Padmavat Summary, WHOLE THING, (SPOILERS), Part 2

Part 1 came out yesterday, moving right along to part 2.  This isn’t a real “scene by scene”, not the way I have done it in the past with every line and every shot considered.  This is more a summary of the film with some minor discussion, similar to what I did for Bajirao. (full index of summary here)

I ended the last section with Ranveer’s meeting with the Brahmin (actor’s name to come once it is available) and his new obsession with possessing Deepika, not because she is beautiful and he desires her, not exactly, but because he has been told by the Brahmin that possessing Deepika will make him able to conquer the world.  Which might be a lie, because the Brahmin has his own resentments and reasons for wanting Mewar to be invaded and Deepika brought low.  Or possibly could be true, the Brahmin has been shown to have some minor mystical powers.

And now we see the end result of this.  A messenger in Shahid’s court, reading a statement from Ranveer, inviting them to come to see him in Delhi.  Oh, and very exciting, this is an awesome set and WE WILL SEE IT AGAIN!!!!!  For once, Bhansali has actually reused a set.  And again I wonder, what was the money spent on?  Why was this so much more expensive than all his films that never reused sets.

Anyway, it’s a pretty set.  Lots of low pools of water with little fountains in them.  Perfect for people to dramatically stride through getting their feet wet.  Why Bhansali likes to make his actors get their feet wet and the bottom of their costumes, I do not know, but he really does.

It’s a nicely framed shot too, Shahid standing perfectly straight and noble in white alone on one end, while the messenger is surrounded by other people.  And Shahid is also straight and noble and simple when he asks the messenger to read the message again, and the second time through everyone realizes the problem, it is Ranveer declaring that he as the ruler of “all of India” is inviting him.  Addressing Shahid as a vassal, not an independent ruler.  And so Shahid rejects him.

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(Upright and noble.  Great casting of Shahid with his dancers ability with body language)

This is the first of Shahid’s heroic mistakes.  Great Greek tragedy kind of mistakes.  He takes this invitation as a slight and rather than dealing with it diplomatically, positioning and repositioning himself, he rejects it out of hand.  And so Ranveer brings his army and attacks.

Once again, big dust cloud to hide the army.  Shahid comes to his battlements to observe the invaders.  Ranveer orders forward a small contingent to test the protections, and the horses fall through a false ditch hidden in the sand.  Ranveer orders his army to stay, while Shahid inside is all “it’s fine!  Call the surrounding farmers and so on to come into the fort, and send for aid from our nearby kingdoms”.  He also orders that Dilwali be celebrated as usual in order to keep up moral.

In the enemy camp, Ranveer has the same idea.  He orders competitions and debauchery to entertain the troops and keep them happy during this long siege.  He gives this order while he is entertaining himself by busily burning historical records he disagrees with.  And then we see him wrestling in the sand with a soldier, the crowd cheering for him.  He almost loses, and then snatches victory at the last moment.

A lot of interesting things in this section. I’ll do the Rajputs first.  We see that this is not exactly a David and Goliath situation.  The Chittor fort is as advanced as any other military outpost.  And the Rajputs are prepared for a siege, this is not the first war they have had.  Shahid never has a moment of hesitation, nor does anyone else around him.  But, notice, the problem is that the other Rajput kingdoms do not respond to their call for help.  Again it is a feel of Greek tragedy.  The mere fact of Ranveer attacking does not mean that the fort will inevitably fall.  It is all these small moments that lead up to the great tragedy, these tiny decisions.  It gets lost a bit in the way the film is presented, but it is there in the narrative, Shahid is flawless, and ultimately this is his flaw, his unwillingness to compromise, to put pressure on other rulers, to do anything that might have helped him.

Meanwhile, Ranveer’s issues are also interesting.  The idea that his men do not want this war is important.  This is the part where he begins to be referred to, and to refer to himself, as the second Sikander.  And the point of Sikander, the famous Hindi film classic, was that Sikander was defeated not by war, but by his own men’s homesickness.  It humanizes Ranveer’s army, makes us see them as men, not just soldiers.  I wish we had a little more of that.

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(Sikander!)

We also see Ranveer burning the books.  Very important.  Because it establishes not that this film is the “real” version, but rather that there is no “real” version.  This is how simple it is to manipulate historical texts, the party in power burns the other evidence and it disappears, and then they put out their own version.  It felt cheeky to me, Bhansali doing his own little nod to how ahistorical this film is.

And finally there is the wrestling.  Where we see how and why Ranveer is beloved of his men.  He enjoys wrestling, and enjoys a true competition.  Not as a show for his men, but as he really feels.  It’s charming, and we can see why people who only saw this charming side of him would like him.  And it foreshadows the way he enjoys this battle of wills with Shahid, likes having an equal enemy for once.

