Movie Review: Padmaavat (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

A note on 3D: My local theater only carried Padmaavat in 3D, but I recommend watching the film in 2D, if possible. The 3D effects don’t enhance the experience, and the glasses dull the colors and details of the costumes and sets. 3D also adds a visual distance between the subtitles and the action, for those reliant upon subtitles.

Spoiler warning: Because Padmaavat is based on a centuries-old poem, I will discuss the end of the movie in this review.

Filmmakers can choose to make whatever movies they want. Why, then, would Sanjay Leela Bhansali choose to make Padmaavat? Why now, and why tell the story in this way? What does he want his audience to take away from this story? Even after watching the movie, I can’t answer those questions.

Bhansali’s story follows the parallel paths of two 13th century Indian rulers until they converge: the ambitious Muslim warrior Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and the milquetoast Rajput king Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor). While ruthless Alauddin fights the Mongols and steals the sultanate of Delhi from his uncle, Ratan Singh searches for some replacement pearls after he gave away his wife Nagmati’s (Anupriya Goenka) favorite necklace.

Ratan Singh is waylaid in the pearl-producing kingdom of Singala (which resembles the Nopon Braidbridge in Noctilum from Xenoblade Chronicles X, for both of you out there who’ll get that reference), when the princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) accidentally shoots him with an arrow while hunting. They fall in love while he convalesces, and she returns with him to his palace in Chittor as his second wife.

Their trouble begins when the palace priest Raghav Chetan gets busted watching Ratan Singh and Padmavati make out. Banished, Chetan vows to destroy Chittor. He meets Alauddin, telling the sultan — who has an infamous Gollum-like obsession with precious things — that not only is Padmavati the most beautiful woman in the world, but Alauddin needs her in order to fulfill a bogus prophecy that sees him conquer the globe. Alauddin and his army head to Chittor to besiege Ratan Singh’s castle.

This is where things really fall apart for Ratan Singh as a character, at least in the way Bhansali depicts him. Whenever Ratan Singh mentions his “honor”, it signals that he’s about to do something incredibly stupid. On multiple occasions, he either underestimates Alauddin’s capacity for deceit or refuses to kill Alauddin and end the war, citing some mitigating rule of decorum that stays his hand. Whenever Padmavati tells him, “You know it’s a trap, right?” Ratan Singh just smiles and walks right into it.

Charlie-BrownAbove: Alauddin swears to Ratan Singh that this time he really will let him kick the football.

There comes a point when rigidly adhering to one’s principles is selfish, especially when it means not just your own death but the deaths of everyone you love, the deaths of all the innocent civilians you’ve vowed to protect, and the loss of your entire kingdom.

Then again, none of the characters in Padmaavat are written like real people, only symbols for concepts like honor (Ratan Singh), lust (Alauddin), beauty (Padmavati), treachery (Chetan), jealousy (Nagmati), and bravery (the Rajput fighters Gora and Badal). All the other soldiers and civilians are just there to take up space. What happens to them doesn’t matter. We know as much because the end notes only mention the place of Padmavati’s sacrifice in Rajput lore, with no mention of the hundreds of other women who killed themselves alongside her.

Ah, yes, the ritual suicide for which Padmavati is famous. The movie opens with a note that the film does not intend to endorse “sati,” the practice of women immolating themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. That’s a little hard to believe given the glamorized way Bhansali depicts the mass suicide of the women of Chittor following Ratan Singh’s defeat on the battlefield. Rather than be captured by Alauddin’s army, Bhansali shows Padmavati and the palace women (and girls) resolutely marching to their death in an inferno, defiant tears filling their eyes but refusing to drop. The camera cuts away before we see them burn or hear their anguished screams, preserving their memories as paragons of virtue rather than showing theย  charred corpses of the terrified victims of male egos run amok.

If Bhansali wanted to dress up Deepika Padukone in elaborate costumes, wasn’t there another ancient Rajput tale he could have picked? One that didn’t make a hero out of a woman for killing herself? Padmavati’s actions — though true to the original poem — don’t even match with her character in the film. As interpreted by Bhansali, Padmavati is a skilled archer and military tactician. Why should we believe that she wouldn’t first try to kill Alauddin herself, rather than follow her husband’s foolish lead and let Alauddin live to besiege another kingdom?

There’s so much more that could have been done with this story, especially since Bhansali appears to have taken some liberties with the original poem (based on a cursory Wikipedia search). The theme of jealousy could’ve been brought to the fore, not just in the rivalry for Ratan Singh’s affection between Nagmati and Padmavati but in the jealousy toward Padmavati felt by Alauddin’s slave and consort, Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh). The fact that Alauddin and Malik are lovers and it’s depicted as no big deal is Padmaavat‘s greatest strength.

However, that relationship also plays into the characterization of Alauddin as a dirty, feral creature, one who snarls while tearing meat off the bone with his teeth and who will have sex with anyone. He is also Muslim, as we are constantly reminded by the green flags bearing a crescent moon that flank him at all times. Bhansali goes to such lengths to conflate Alauddin’s base appetites with his religion that it becomes gross.

