Deepika Padukone, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh
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…the definition of a visual spectacle.
Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (Devdas) historical epic, Padmaavat, is the definition of a visual spectacle. Based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s 16th century poem, the release of Bhansali’s triumphant ode to Queen Padmavati was highly controversial in India, sparking protests as concern grew over its depiction of the revered queen. Despite minor flaws, it is a magnificent assault on the senses which leaves you eager to revisit the universe that Bhansali has so elaborately envisioned.
Set in 1303AD, Padmaavat follows the story of headstrong and beautiful Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), who becomes Queen Padmavati of the Rajput Kingdom after marrying Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). When a rivalling kingdom, led by the ruthless Muslim leader Sultan King Alauddin Khilji of Delhi (Ranveer Singh), hears of Queen Padmavati’s unprecedented beauty, they plan to capture her by waging war against the Rajput Kingdom. In order to escape Khilji’s wrath and protect her honour, Queen Padmavati must make a gruelling decision.
Bhansali has upped the ante with his trademark cinematic splendour for Padmaavat. The production design steals the spotlight in this epic tale. The attention to detail in the costuming and set design is astounding, and it pays off. Audiences are effortlessly transported to ancient festivities as cameras weave amongst women twirling in vividly coloured, glistening sarees against the mesmerising backdrop of the lavish Rajput palace. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography combined with Bhansali’s operatic vision, particularly in the blockbuster war scenes, makes even the most devastating of scenes beautiful.
Padmaavat’s cast is gracefully led by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone (Piku, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), whose composed portrayal of Queen Padmavati cements the legendary Hindu Queen as a stoic leader more prepared for the perils of war than her husband. However, the limited dialogue used to promote the Queen’s ethereal status slightly hinders Padukone’s poised performance. Whilst her watchful, heavily kohl-lined eyes convey her suspicions, her facial expressions alone fail to divulge more of the Queen’s emotional complexities that audiences are searching for. At times this leaves the treasured Hindu Queen appearing rather one-dimensional.
It is Ranveer Singh’s (Gunday) electrifying performance as the monstrous Alauddin Khilji which is most memorable. Singh’s sinful eyes and polemic rants against the Rajput King demand the audience’s undivided attention. The merciless behaviour he exhibits when brutally murdering those who interrupt his hunt for Queen Padmavati, details the story of an unpredictable megalomaniac.
Actually, the one major drawback to Padmaavat lies within Singh’s almost flawless performance, and it is not necessarily Singh’s fault. The king’s barbaric behaviour becomes tiresome at times, and stark contrasts between the Hindu and Islamic settings suggest an uncomfortable relationship between Islam and brutality. Shots of Alauddin Khilji’s bloodied and scarred face savagely tearing into meat off a bone and laughing like a cliched evil maniac feel unnecessary. He is surrounded by the mise-en-scene of a gloom-ridden Islamic palace where many a brutal murder has taken place, imagery which starkly contrasts with the airy and bright, flower adorned Hindu palace. This dichotomy is emphasised and ultimately distracts from the powerhouse performance delivered by Singh.
This blemish is an obvious cultural one in the melodramatic scope of Bollywood cinema, and ultimately Padmaavat is a visual splendour and the ultimate love letter to the heroism of Queen Padmavati.