After the wrestling, Ranveer baths with Jim Sarbh washing him.  Jim suggests that he might be able to “entertain” Ranveer.  And then Ranveer stretches his body up in an arch out of the tub, and tells Jim to sing.  And Jim starts a love song.

(Interesting that T-Series chose to hide the way the song is presented on the film as though it is a love song between Dips and Ranveer)

These little bits have been accused of homophobia or something.  But I have to say, they don’t bother me that much.  As I see it, Jim fits within a certain character type.  Not the “gay lover”, that is putting modern western visions on a film that was created to echo ancient Operatic and poetic traditions.  Jim is the “wise fool”.  The king’s jester who is most trusted because he is least noticed, from the Shakespearean tradition.  Falstaff, Feste, Puck, and of course “The Fool” from King Lear.  They are extreme outsiders in society, the king’s tolerance of them shows his greatness of spirit, ability to see past externals.  And it creates extreme loyalty in the “fool”, to be appreciated by one man in all the world.  The king gets a benefit from these “fools”, their outsider status allows them to say and do the things that even the king cannot do.  And most of all, they are wise.  As outsiders, they see things that insiders do not, they can bend and break rules that others find firm.  It is a “fool” character Jaques in As You Like It who says Shakespeare’s lines:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Those lines above could easily have been said by Jim Sarbh in this film.  The fool appears foolish merely because he is too wise to appear wise, as it were.  And, for me, Jim Sarbh plays his role not as a gay stereotype, but rather as a man who has chosen to perform the stereotype because he is too wise to try to be “normal”.

There is a long tradition of brave and revolutionary drag performers and other variations on gender non-conformity.  The first Gay Rights protests and riots in America were started by gender non-normative people, the ones who were brave enough to be who they were in public and not afraid to fight for their rights.  The mere fact of an effeminate man is not a stereotype, and is not an insult to Queer people.  Jim Sarbh’s character is not a tormented gay men, or an “evil” gay man, he is a brave man who has chosen to appear on the outside the way he feels on the inside, to live his truth.  At least, that is one interpretation.  And I find somewhat disturbing this rush to judgement that somehow his performance and his character is “insulting” to Queer people, as it seems to be judging the way in which Queer people are meant to be.

Going back to the “fool” concept, that is clearly a deliberate choice as it goes directly against history.  Through out most of history, “slave” soldiers were not the kind of slave we picture with chains and abuse and so on, but rather something a little more integrated into general society, almost a matter of paperwork rather than anything else.  Think less America in the 1800s, and more Dubai guest workers today.  Historically, that is what Malik Kafur was.  A skilled soldier and wise advisor who lead Aluaddin’s armies.  Minister of Defense, not personal advisor.  And a public figure with his own followers, even his own kingdom later.  At the time of this war, he was leading Aluaddin’s army, not Aluaddin’s secret assistant.  And yes, there were rumors that their relationship was more, possibly true or possibly spread by jealous rivals.  Similar to Karan Johar and Shahrukh, come to think of it.  800 years from now, it might be impossible to trace exactly what their relationship was versus the rumors.  To turn him into this personal assistant/hidden spy type person means that Bhansali really really wanted that “fool” effect.  And part of that is to give the “fool” an obvious outsize way in which he is different from the rest of us.  A Little Person, someone with a deformity of some kind, a stutter, all of these might be reasons for them to be a “Fool”.  Gender non-conformity fits well with all of these.

Ranveer’s performance opposite Jim Sarbh is less, to me, about “ooo, is he gay?”, but rather to explain why Jim is loyal to him.  Ranveer does not reject him, accepts and appreciates his ways and breaking boundaries.  We can see why Jim would choose to be loyal, would come to care about Ranveer.  In a way, you could even see Jim as the Karna character, tragically tied to the wrong side because they are the only ones who ever treated him kindly.  And so in this scene, Jim tests Ranveer by implying sexual desire towards him, and Ranveer responds with enjoyment, stretching his body up in pleasure and smiling at Jim’s song.

This is also a TOTALLY RIDICULOUS sequence!!!!!  Just, the whole idea of the effeminate slave singing a love song to his only semi-interest owner is kind of, well, silly.  It’s this sort of over the top set-piece that makes me so sure that this is not a film that was intended to be taken seriously, that Bhansali did not intend to make a historical document, but rather an Operatic fantasy drama.

(This is sort of the kind of thing I am thinking of.  A song that makes almost no sense in context, but is very pretty and a fun set-piece for the two performers)

Meanwhile, in Chittor, they have decided to attack and shoot flaming arrows at the tents.  Because time is running out, they have only a couple days left of grain stores.  It is also at this point that Jauhar is first mentioned.  It is another scene of Deepika learning Rajput traditions, becoming more Rajput and less Sri Lankan.  The women are gathered and the idea is suggested, a ritual suicide when all hope is lost.  But immediately rejected, as all hope is not lost, not yet.

