The story of how the grand Bollywood epic Padmaavat finally reached theaters after an extended delay and a slight name change (from Padmavati) following numerous death threats against its director and female star (including a million dollar plus bounty offered for her beheading) may forever overshadow the actual film itself, but if you're a fan of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, you won't be disappointed. Myself...I loved it.
But first, a couple of comments about two of the trailers that played before the main feature. One was for an oddball looking comedy called Pad Man, which is described as being about "the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a Tamil Nadu-based social activist who revolutionized the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary napkins machine." No joke. It stars Akshay Kumar, who has toplined a number of crazy action films. The bonkers theme song makes me want to see this. Then there was the trailer for Hichki, which looks like an inspirational drama starring the always ravishing Rani Mukherji as a teacher with what must be the cutest form of Tourette syndrome that I've ever seen. They had me at Rani. A definite must see.
Back to the main feature. The massive controversy surrounding Padmaavat is something that you can google, so I won't waste space here going into detail, except to say that it was much ado about nothing. Based on a famous epic poem about characters who may or may not have actually existed, Bhansali's film plays out like a sort-of feminist Bollywood Masada and, weirdly enough, it may even be the ultimate movie for the current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The brutish lead villain, who surprisingly gets most of the film's screentime, is rather like a historical forerunner to Harvey Weinstein, using all of his immense power and resources to try and possess the heavenly queen of another kingdom.
Or, perhaps the movie is just Bhansali's cinematic love letter to actress Deepika Padukone, the stunning actress who starred in Bhansali's previous two films, Bajirao Mastani and Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, and stars here as "Padmavati," the ethereal beauty who becomes the major chess piece in a standoff between two kingdoms. When we first see her, Padmavati is gracefully romping through the forest hunting a deer when she accidentally fires an arrow into the chest of the visiting Rajput king from Mewar, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). After she nurses him back to health, the smitten king asks her to become his queen and she agrees, traveling with him back to Mewar. After they discover Singh's royal priest peeping on them during a personal moment, he is banished from the kingdom on the advice of Padmavati. But, before leaving, the priest vows to return one day and destroy Mewar.
He gets his chance when he falls in with Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), the immoral ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. The priest manages to convince Alauddin that he can foresee the future and tells him that by capturing Padmavati and having her by his side, Alauddin will be able to fulfill his destiny of conquering the world. Alauddin thus rallies his considerable forces in an attempt to launch an all-out assault on Mewar, but finds that their fortress is almost impenetrable, leading him to devise other sinister schemes to obtain Padmavati, who has now become his obsession.
This is not a subtle movie. Characters are painted in very broad strokes. The Rajputs are virtually all exceptionally noble (ironic, considering that the Hindus were the most aggressive protestors of the movie) while Alauddin is a relentlessly sinister, one-dimensional villain. He is played in gloriously over-the-top fashion by Singh and his maniacal behavior at times veers into cartoonish territory. But then again, subtlety is not exactly Bhansali's aim here. The movie is an epic fairytale of sorts with a bitter edge to it. And, as with his previous works, this is a deeply romantic and ridiculously opulent production with a virtuoso mix of music and imagery that will be intoxicating to those willing to surrender to it, but likely toxic to hardened cynics.
What keeps the movie from being a just an epic romance/war movie with eyepopping visuals is the underlying despair that Bhansali effectively uses as a counterpoint to the sumptuous backdrops. In Devdas, the lead character is surrounded by exceptional wealth, but finds himself trapped by the stifling class divisions and traditions of Indian society and the only way to escape is by drinking himself to death. In Bajirao Mastani, religious and familial conflicts lead to the doom of the heroic central couple. Padmavati ends with an act of mass self immolation that some may find excessive and presented in an overly triumphant fashion. It's clear, though, that Bhansali's heart is in the right place. In order for good to defeat evil, self sacrifice is often a necessary ingredient.
Funny that you just posted this. I plan to see the film Tuesday and had headed to Tapatalk to do a post mentioning that. I'm glad you went into such detail. I know the film has been extremely controversial in India, but none of the reviews posted so far on Fandango - not that I expect much from them - say anything more critical than "the screenplay is too slow." It would be great if my MoviePass arrives by Tuesday and the AMC Empire 25 makes up its mind about whether they accept it, but I don't expect it, since I just applied for it 6 days ago. I'm willing to pay to see it.
I actually got a press release for PAD MAN. I'm not sure when it's being released in America, but its distributor has handled the same company that did PR in New York for THE POST & ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD!
Inspirational dramas make me twitch, although a friend who lives in a different city and whom I rarely see in person has Tourette's syndrome.