Tag Archives: Jim Sarbh

Movie Review: Padmaavat (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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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 the  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.

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Movie Review: Raabta (2017)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Even in movies about reincarnation, where the audience knows that the lead couple is fated to be together, we still have to want them to be together in the first place. Raabta (“Connection“) gets that part of the formula wrong, pairing a likable woman with an immature moron.

It’s hard to overstate just how awful Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) is as a main character. He’s an entitled boor who hits on every white woman he sees, assuming them to be easy and stupid. A new job in Budapest gives him plenty of opportunities to be an abominable lech.

Of course, when he meets a lovely Indian expat named Saira (Kriti Sanon), Shiv is immediately ready to settle down with her. The presumed inherent moral superiority of Saira’s race and national heritage make it okay for her to jump straight into bed with Shiv, while the flirtatious white women Shiv dates are depicted as disposable tramps.

Saira can’t explain the depth of her attraction to Shiv (and neither can the audience). She senses it has something to do with her vivid nightmares of drowning, and his sudden appearance in them. Shiv dismisses her suspicions, always eager to downplay her concerns and dictate the terms of their conversations.

But Saira’s not alone in suspecting a connection to the past. Debonair rich guy Zak (Neerja‘s Jim Sarbh) has seen visions of Saira as well, from an ancient time when they were once in love. They meet when Saira and Shiv agree to the dumbest possible test of their fidelity: hitting on other people at a party to see if they are as attracted to anyone else as they are to each other. Shiv promptly rips off his shirt and jumps in a pool with some blondes, and Saira flirts with Zak, who is as classy and mysterious as Shiv is tacky and vapid.

Genre convention holds that Zak will turn out to have sinister intentions that endanger Shiv’s and Saira’s preordained romance. The problem is that Zak is objectively better in every regard than Shiv. Yes, even after Zak kidnaps Saira. That’s how deplorable Shiv is.

Rajput does his character no favors, turning in the worst performance of his career. Besides being annoying in the present, Shiv’s past self — Jillan — talks in a Christian-Bale-as-Batman growl, augmented by bug-eyed twitching. The only redeeming quality either version has is a set of six-pack abs (which Zak also may have; we just don’t get to see).

Sanon’s brief career has been distinguished by capable performances in roles with zero agency. Much like Sanon’s character in her debut film, Heropanti, Saira has no control over her own body. Shiv and Zak push, pull, and grab her at will, arguing over which of them she “belongs” to.

Further reducing Saira to object status is that she’s socially isolated in a way the two men aren’t. Shiv has parents in India, and his best friend Radha (Varun Sharma) accompanies him to Budapest. Zak has dozens of paid servants and bodyguards and can turn out hundreds of guests to a party on short notice. Saira, on the other hand, works alone, was orphaned at age two, and sees her boyfriend driven off by Shiv in the span of ten minutes. She has no connections to anyone, making it easier for the two men to do with her as they please.

If there is any bright spot in Raabta, it is Jim Sarbh. He takes a role that could have easily become cartoonish and makes Zak unhinged but understandable. Zak wants Saira as fulfillment of an ancient promise but also because she’s the only other person who shares his belief that the past is repeating itself. Shiv refuses to entertain Saira’s reincarnation story, belittling her as crazy despite the fact that she’s correct — yet another knock against these star-crossed lovers.

Sarbh’s cool charisma starkly contrasts Rajput’s over-the-top antics. It’s time for filmmakers to shift Sarbh from the compelling villain slot into leading man roles (and maybe consider demoting Rajput).

The biggest star in Raabta is Deepika Padukone, who performs an unenthusiastic item number for the title track. She sways and walks the runway, and that’s about it. I hope she got a ton of money for doing next to nothing, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for filmmakers considering such transparent casting stunts.

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