Back in the encampment, Ranveer’s tent catches on fire, Jim comes to drag him away, and Ranveer instead orders him to put all the bird cages in bed with him and wake him again when the fires are out.  Great image, Ranveer lying there surrounded by birds with fire around him.  Also a nice nod to Indian film history, which a bird in a cage is a consistent image related to captured beautiful women.  From Pakeezah to Sadak.

Inside the fort, they are celebrating Holi, putting on another front for morale.  And Deepika, bravely facing possible death with a smile, is playing with Shahid.  Another sign that they are a couple meant to be together, with the same attitude towards things, unlike Shahid and his first wife.  And a nice matching scene with Jim Sarbh and Ranveer’s closeness and similarity of mind versus Ranveer and Aditi.

The bit of a moment we see is Deepika bringing a tray to Shahid, him jokingly swinging out of her reach on the swing he is sitting on, her reaching him, putting color on his face, and then bending to put it on his feet.  It’s your standard “oh look how wonderful, the way she worships her husband” moment.  And Shahid does a good job being worshiped, being the the perfect smiling man accepting all of this as his due.  Frankly, I find Ranveer and Jim’s half-serious back and forth flirtation a lot less disturbing than what we see of the “good” people.

In the encampment, Ranveer has also realized it is Holi.  And says that he wants to play Holi with them too, it is time to suggest peace.  And he sends Jim as his personal envoy.  There is a moment when the Rajput’s on the battlement identify him as Ranveer’s closest advisor, some call him his “Begum”.  It is said with a tiny smile, but I also don’t see it as an insult.  They aren’t laughing at queerness in general, just this specific situation in which the lines are blurred between slave and friend and wife.

One thing that I find oddly missing in the discussion of Jim Sarbh’s character and how he is handled is the possibility that Bhansali himself might be gay.  He is 54, never married, never had a public relationship with a woman.  It’s just common sense to consider the possibility.  Which would make Jim’s character not an insult, but wish-fulfillment.  And the “Begum” comment less an insult, than slight gender bending and relationship redefining.  Not saying that is the case, but it is possible.  And I feel like the superficial “Effeminate man who is on the wrong side-BAD” interpretation is missing a lot in terms of possible meanings behind the representation.

Right, moving on!  Jim Sarbh has arrived under a flag of peace to suggest a meeting, Ranveer comes to have a meal with Shahid, and then his army will leave.  Shahid agrees, but has conditions.  He wants Ranveer to come alone, and unarmed.  Ranveer agrees.

And the two men prepare for their meeting!  In another moment of parallelism.  Deepika wraps Shahid’s turban, she herself is wearing elaborate silks and jewels.  And then she carefully sews a string of pearls on to the turban.  Meanwhile, Jim Sarbh is helping Ranveer dress in heavy dark clothing.  Culminating in Deepika flicking kajol from her eye and hiding it in Shahid’s beard, while Ranveer flicks perfume on a servant woman and then grabs her and pulls her against him to cover himself in the perfume.  Shahid and Deepika have a holy perfect partnership in which she helps him to look perfect and handsome and saintly at all time.  While Ranveer has dark messy clothing and a dark messy tent, surrounded by servants rather than his wife.

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(Not to mention the saintly gold sunlight around them)

What I find most interesting here is the readymade clothing versus clothing sewn on.  It is a seemingly small thing, but it is a big difference between the two characters.  Ranveer’s clothing are overly made, layered heavy fitted jackets.  It’s truly ridiculous, there is dialogue about how his troops will have to leave because it is so hot they won’t be able to take it.  And yet Ranveer is still wearing velvet and fur and has blazing fires.  there must be a reason for it.

What I am getting is that the Rajput’s are creators, thoughtful and wise and artistic.  While the Khilji’s are consumers, layers and heat and everything.  It’s just another part of the birds in a cage and the female slaves everywhere.  While Shahid is casual, in light white clothing that is draped for this specific occasion and then taken away, Ranveer has layers and layers covering him and weighing down his inner goodness.

Right, and then meeting! There is a clever bit when they sit down to eat, Ranveer bends and sniffs his food (very animalistic, again), and then trades the trays.  And then trades them again, while Shahid kind of raises his eyebrow, and then finally Ranveer smiles back and takes his original tray.  It is a lovely moment of silent understanding, Shahid getting that Ranveer is trying to avoid poison, and Ranveer understanding (finally) that Shahid will not poison him and being brave and wise enough to just eat.

It came out recently that Deepika was paid more than either of her male co-stars for this film.  And frankly, I don’t see why.  Not that Deepika wasn’t given plenty to do, and is the title character after all, but because the most important relationship in the film, it turns out, is between Ranveer and Shahid.  The noble virtuous perfect Rajput ruler versus the wiley and immoral Khilji ruler.  The two men have a strange understanding of each other, begun with that first letter sent from Khilji in which was hidden an acceptance of his rule over their kingdom, and Shahid’s foolhardy and immediate rejection.  Shahid understands and can see Ranveer’s intelligence in a way most of those close to him cannot.  And Ranveer, similarly, can see both Shahid’s intelligence and his strong moral character.  Even the Brahmin who originally ties the two kingdoms together, he does it through using Deepika’s beauty, but the goal is to set Ranveer against Shahid, the man who insulted him.