Singh, for his part, makes the most of his problematic character, overshadowing Kapoor in all of their scenes together. Sarbh likewise seems to enjoy his free rein. Padukone looks regal — as does Aditi Rao Hydari, who plays Alauddin’s wife — but she has little to do once she leaves her forest kingdom.

Virtually all of the scenes between Padmavati and Ratan Singh are shot in slow-motion, the two of them making moon eyes at one another. This reliance on slow-mo — which extends to battle scenes as well — highlights just how little actually happens in the movie, both in terms of plot and character development. Padmaavat looks gorgeous, as Bhansali’s movies always do, but looks aren’t everything.


37 thoughts on “Movie Review: Padmaavat (2018)

  1. Nisha

    Isn’t this the ultimate damsel in distress sort of film? Ironically, Ranveer is the only thing I loved about the movie.

    It reminded me of an old Smita Patil movie, Mirch Masala which had a similar plot about a man’s mad list for a woman. Though that movie is a million times better than this.

  2. Andy

    Seems like a rather underwhelming movie, makes me wonder what all those fringe elements in India were protesting about, since they refused to even watch the movie.

  3. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: January 26-28, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  4. Pingback: In Theaters: February 2, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  5. Naveena Sawhney

    While watching the film, I was wondering all the time, why 3D, it made the sets look so artificial and unreal. I don’t remember any scene being shot in sunlight.
    Overall a good one time watch. By the way, what was was there in the movie for all the furor n resistance by the fringe group ??? Did they even bother to watch the movie before creating such a hullabaloo for nothing.

    1. Kathy

      That’s the most frustrating thing about the whole Padmaavat mess, isn’t it, Naveena: if they just would’ve waited to watch the movie, there wouldn’t have been any complaints!

      I also agree about the 3D. It feels like the glasses washed out the colors so much that it dulled my emotional connection to the film, like the glasses created a barrier that prevented the movie’s images from being burned into my memory. I wish I would’ve been able to watch it in 2D. ๐Ÿ™

  6. Pingback: Split Screen Podcast, Episode 33: The Long Awaited ‘Padmaavat’ Movie Review | Access Bollywood

  7. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: February 2-4, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  8. Pingback: Opening February 9: Pad Man | Access Bollywood

  9. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: February 9-11, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  10. Pingback: Opening February 16: Aiyaary | Access Bollywood

  11. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: February 16-18, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  12. Pingback: Opening February 23: Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety and Welcome to New York | Access Bollywood

  13. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: February 23-25, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  14. Pingback: Opening March 2: Pari | Access Bollywood

  15. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: March 2-4, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  16. Pingback: In Theaters: March 9, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  17. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: March 9-11, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  18. Pingback: Opening March 16: Raid | Access Bollywood

  19. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: March 16-18, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  20. Pingback: Opening March 23: Hichki | Access Bollywood

  21. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: May 11-13, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  22. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: June 1-3, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  23. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: June 8-10, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  24. Pingback: Bollywood Box Office: November 9-11, 2018 | Access Bollywood

  25. Pingback: 2018 Access Bollywood Wrap-Up | Access Bollywood

  26. Siddharth Daniel

    As an avid reader of your reviews , I want you to review “Kabir Singh” once which received a polarized reaction here in India with a small section of audience calling it misogynistic and some describing the lead character as an abomination. I haven’t seen the movie yet, will do only once I read a couple of more reviews from reliable sources. Thanks in advance and sorry for putting this irrelevant message here as I didn’t know where else. โ˜บ

    1. Kathy

      No worries, Siddharth. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Kabir Singh isn’t high on my priority list at the moment. I’ve heard enough from reviewers and sources I trust to all but guarantee that I’m going to find it misogynistic and disappointing as well (especially since it sounds like the original had the same problems). As I’ve become more selective about which movies I review, I’m steering away from movies that valorize male characters who abuse women, as this Kabir Singh sounds like it does. Maybe I’ll review it when it comes out on streaming, but I don’t want to spend any of my money on a theater ticket for it.

      1. Siddharth Daniel

        Neither would I. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and keep writing such great reviews. Even I felt Padmavat was underwhelming and way too long with 3D serving no purpose whatsoever.๐Ÿ‘

          1. Siddharth Daniel

            I finally saw Kabir Singh as it was up there on Netflix and trust me, all the reviews deeming the movie as a misogynistic mess are criminally hyperbolized. The lead character is shown to be a douche but not to an extent of being profusely offensive and the behaviour the character reeks of is generally accepted by a large section of our society even though I personally would never condone it. It would obviously be wrong to call it a masterpiece as it’s box office success would suggest but you might wanna give it a try once. It’s length is really a problem but the performances from every cast member keeps it in a “more than watchable” space. Please do watch once as would love to read your take on this one and please review movies more often than you currently are since I do not see any reviews coming from your end these days. Cheers ๐Ÿ˜Š

  27. Pingback: Movie Review: Panipat (2019) | Access Bollywood

Leave a Reply