Hear me out first. There’s nothing good about Padmaavat. Not even Ranveer Singh’s acting. All those critics are lying to you. They are just overawed by this ‘new age Shahrukh Khan’.
So he is. And how easily he has succumbed to the Shahrukh Khan syndrome, where he basks in his own imagination that the audience can’t get enough of him. (Send me some love, you Shahrukh fans).
After watching Ranveer’s Schadenfreudian, megalomaniac thrill throughout the film and endlessly waiting in patience to see it wear off, his performance had the same annihilating effect on my will to live. I went home after the midnight show and slept on an empty stomach.
But why only discuss Ranveer Singh when there is a whole movie to talk about. A movie so offensive, regressive, homophobic, misogynistic, so brazenly communal and Islamophobic that the makers didn’t even try to make this cynical, brain-dead cash grab with one more disclaimer: sorry for hurting your sentiments, dear women, Muslims, homosexuals, and everyone else who is not a Rajput.
My cat deserves better than this.
I have never been a Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan, a director so obsessed with heavy-handed dramatic lighting, banal platitudes, emotional manipulations, and everything so loud that it’s enough to give you a headache and the fact that he visually assaults you. His visual opulence – a mere distraction – is a hack. I find his view of filmmaking pretentious. Also, he ruined Devdas for me.
But I still went to watch this movie because of all the buzz it created. I’ll spare you the details, Karni Sena.
And there it was, the title of Padmaavat in that Bhansaliesque font that only he understands. And then the fear gripped. Nothing I’ve seen recently has made me feel as constantly uncomfortable and occasionally angry as Padmaavat. It is willfully so dumb that I am still reluctant to recognise that it is a film or a work of art in its own right.
Padmaavat is lugubrious and maudlin; a film that so awkwardly hovers between farce, and misrepresentation of history and gender.
There is the big problem with Bollywood’s erroneous attempts at writing “women”. While there are some honest strides to correct some of its old stereotypes, unfortunately Padmaavat goes too far to the other extreme to redress a wrong. The film oscillates between masculine and feminine identifications, between passive femininity and regressive masculinity.
While there is a disclaimer at the beginning that the film doesn’t promote Jauhar or Sati, it actually ends up romanticising the brutal practice. And not to forget the maryaada, and aan-baan and shaan women have to uphold, while the men folk predatorily go after women like they are some prized trophies.
But there’s more.
Let me get this straight, Padmaavat is Islamophobic. Muslims (read Khiljis) are portrayed as the ‘other’ who go on plundering whatever that comes across them, take away the women, and, wait for it, scheme debauchery while munching on huge amounts of meat. My Muslim friends who love their biryani and botti mustn’t be happy at all.
These crude and exaggerated stereotypes, especially in the current political climate, feed into the paranoia flared by the Hindu right. Far-right groups on social media are already classifying Muslims as a dangerous, untruthful “out group”. Guess Padmaavat will help them nurture their vicious nomenclature for Muslims. Again.
This simplistic interpretation of history is disturbing. Who would tell Bhansali that hadn’t it been for Khilji, today’s India would be taking a crash course in Monogolian and there would be streets named after Genghis Khan and Halaku Khan somewhere around the Raj Ghat.
And then there is homophobia.
For decades Bollywood’s record of portraying gay characters on the silver screen has been far from admirable. There are toxic stereotypes and ugly examples of homophobia. While the pattern seemed to be altered by films such as Fire, Kapoor and Sons, Aligarh and Bollywood Talkies, Padmaavat scores just the opposite: a step closer to pervasive derogatory stereotypes of sexuality.
What’s troubling isn’t the premise that a straight man (read Khilji) might not be interested in the gay character Malik Kafur played by Jim Sarbh, but the blatant heterosexual promiscuity and the bludgeoning way it’s handled. Not to mention the utter distortion of fact that Khilji was known for his homosexual leanings.
It’s sad that the character of Kafur has been limited to just a homosexual stalker and schemer. Homophobia is incredibly apparent in the film.
Padmaavat is also symptomatic of a wider problem in Indian cinema: the invisible portrayal of gay characters that have no substance to offer and highly offensive homophobic jokes against them. An example of that is in this film as well: Ratan Singh’s (Shahid Kapoor) royal guards describe Kafur as Alauddin’s “begum”, followed by a laugh by the sword wielding, valor-injected Rajput soldiers.
But there must be something good in the movie, right? How about when bloodthirsty Khilji manages to conquer Chittor, enters through the gate and is welcomed by a group of women who throw burning coal on his face?
I had an Appendectomy two years ago, and the doctor who happens to be a friend, recorded some parts of the procedure on his phone. When the high of anesthesia wore off and I could feel some life in my legs, the doctor friend showed it to me. It was more entertaining than watching Padmaavat. And mind you, I was still in pain and wore no 3D glasses.
The most notable thing I remember about the movie is a headless Rajput warrior fighting against the army of Khilji, flashing his sword at the enemies. What?!
Now you know why I would still prefer watching my own Appendectomy on a smartphone than pay money to watch this zany cinema hack.
Karni Sena could have made a better film than this.