In my Tiger Zinda Hai review I talked about how the screen came alive when Kat and Salman were together and I wished for more scenes they shared.  It was not because I like “love stories” or wanted more romance.  It was merely about actor chemistry.  In this film, I could have happily sacrificed scenes between Deepika and Shahid, or Aditi and Ranveer, or even Ranveer and Jim Sarbh, if it meant more moments between Shahid and Ranveer.  They were truly something special together, starting with this sequence.

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(Really the film should have been promoted as the two men versus each other. Not sure why it wasn’t.  Just because Dips was the one more willing to do promotions?)

After lunch, Shahid and Ranveer play chess together.  Lot’s of double-meaning lines about capturing the “Queen”.  Which Ranveer sells mostly because of his delivery, they are pretty stupid lines.  It’s also hard to remember that Shahid at this point has no idea of the actual goal of the siege.  Ranveer never came right out and asked for Deepika, he planned to simply take the fort and therefore get her.  It is through this conversation that Shahid slowly begins to realize Ranveer’s hints. Culminating in him asking when he will be introduced to the rest of Ranveer’s family, the Queen.  At which point everyone draws their swords and points them at Ranveer’s neck.  Ranveer is delightfully unconcerned, and his unconcern is justified when Shahid stops them because of course Ranveer is their guest.

Again, the two actors are just amazing together!  As are the two characters.  Shahid was able to figure out that Ranveer had bad intentions towards Deepika after just a few remarks, because he could see the kind of man he was.  And Ranveer was able to understand that he was in no danger saying such a thing, because Shahid was too honorable to use it.

What neither Ranveer nor Shahid predicted was that Deepika would be willing to show herself.  Because the special bond is more between the two men then between either of them and Deepika, despite the perfection of Deepika and Shahid’s marital bond, they don’t truly understand each other.

Blah blah poem, Deepika shows herself with her face obscured by sacred smoke in a mirror at a great distance from Ranveer.  And then her image is suddenly cut off by a lowered curtain and Ranveer’s face twitches in irritation.

And then, as promised, he prepares to retreat.  But first asks Shahid to return the visit, also alone and unarmed.  Deepika worries and is unhappy with Shahid going unarmed, but he says he has to.  He goes to find Ranveer half asleep in his chair, Ranveer explains that he was sleeping, and then invites Shahid to sit and promptly captures him.  Again, the two men knew each other.  Ranveer knew Shahid would come as promised, even though it made no sense.  And Shahid is not super surprised to be captured, he knew it was a possibility.

This is the “tragic hero” part.  Shahid’s flaw is his virtue.  A man less “dharmic” for lack of a better word, would be willing to take common sense precautions, to be too smart for such an obvious trap.

But I don’t want to end this section by digging into the tragic flaw, I want to go back to the horror at the thought of Deepika appearing before a guest.  This is still a modern day issue, being careful who is invited into your home if you have sisters or daughters.  Being careful who your wife is introduced to, and your guests taking it as an honor if they meet her.

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(Speaking of Deepika, one of the nicest things about her public persona is how close she is with her father, and how uncaring he is that she is out in the world unprotected, proud even that she has made her own way.)

There are two parts to this.  First is a simple separation of the sexes.  Even pretending this was truly separate but equal, then women can have all the female friends they want in the female quarters just as men can have male friends in the male quarters, it is still a problem.  For one, it enforces strict gender identities, the same thing that makes Jim Sarbh’s character here, or Karan Johar in real life, so uncomfortable for Indian society to deal with.  A Hijra is one thing, she has become a woman, she can be categorized.  Or even categorized as “3rd sex”, if you like.  But what do you do with a man who sometimes acts in a way that seems womanly?  Or a woman who sometimes acts manly?  Where do they fit in the simple male-female quarters kind of division of society?

For another, this kind of strict separation between sexes leads to misunderstanding between them.  All the many problems we see today, eve teasing and sexual harrassment and so on, are partly related to the way men are women are not taught to see each other as people, as fellow human people.

There’s also the fact that things are hardly ever “separate but equal”.  Separation tends to bring with it a power division.  And so the mere fact of keeping men and women apart invites there to be one who is more powerful, man or woman.  And, as we know, it is man who has become more powerful.

And because he is more powerful, they are not exactly “separate but equal”.  A woman is kept locked away from society, locked into the small world of acceptable female companions.  While a men is allowed to be open and free, to go out into the world.  This film trumpets the wonderful nobility of the Rajput’s for keeping their wives hidden away from all outsiders.  But it never asks if the women want to be kept away, if there might be something they would enjoy out in the world beyond their chambers.

