Next part! I think I am on the downward stretch now. Partly because there is an awful lot of what feels like “filler” starting with this section. So I can skip all kinds of things, or at least only deal with them briefly. (full index of Padmavat here)
In the last section, I got all the way to Ranveer kidnapping Shahid. He whisks him back to Delhi and sends a message that he will let him go in exchange for Deepika. Deepika is told that she can’t possibly go, but then Anupriya (the first wife) sends for her and declares that this is all her fault, and without Shahid, the fort of Chittor and the kingdom of Mewar will inevitably fall.
Interesting small thing here! The concept that royalty is so entirely contained within one man. There isn’t even a discussion of who his regent would be, if he has an heir, none of that. Just a basic assumption that Shahid is Mewar and Mewar is Shahid. Very Louis XIV, L’etat Cest Moi.
(I think he might have better legs than Shahid, based on the FilmFare outfit)
Anyway, Deepika declares she will go, but she has conditions. And Ranveer receives those conditions. First, that she can bring with her 800 attendants and they will stay in the woman’s quarters. Second, that she will meet her husband and see him freed before she meets Ranveer. And third, that she wants the head of the Brahmin. The Brahmin laughs when he hears this, as though it will clearly never happen. But Ranveer simply smiles and says that he accepts. And Dips receives her head on a plate. Which looks Super Fake!!!! Like, 1970s Hammer film level of special effects. First, again, WHERE DID THE MONEY GO???? All the money Bhansali got for this film? And second, what the heck kind of head preservation technology did the Khilji’s have in the 1300s? How is it so well-preserved?
There is a scene of the royal someone coming to talk to Deepika and ask what she is doing lowering her honor, and Deepika merely says that she is looking at plans of the Khilji palace and planning. And then throws red powder over all the plans.
Blah Blah, plot happens. Deepika and her huge group of attendants all get into their carrying carriages and take off across the desert. Finally arriving in Delhi and gracefully getting down, all veiled.
Meanwhile, Ranveer is dealing with his own plans. His wife Aditi is against this whole thing, but in a scared way. Jim Sarbh is egging him on. There is an obvious moment where Ranveer is seated in his throne with Aditi on one side and Jim on the other, both leaning over his shoulder. They are fighting over him, trying to make him pick. Who will greet Deepika when she first arrives. Ranveer picks Aditi.
Okay, pause! Let’s unpack this stuff. First, the whole idea of the carry carriages is insane and shows Bhansali’s dedication to drama over reasonable. Why in the world would 800 women travel in this insanely inefficient way? One woman, sure. But a minor Rajput kingdom, even a major Rajput kingdom, couldn’t possibly have the resources for this. Some of these women would be walking, or in horse drawn carriages, or SOMETHING besides the very elegant and exclusive and romantic way they are being carried. It supports a whole fantasy of women being kept veiled and hidden away at any cost, rather than acknowledging the obvious reality of both then and today that hiding a woman in such a way is simply not viable, society could not function, and women are much stronger than the fantasy likes to acknowledge.
(This thing. Is it always a “doli” or just at weddings?)
Second, Bhansali is revealing a difficulty with numbers here. It’s been present all along, this just makes it obvious. Deepika has 800 attendants. And a further 1600 at least to carry their carriages. Earlier, Shahid ordered that the families surrounding the fort be brought in for safety. And the fort itself is beautiful, plants and fountains and so on. So, that’s 800 high class women, and 1600 serving men. And there must also be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of heavy laboring servants, not just the ones who play games and do embroidery, but the ones who weed the water plants and skim off the pond scum. Plus all the people of the surrounding farms. We are talking easily 20-30 thousand people. But the film never gives us the feel of that. These numbers are quoted for effect, but have no real meaning to Bhansali, no sense of the sort of civilization and bustling community being supported. And anyone who is not an upperclass beautifully clothed person is essentially invisible.
Oh shoot, I forgot a scene! Before all of this, Ranveer had a bit of a power struggle with Aditi’s cousin, the heir to her father who Ranveer usurped. And during an insane and very odd Turkish/Russian style dance, Ranveer was shot with poisoned arrows. And then he is ill, Jim Sarbh and Aditi tend to him, the courtiers gather outside, the nephew comes in to comfort him, and Ranveer wakes up to strangle him. And after that they start preparations for Deepika’s imminent arrival and there is the scene where Ranveer picks between Aditi and Jim Sarbh. And all of this is really really dull. Thank goodness they put in that strange dance scene just to wake us up.
This entire plot could have been removed. No need to deal with Ranveer’s internal power struggles, or even get any more details on his relationships with Aditi and Jim Sarbh, we’ve got a pretty good idea what is going on with them. Ranveer does need to be unable to move in his next scene with Shahid for some reason, but they could have easily come up with a different one. Heck, just have Aditi poison him or something! This whole 20 minute section reeks of filler. As does the loooooooooooooooooooooooong sequence of Deepika and her attendants traveling.
