them exactly the same as anyone else in the tribe, making it easy to start life new and forget your original life). The audience is taken on this journey as well, beginning by seeing him as the classic hero and then starting to see how his masculinity and white pride have gone toxic, teaching him to hate that which he once loved just because she has chosen to move on with her life and be happy. It’s never explicitly said what he is thinking, but the people around him and the audience start to understand how his mind has shifted now that she is no longer “pure”. In the end, he resists and does not kill her, and leaves a broken man.

            On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:21 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I haven’t watched this film. But as you say, women, in any kind of civil unrest are the first and the easiest victims. As an Indian, I don’t have to go too far. Our women from the tribal belt, from the north east and from kashmir are already being given the same treatment at the hands of our prestigious armed forces. Of course, women around the world are facing the same issue wherever armed forces are present. Which makes me sick. Nothing has changed for women. And I don’t think anything will. Which is why glorification of suicide as an option is just fucking insane. If the Rajputs hadn’t been so fucking nuts in their demands and their perspective, this movie SHOULD have been banned for propagating regressive values.

            I’ve read a lot of white women gushing over this film and it just makes me want to say “well, I can’t wait till jauhar becomes fashionable in your part of the world too!”

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          • two things:

            First, Dil Se! That’s another movie I was trying to think of that dealt with a similar situation with a heck of a lot more depth and complexity. Manisha was a survivor, but with terrible psychic scars that went untreated. And Ratnam showed how Shahrukh’s efforts to “save” her were, in their own way, another manner of control.

            Second, I can’t stand when white women gush over things 🙂 No seriously, there is a big problem with feminism translating across cultures. White women are blind to Indian specific issues which Indian films propagate, and they tend to have a lot of access to social media and other places to spread their ill-informed opinions. It’s part of the reason I am so serious about this blog, trying to bridge that divide and explain to non-Indians the message that these films have if you know how to read them.

            On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:43 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • What I wonder is why people are always “surprised” by the success of the few pop culture items that do accurately represent it, as though they don’t realize that 51% of the audience lives these lives and might want to see themselves onscreen.

            On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 9:55 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I’m enjoying reading all of your Padmavaat coverage so far. Just a quick note to say that yep, pearls=semen in lazy erotic writing and films. Hence Ranveer throwing pearls onto a captive woman is showing unconsensual sex, just metaphorically.

    The budget speculations are so interesting.

    The way that men protecting/bartering/selling/buying/stealing/revenging women’s “honor” is so universal among humans (though it manifests in different ways, some more and less subtle or brutal) is a big part of what makes me a radical feminist. It’s fascinating to me that one of the few near-universals among humans is the creation of social classes based on reproductive function. In Western society, at least, Engels got it right when he linked accumulation of private wealth across generations to this obsession with women’s “honor”–because someone decided along the way that only if a guy knows for sure that his son is his son will it “count” to pass on his wealth.

    I read “The Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen–it’s a very eloquent rebuttal of both the Hindutva vision of Hinduism, and the West’s ongoing orientalizing of India’s historical contributions to arts, philosophy, mathematics, and science.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been meaning to read The Argumentative Indian! I keep picking it up and setting it down again.

      One thing which I find fascinating in Hindu texts is that a woman’s child was always her husband’s child, whether or not her husband was the biological parent. Which seemed such an elegant solution to all those concerns, to just reject “rightful” inheritance as an issue, if you are married to the woman than her child is your child. But it doesn’t come up as much as I would wish it in public culture today in India.

      On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 2:18 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I find the Mahabharat very progressive in how it doesn’t hide the paternity of children born out of wedlock.

        Also, Amar Chitra Katha had this edition of Ulupi where she’s coming on to Arjun and he hesitates because he’s married and she says as a kshatriya, it’s your duty to please a woman if she asks for it. I didn’t understand what it meant till I was much older. Amar Chitra Katha is weird!

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        • My favorite is in the very beginning of the Mahabharata, ACK describes how Ganga threw killed her first 7 sons with “disturbed the king”. Master of understatement! It would disturb me too!

          On Sun, Jan 28, 2018 at 8:04 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. Pingback: Padmavat Full Summary Index | dontcallitbollywood

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