Like much of this film, it is taking a weakness, a backwardness, an injustice, and making it into a virtue.  It is not wonderful and amazing that the Rajput’s do not allow men outside their families to see their wives.  It is a bad thing.  It is something that hundreds of years of reform have sought to overturn and yet lingers to this day.  It means that women live crippled lonely lives away from human contact, from the world.  And it means that if they do go out into the world and something bad happens, they are blamed for it, for having invited it merely by going out.

Let us turn this to today.  What if a police officer gets notice of an abused wife?  He comes to see her, and the husband refuses to let the police officer, or any other man, see his wife.  The woman continues to live in fear, trapped within the house, with no rescue in sight because she is so securely captured.  And society as a whole ignores her cries for help, because it is a “good” husband who keeps his life locked away and a “bad” man who would try to save her.

I’m not saying that the character Deepika is playing has any reason to want to leave her husband’s household, or that Ranveer is there to save her.  But the film is arguing that a “good” woman would never want to be seen by anyone but her husband, and a husband would never allow her to be seen.  Which allows for the myth to be perpetuated and therefore potentially abused in today’s world.

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(One small part of the Sheena Bora murder case was that the police stopped investigating despite the woman’s boyfriend insisting she was in danger, because the elders in her family turned them away and said she was fine.  It’s a distant relation of this same thing, the assumption that a woman is the possession of her family and they are the gatekeepers of access to her, and it can be used to hide heinous crimes.  Also, this poster of the movie version delights me, so cheesy!  And come to think of it, I could just as easily have used a poster for Talwar, in which another young woman was more in danger inside her own home than anywhere else)

In reality, it is not the outsider “Ranveers” who threaten women most often, but the insider “Shahids”.  A woman is in more danger of bodily harm from men of her own family or known to her family than from strangers.  71% of rapes are by a spouse or a non-spouse relative, or a friend.  Only 28% are committed by a stranger.  The solution to keep women safe is not to lock them away where no one can hear their screams, but let them out into the world where they can find someone to help them.  And glorification of purdah in this sequence is part of the problem, not the solution.

Oh, and of course, 50% of rapists are over 30 years old.  Don’t fear the young man coming to the house, fear the old man.  That’s one thing this film got right, the Brahmin’s desire for Deepika is far more statistically likely than Ranveer’s desire for her.

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32 thoughts on “Padmavat Summary, WHOLE THING, (SPOILERS), Part 2

  1. I just read the first half of this – I’m just beyond the brahmin tells him to possess Padmavati part- and I have a notion– what if Padmavati (in the original poem) is a symbol for the kingdom (the ‘i’ at the end of women’s name often means (female of ‘place name’- like in poorvanchal they don’t call a married woman by her name, they use the name of the place. So a female neighbor in our village from Amarpurah is called Amarpurahi and so on)

    By this logic, Padmavat isn’t a song about Padmavati, Padmavat is the name of the kingdom and Padmavati is the queen of Padmavat. Hence, the jauhar, would be the same of Padmavat exercising good old scotched earth tactics rather than literal women deciding to end their lives by jumping in a fire!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like where you are going with this! And I think that is actually sort of what the point was supposed to be. It wasn’t their glorious sacrifice, or to escape rape, it was one last effort at making sure he won nothing even if he won. So he captures an empty fort. Of course, that is still making the women into something that could be captured, like an object, but at like it is more of a thought out offensive tactic instead of just a dramatic sacrifice.

      I know I said in some other comment so I am repeating myself, but they could have built the fire out of the draperies and jewels of the fort, so it was more of a “we are destroying everything before you can take it, ourselves and our posessions” moment.

      On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 1:00 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I do mean that actually no women were burnt and the language of the original lore on which the poem is based was so full of symbolism that eventually everyone (that would be peasants mostly) started believing women literally jumped into a fire.

        You know like how laxman raped suparnakha but Ramayana tells that tale only as he cut off her nose? Something like that. Maybe that’s how the Rajputs kept rebuilding their kingdoms. They escaped with all their jewels etc and then the invading army was left with no loot to take home from the desert!

        This theory makes sense considering how no emperor of India ever really showed too much interest in retaining direct control over the modern day Rajput territory.

        Liked by 1 person

        • See my guess, seeing as the poem was written so far away and so long after, is that the poet heard about some women killing themselves in a mass fire to avoid invaders somewhere else and shoved it onto this story to convey the idea of a fort that was captured but already empty.

          Like, you know about Heinrich Schliemann and Troy? He used the poem to try to find a vague location of the city and it worked. But he didn’t, like, believe that there was a Helen of Troy or anything. He just thought there was a huge city that had a big siege and then was destroyed. So I am attacking the Padmavat poem similarly, there was a fort that was attacked from multiple sides, and the people fought so hard that when the fort was captured, it was empty. And then the poet threw in the talking parrot and beautiful queen and all that, along with a really spectacular version of suicide-after-invasion.