Finally things start to happen when Aditi greets Deepika and takes her immediately to Shahid. Who is chained up in the dungeon with his arms outstretched, very Mughal-E-Azam, and also what Bhansali JUST did in Bajirao with Deepika! Aditi sends away the guards and immediately helps Deepika to rescue Shahid, saying she will guide them through hidden tunnels because this is such a sin. And then she does. But first Shahid stops off to say “hi” to Ranveer. Ranveer, who because he is still recovering from poisoning cannot attack him. And Shahid cannot attack because his arms are useless after being chained up. Both actors to a phenomenal job with their body language, showing the desire to move but the physical inability to do it. And then Dips and Shahid leave through the tunnels, with Aditi wishing them “Khuda Gawah” as they go. And then facing judgement from her husband, who sends her to the dungeons.
(Speaking of Khuda Gawah, remember just 25 years ago when Amitabh and Sridevi played noble wonderful Afghani Muslims? Good times!)
Blah blah, again. There are some minor interesting points here. For one thing, Aditi sees this as a grave sin. Clearly because Deepika is married, there is something different and extra wrong in taking a woman by force when she has a husband, versus just taking a woman by force. And of course, conversely, there is something extra “sinful” in a married woman who allows herself to be taken like this. Oh, and Deepika supports that in a small scene when we see that she has ordered her maids to cover the mirrors in mud so that she will not be able to see her own face again until Shahid sees it. She is a perfect wife, because she only exists as a reflection of her husband. Literally.
Their escape is covered by the 800 attendants, who reveal themselves to be warriors in woman’s garb rather than the women they were thought to be. Two men die who, frankly, I don’t remember ever seeing before, but the film expects us to mourn deeply. And Deepika and Shahid return to their kingdom in triumph, once again being the perfectly matched pair.
Backing up for a moment to the two men. This is a major problem for Bhansali. Beyond his central characters, no one really has a personality. Even his central figures rely heavily on the actor to carry them more than the script or directing. To me, Bhansali has done best when he picks up on strong star personas to help carry the film. Amitabh as the wise old teacher in Black, Madhuri as the charming and vivacious dancing girl in Devdas, even Salman as the boyish joyful new boy in town in Khamoshi. His problems are particularly notable with female characters, his actresses have to fight to be memorable as more than a pretty face. In this film, the best writing goes to Shahid, Ranveer, and Jim Sarbh. Deepika is given little to work with, the outline of a character more than a character (“devoted beautiful wife” pretty much covers it). Even Aditi has more to do, although she was also clearly cast more for her fragile innocent look than anything else. But the non-male leads also suffer. I can’t recognize any of Ranveer’s non-Jim Sarbh followers scene by scene, and I certainly have no idea who these two “noble” Rajputs are who die dramatically in order to allow Dips and Shahid to escape. And yet Bhansali expects us to mourn their death. It’s just BAD WRITING.
(The only reason this feels at all Devdas-y is because Madhuri is building a perfect Chandramukhi, and Shahrukh a perfect Devdas, outside of what they are given by the script and director)
As I said many times, I think this is Bhansali’s best written film since Khamoshi. But that doesn’t mean it is flawless. His female characters are still barely sketched in. And this whole section has no real purpose. He tries to create feeling through these two deaths, but it is a last minute addition, there was nothing to build these characters up in such a way that we feel these deaths. I did care a little about Aditi finally standing up to her husband and then being sent to the dungeons. And we got Deepika’s “strong female character” moment (not really, but close enough to fool people), when she comes up with this plan. But really, it’s all filler. Aditi could have spoken up and been punished just as easily by objecting to something else. Deepika could have lost her “oooo, I have a military plan!” moment. There was no real need in the narrative for this “Shahid is kidnapped, then rescued, and now we are all back inside the fort again” detour.
And now they are all back inside the fort again and Ranveer orders his troops to prepare full on assault. And, FINALLY, the end is in sight! Ranveer sends one last message, a love poem, asking for Deepika. Which she throws in the fire after reading. And then Ranveer goes outside his tent to wait all night, hoping to be the first person to see her leaving the fort to come to him.
This film is such an odd mixture of practical warfare and high-falutin’ fake virtues. We had Shahid quoting strategy during the first siege, and the clearly well-designed fort. But at the same time, they won’t even discuss the possibility of Deepika going to Ranveer, or even pretending to go to him in some way to gain a strategic advantage. This is now beyond just not showing his wife to a guest, this is now the life and death of some unknown number of people, and the “nobility” is in putting a woman’s virtue above all of that. From the same guy who happily went off to Sri Lanka and married a second wife! Which, I know, was acceptable at the time. But it still seems to show some open-mindedness which is lost here.