          On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 8:05 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • And dumbass masses thought the poem was about real people and started sati!!! I know you’ve only ever read academic translations of our religious books but if you ever read ones meant for the masses to read at home, you’d find them prefaced with the most shameless kind of scaremongering propaganda about what happened to the people who didn’t obey the priests!

            Part of me is really desperate for a modern Turkish style strictly imposed secularism in this country. 99% of our problems are caused because we can’t stop living in the past

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          • This is why I love Devdutt Pataniak! I know he has no credentials, I know he is kind of a marketing branding type with the odd public appearances and training camps and stuff, but by golly he treats the stories as stories! With all the complexity and uncertainty of oral tradition, and little comments about how certain things were added or removed or turned into variations depending on where they came from.

            On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 8:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • This particular comment reminds me of this little snippet from his show where he got asked about the popularity of the Gita. His answer is something that i personally agree with. He said the Gita gained prominence in Hinduism only after the British started their investigations of Hinduism. They couldn’t believe this vast religion had no central book. And thus they basically promoted the Gita as the key book central to Hinduism because it was the only one they could find and translate that made sense of this religion.

            I find this story hilarious because I understand how monotheistic religions must find it so very difficult to understand a polytheistic one and even in that Hinduism has versions of the same polytheistic systems that differ from country to country (again, India wasn’t India but a bunch of independent kingdoms and Hinduism spread all the way to the far east)

            My own take is that Hinduism itself is a philosophy and not a religion. Left to it’s own devices, ie unaltered by political forces, the religion tends to favor modernism and socialism.

            I absolutely adore Devdatta because he didn’t go to a university and spent decades researching the religion. You can never learn Hindu mythology that way. It’s all about lore. The written down version is someone’s private take on it too. The lore and the symmetry within understanding of the same is helps him reach conclusions. Not because there’s someone definitive text he can quote as a source.

            He’s a good mythologist in the same was that you are a real good Indian film expert. You learnt formally about films but your experience of this group of industries is through the lore that it comes with- biographies and personal accounts and the emotions of the films rather than their “texts” and the symmetry of the symbolism etc.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Yep, that is exactly what I learned in my grad school seminars! Hinduism was the Vedas that only a very few people knew, and these stories that in various variations were all known through out South Asia, and then otherwise it was also kind of a local earth based religion, like Shintoism, with the sacred tree or the sacred waterfall or whatever for your particular village, along with a particular God or Goddess that was related to it. And then the Western scholars went around and interviewed people and wrote stuff down and packaged it and said “There! This is your religion!”

            It’s a big part of Said’s concept of Orientalism, this need to label and categorize and study and right things down so that you can feel like you “understand” a people, instead of just accepting that they are people like anyone else.

            And yes, that is exactly why I like Devdutt. The modern scholars of religion are much better than the colonial ones, unless you get a specific “this is a translation of Valmiki”, it’s going to be like Devdutt, with a lot of “this is the variation that is popular in Sri Lanka, here is one from Bihar, and here’s another one from Andra Pradesh”. But way way harder to read then Devdutt, and I feel like I don’t need to get a comprehensive everything through all time version, I just need the sense that there are multiple versions out there and some idea of what they all might be.

            Thank you for saying that is related to how I deal with Indian film! That is my goal, because like the religious texts, so much of it is oral, you know? You can’t learn about the history of the Golden Age of film without knowing that Raj and Dilip were best friends and stuff like that which isn’t in many histories. That’s why I like reading film star memoirs and biographies more than big academic texts, because you are more likely to get a sense of how things were on the ground.

            On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 9:04 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I had a lightbulb moment during a rather boring dussehra outing a couple of years ago. So as you know Ram was a northern king who defeated a southern king and much of the lore in that book is as outrageous as WhatsApp forwards and fake news on social media these days. So during this boring dussehra outing when the actors are doing what they thought they were supposed to be doing, I thought to myself, it would be a much better holiday if it were a regional celebration about a northern king defeating a southern king etc rather than the version we’re stuck with where Ram is a God.

            If you look at the stories in our lore, our gods are people. Real people. With human qualities. And human faults and you have a human connection with them. You connect to Parvati as a housewife who occasionally has a manic episode when spurned. You connect with Shiv because he’s free of pretense and a simple, deeply emotional northern lad who’s very black and white about things. Then you have Vishnu who’s really manipulative but there’s a method to that madness and he’s more like a kind wizard. The the entire system of avatars, considering how far back the history of people living in this small patch of land goes, it would be ridiculous if they didn’t have a strange lore with magical elements in them. Hell, even the more supposedly modern recent religions claim their central figures were magic (I personally think the prophets were time travellers which is why what they said made sense to their followers way back when).