Both sides prepare for battle. Shahid and Deepika say good-bye. She has him put red handprints on a white scarf as she holds it. And then she asks his permission to commit Jauhar, since as a good wife, she cannot even die without his permission. I’m so tired, I don’t want to bother going into how, once again, this is BAD. Especially because it means the converse is true, a good wife will kill herself if ordered to do so by her husband.
(I found the white cloth with prints in this film much more effecting. Partly because it was a symbol of a man’s desire for his wife which surprised him, instead of a woman’s devotion to her husband which is expected by everyone)
And then, battle! And, once again, Bhansali gives up on giving us a solid battle scene. Instead, Shahid and Ranveer fight one on one. Which also feels kind of right, this has been a battle of wills between the two of them all along, the noble straight (literally straight backed) Rajput in white versus the scuttering blackclad Khilji. Only it is Jim Sarbh who actually turns the tide. Shooting arrows into Shahid’s back in the middle of the fight, breaking the rules of battle. Shahid and Ranveer are perfectly matched, both fighting this battle by themselves. But they both have a secret weapon behind them, someone who thinks differently than they do. Ranveer has Jim Sarbh, willing to break the bounds of society. And Shahid has Deepika, willing to go further within society.
Meanwhile, back in the fort, Deepika is in the Shiva temple. She was here before, while waiting for Shahid to come back from meeting Ranveer. Someone asked me in a comment why she became a devotee of Shiva after being a Buddhist. It is part of her assimilation journey. She dresses in red, she does the “Ghoomar” dance, she worships Shiva, she is becoming more Rajput than the Rajputs. And now this is the culmination. The outsider woman has the clearest grasp of the values at this moment, and suggests that the women prepare for their own “secret” war, in the shadows, and perform the rite of Jauhar.
FINALLY! The interesting bit!!!!! The funny thing is, if this weren’t a mass suicide, it would be a wonderfully fascinating moment of female bonding. Deepika giving this speech from Shiva’s platform, taking the role of the Brahmin who used to live there. Convincing the women of their own free will, not forcing them. And Deepika feeding the first poison (?) leaf to Anupriya, the first wife, before Anupriya feeds it to here. The two women setting aside their petty differences in this moment. And then all the women, old and young, dressed in red, going through the motions of something they clearly all know how to do and what to do, no hesitation.
If this were a ceremony of preparation for something else, I would love this. The idea that there is a power in woman, a bond between women, that is lost on outsiders. But instead, the only time women are allowed this bond, is when they prepare to kill themselves.
(Compare it with, for instance, this scene. In which Preity’s mother and grandmother and friend and little sister all gather together to prepare her for marriage)
Also, this sequence goes ON AND ON AND ON!!!!!! Oh my gosh! I thought Karan Johar didn’t know how to end I film, I forgot how deadly dull Bhansali is at the end. The women keep gathering and walking and gathering and walking and on and on and on and on. Meanwhile, Ranveer has broken through the fort, and is running towards the center of it to find Deepika. Running, walking, running walking, fire, blah blah blah.
Until, finally, Ranveer is right outside. And is greeted by a row of veiled red dressed women. Which surprises him and throws him back. And then two women run from the back carrying burning coals on a cloth between them and throw it at him. Again and again, they hold him back this way, until his guard arrives to block him with their shield. He reaches the doors, finally, just in time to get a glimpse of red as the door closes, and meanwhile Deepika (carrying the white scarf with red handprints) has FINALLY walked into the wall of fire.
Now, that bit at the beginning with the red dressed women throwing coals on him, that was AWESOME!!! I want more of that! I want the women left inside the fort to fight back like that, to have some kind of strategy beyond “lets all kill ourselves!” In fact including it makes everything worse. They have the ability in some small way to fight back, the instinct to do so. But they are “nobly” choosing to kill themselves instead.
There seems to be no strategy here, not even so much as Deepika being aware that losing her will cause Ranveer to lose all faith in himself and therefore her death will defeat him. No, it’s just a straight up “death is the answer” speech that she gives, no logic behind it.
Here’s another thing that puzzles me. Bhansali makes sure we see that little girls are part of the crowd too. But where are the little boys? All the soldiers are dead, but what about the boys, the ones too small to even lift a sword. Like me, did you immediately think “oh, they must have been sent to safety”? Now, think that through. We found it believable that the men would go to fight, the little boys would be sent to safety, but the little girls would not be sent to safety, nor would the women, because it is their job to kill themselves if there is a loss. They have no value, not the kind of value that is worth coming up with some way of saving their lives. Even to themselves, their lives have no value.
(This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought we could all use something happy)
As I said in some comment, the point of the original poem as I understand it is that this was a Pyrrhic victory for Aluaddin. The men fought so valiantly that there was not one left alive. And the women burned themselves to nothing before he arrived. So he gained an empty fort, won but won nothing. And that was what defeated him.
The later opera focused on the “Sati” aspect of it, Aluaddin desired Padmavati and so killed her husband, but she was so distressed at the death of her husband that she killed herself. Again, a bit of a dramatic irony kind of thing, in order to get her he had to kill her husband. But killing her husband meant she would kill herself.
But this film, this film chooses to glorify the Jauhar itself. To make it a decision and a point of pride in the women, not the end result of Aluaddin’s actions. Jauhar, on its own, is a noble and wonderful thing, a secret womanly thing (by the way, that also makes it unacceptable for a man to kill himself in the same situation, under imminent threat of rape and torture followed by death. Because this is a “woman thing”). After going back and forth about this in the comments, I started thinking about rape followed or preceded by suicide in general.
As I see it, there are two ways it is usually represented in film. The first is that the rape (or rape attempt) itself is a tragedy that is the fault of the rapist and the suicide is a further result of that tragedy, and also the fault of the rapist. The rape-or-attempted-rape-and-then-suicide is just all around awful and all it makes you feel is regret and sadness over the death of your beloved sister/sister-in-law/girlfriend, and a desperate desire that she had lived. This isn’t a great way to deal with rape, because it still makes the whole thing about the man who is the rapist and the man who avenges the rape, not the rape survivor herself. But at least it treats rape and suicide as related and both awful. And makes it totally absolutely clear that suicide is BAD. It is not a thing you should do, it is not a thing that your family wants you to do, they want you to survive and they will be driven crazy with grief if you do not survive. Yes, even if you have been raped and are sad and different, they still want you to live.
Mom is a great recent twist on this idea, which I highly highly highly recommend as counter programming to this! The survivor in that survives something that must be about the same as what these women would have gone through if the fort had been taken. And her family is only able to hold itself together because she is alive, that is their only concern, that she remains alive and happy and they are thankful that is the case. There is no “it would have been better if she died” nonsense. And in that case, they make the avenger into a woman (no duh, it’s in the title) thereby keeping the story about women even if the rape survivor is not at the center of it.
(Translation: “Oh dear one, for you, the lamps of prayers are burning” Very different from “I would rather you died with honor than lived dishonored” that Padmavat seems to be selling)
But the other way suicide is handled is as though it is a great triumph of Indian/Hindu morals and virtues. The woman who kills herself because a man sees her naked, because her boyfriend leaves her after she has slept with him, for all sorts of reasons short of rape. And it is all supposed to be honorable and wonderful and admirable and the sort of old-fashioned values that are tragically lost in the world today. I don’t think this is how families react in real life when they learn their daughter was photographed on a cell phone and then killed herself, I don’t think they say “oh how noble and admirable!”
But the girl doesn’t know that. Films, especially this film, are telling her that suicide is good, that her parents will be happy to find her body hanging from a ceiling fan, proud of her decision. That her brother will show her photo with pride and tell his friends, “that’s my little sister, she drank poison at 15 because a boy convinced her to sleep with him, I am so proud of how she defended our family honor”. That her friends will say “that’s my friend since kindergarten. In college, she got pregnant without being married and jumped under a train. It taught me how wonderful our Indian values are.” That a police officer will stumble on her body with a knife through the gut and say “oh how noble, she shoved a knife into her body and slowly bled out rather than be raped. I shall go home tonight and tell my little girl about this heroine as her bedtime story.”
You may say I am exaggerating, and I might agree with you, except that the film itself tells us this. At the end of it, over the last image of Deepika going into the flames, a voice over reminds us that we should admire and honor the bravery of these women and on and on. And I looked around the theater, and saw the little girl sitting in front of me watching this with rapt amazement and thought “what is she learning from this? Is she going to go home with her friends and ‘play Jahuar’? Is this now the way she sees Indian values, female bravery?”
I don’t think Bhansali consciously intended this message, because I don’t think he thought about that little girl. I don’t think he imagined women at all in his audience, or in the world. And that is what is so dangerous, the argument over these scene revolves around honor killings (committed by men), women being told they should have killed themselves instead of being raped (told by men), or women being pressured to kill themselves (by men) in reaction to these scenes. The male audience is the concern. Lost in all of this, again, is the female perspective. Not a feminist analysis of this scene or anything as highbrow as that, but simply a reminder that there are little girls in the audience learning lessons in life from what they see onscreen. And is this what you want them to learn?
(Remember adorable Haarshali Malhotra? Now, picture her sitting in a movie theater thinking “yes, I want to be all pretty and wonderful like Deepika and kill myself”)