            The only goal of human life is to experience shit. We’re spiritual beings having a mortal experience rather than mortal being having a spiritual experience. And since not everyone can personally experience everything in one mortal life, we have lore and stories and books and films!

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          • Going back to the Oral tradition concept, one thing I learned in my class on the Odyssey and the Iliad is how oral stories needed this markers and ways to keep the audience interested and the storyteller aware. So if you look at the Iliad, or the Bible, or some versions of the Ramayana, you can trace “okay, this is the thing that happened, this is the cool bit that was added so the storyteller would remember to tell the thing that happened.”

            I also assume that multiple strange things ended up all being combined into the Ramayana and other stories in ancient times, like the war and the disappearance/reappearance of the stones to Lanka may not have happened at the same time, but they got combined and all turned into part of the same narrative.

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          • Humans reached south Asia some 60,000 years ago and it’s not a terrible big place but it’s varied enough to feel like a very big place with a huge chunk of each year being kinda good weather wise to travel all over. I’m sure a hell lot happened that got around as stories with travellers.

            The major issue that I have with scholars’ take on what mythological stories contain literally is that they always discount the fact that the biggest contributors to the oral tradition aren’t scholars- they’re regular people who have mostly been totally illiterate.

            Greek and roman mythology wouldn’t really be as important or even form a comparative Base to the lore of living ancient civilizations if it weren’t for the Renaissance which, let’s face it, was a bunch of rich white people with too much money and nothing to do keeping themselves busy.

            To come back to my theory about the fantastical elements from oral traditions preserving the history and memories of the illiterate masses, I guess civilizations that have had extensive written down records rarely accounted for how the masses lived and that’s a pretty big miss simply in terms of the percentages. Imagine someone telling you, when you had no experience of India at all yourself, that bollywood was the real history of India!! That’s how ridiculous written down records are! And that’s why, perhaps, the real truth lies someone in the fantastic stories that the common folk passed down generations. (a few weeks ago, I read about the aborigines having had a perfect record of natural history and history in general of Australia spanning 40000 years but the first white settlers couldn’t understand their language and didn’t bother to understand what they were saying back then! And these people had a near perfect system of passing down history orally!)

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          • Yep, there was a big upset in the field of History in general in the West around the 1950s-60s I think and Oral history began to be more and more accepted. Followed by a beginning to understand how it varies from written history. For instance, time gets confused easily in Oral cultures. So everything that they say happened, did happen, but you may need to look for carbon dating and stone records to figure out when exactly it happened.

            In terms of films Sheila Nayyar wrote this great article breaking down how Indian films are in fact part of the oral rather than the written tradition. The repetativeness, set character types, big monologues, all of that is part of an oral tradition. And the history part, have you noticed how most films don’t bother trying to make something that happened ten years ago look any different from today? The characters move forward, but time stands still.

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          • That’s one of the things I hate about indian films. But then I look at all the village teens still sporting a Mithun hairdo and how they still listen to songs from the 80s and 90s and I think that may be because in rural India, which is 65% of the country, time REALLY does stand still!

            I’m not even joking. My mom likes to listen to Akashvani-run radio stations rather than FM and they almost never play songs from this decade. And FM stations available around metros and tier 2 cities only, never play anything that’s older than 4 months!!!

            Same with the films on TV. There are channels, the most massy ones, that keep playing old favourites because they’re cheap to get. The more recent films usually disappear from tv after 2-5 showings after the premiere.

            So if 65% of the country doesn’t know the latest city fashions in anything, it makes sense that in films too they don’t wonder why everything looks the same 10-15 years apart in the same film!

            Liked by 1 person

          • That’s what I like about them! It’s part of the “not real but feels real” flavor to me. If my parents are telling me a story about when they met, I’m not going to be picturing a perfect vision of 1970s America, I’m going to be translating it to my own context. And so, although logically I know it is crazy, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai taking place 10 years apart and looking identical, helps me with suspension of disbelief instead of distracting me.

            On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 11:03 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. In the Dubai theater, they didn’t translate Sarbh’s song, and I got a very homoerotic vibe from it. But with more thought I think that he’s not necessarily an ‘evil gay’ or a ‘punchline gay’ person, as you also mentioned. I think he’s a hedonist, and he wants to savor things that are unique, precious, and sensual; which is why he compliments Ranveer, someone who wants to possess all precious things, very well. He’s chosen to embody his life desires and derive pleasure not just from physical contact, but in every experience, which explains his ease and even inclination to do bidding, whether evil or benign.

    Also, this was the point of the film where “honor” would drive an audible groan from me, as I was seeing exactly how the honor would be turned against him.

    And the whole face thing. It truly bothered me and I’m glad you elaborated on the harm this mentality produces and protects.

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    • Yes, the face thing is lovely and fairy tale like if it was just a poem. Which it is in my culture, we’ve never had that specific concept. I mean, plenty of other terrible misogynist things, but not that one. But watching it and aware that it is a mentality which lasts to this day was disturbing.

      On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 4:22 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Definitely should. Ranveer has amazing male-male chemistry. His promo tour with Arjun Kapoor for Gunday was just a big love fest.

      On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 9:25 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • He seems to be combining two concepts, that Feminism should not be women behaving like men, and that women should be “proud” of their ability to create life. First, the original letter had nothing to do with women behaving like men, I don’t know why that is even part of his discussion. And second, he is in fact, once again, reducing women to their reproductive ability. That may be a very exciting and scary thing for men, but for women it is not.

      And finally, he seems to have missed the point that it is not the fact of Jauhar which was objected to, but the manner in which it was shown. The director made a decision to show a little girl and a pregnant woman. And to include a voice over at the end extolling the virtue of Jauhar.

      Most of all, it is a frustrating inability to read and understand what Swara was saying. He (and I am assuming “he”) did not bother to try to follow her real objection, which had nothing to do with women being able to drink and smoke, and was only about the glamorization of female suicide as it related to the purity of their body. The idea that it is noble to kill yourself before being “dishonored” rather than fighting back.

      Ultimately, he is just supporting her point. In response to a request not to be minimized to reproductive abilities, instead of saying “Woman are more than the ability to reproduce”, he said “women are awesome because they can reproduce”. Exactly what she was objecting to!

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        • I don’t think so. I could be wrong of course. But I don’t think it is the kind of thing that gets you blackballed. It won’t help her become a Top Actress, just because it shows a willingness to speak out that is incompatible with the kind of “offend no one” fame you need if you are going to be a top top star. But if she wants to continue on the track she is on, doing smaller roles in mainstream films and headlining art films, sort of the Shabana Azmi track, I think she will be fine. She didn’t say anything that shows her to be unstable or unprofessional, and I doubt the audience as a whole is going to remember it in a way that would lead them to boycott one of her future films. So no reason not to hire her just for this. Oh, and she also didn’t personally insult anyone, except maybe Bhansali, who isn’t exactly a major connected player. Doesn’t have a huge production house or a bunch of friends or something. And even there, she referred to him in a very respectful way, describing how she appreciated him as a director and so on, so I suspect even Bhansali himself won’t have a problem with it. And if he does, he is terribly petty.

          On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 11:35 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That’s true. I guess I was just worried because it seemed like everyone was attacking Swara on social media, and there was an actress who went after her as well.

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          • YEah, unless an actually powerful person (head of a studio, big star, big director) responds, I tend to discount all this stuff as just people jumping in trying to gain fame for themselves.

            On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 11:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I just took a second to confirm some things. These are not the scriptwriters for Padmavat, they wrote dialogue for Ram-Leela and the lyrics for one Padmavat song. So they don’t speak for the film or the filmmakers. They also, frankly, don’t seem that famous or important, probably even less so than Swara. No wikipedia page, no other industry credentials. So I am leaning towards “inserting myself in a conversation that I don’t belong in, in order to gain fame for myself” kind of explanation.

      I assume that Bhansali himself will either not reply at all, or reply in a very circumspect “I appreciate Swara as a fellow artist and am glad she enjoyed my previous films” kind of mature way. It is also a male-female duo, that much I was able to see from press photos.

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  3. It was a very exciting conversation between you and Asmita (again learned something new) 🙂 .

    Do you imagine what a gorgeous kind of movie Bhansali could have made with that thought of “scorched earth” instead of ‘scorched women’? And also with a clear focus (and concentration) of the relation between the two emperors?

    I also like very much your take on Jim Sarbh’s character as a quasi Shakespearian “wise fool” (and also the “hedonist” idea of Perpetually Eliza). It makes a lot of sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post and the discussion.

      You are making me remember now that I had a somewhat similar reaction to Bajirao. That is, I found the idea of following the responsibilities of the king and the functioning of the kingdom much more interesting than the love triangle at the center, and was angry with Bhansali for reducing the characters to only their love story. He does that in a slightly different way here, choosing to focus on the love triangle and how it shows the differences between the two men, rather than filling in more details of their respective kingdoms and training for rule and so on. And ending with the personal sacrifice of Deepika instead of a consideration of the larger import for the two kingdoms.

      On Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 3:32 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • That would be a lovely film won’t it?? In a normal world, SLB won’t make this film. Rajamouli would. And he would take the basic material and enrich it with details in the plot that tie up so neatly with the gratuitous violence. In fact, SSR would probably spent so much of his budget on the war and the CGI that he’d have nothing left for the jauhar scene and he’d wrap the film up with a voice over and a killer song!!!

      Or imagine a BB1 style ending to Padmavat — the silhouette of women against a wall of fire and epic background score giving you chills as you read the text scrolling on one side of the screen.

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  4. Pingback: Padmavat Full Coverage Index | dontcallitbollywood

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