Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s Padmaavat is gorgeous. It’s just gorgeous. Every frame looks like a painting and the protagonists looks celestial. But it’s the antagonist of this saga who will blow your mind. Padmaavat looks like a mood board come to life, with primary colours dominating the screen whenever the focus is on the Rajputs of Chittor and cold, dark, secondary colours oozing into the frame whenever the Khiljis are planning another siege. Based on the epic poem Padmavati by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, this is the story of the Rajput Queen Padmavati who committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to avoid the claws of Sultan Alauddin Khilji. The Sultan is so hopelessly obsessed with a woman he has barely seen, he makes Darr‘s Rahul Mehra (Shah Rukh Khan) look like a kind and patient lover.
Shahid Kapoor is Maharaja Rawal Ratan Singh, the hero, the ‘Ram‘ of this story. Handsome, intelligent and brave, this Rajput warrior falls for an equally badass Padmavati after she injures him. Deepika Padukone plays the willful and intelligent queen, who honestly would have done a much better job as a ruler than her majestic but stubborn husband. Shahid was born to play a king (just look at him!) and he has given a powerful performance as the Rajput emperor who nearly defeated the notorious conqueror Khilji. But his ethics and morals and the famed Rajput pride came in the way. It’s always difficult to play the ‘straight man’ in the film, the noble hero, who might not have interesting quirks like the anti-hero. But Shahid manages to make himself stand-out in a film riddled with talent.
Deepika shines as the Queen. Strong in an era when women were considered weak, shrewd in a kingdom where obsession with ‘honour’ can really get you killed and fearless, when it comes to making vital decisions involving life and death. Padmavati is a natural leader. The core of the film is the different kind of love two men have for one woman and the lengths they can go to be with her and I don’t see anyone but Deepika Padukone play this role. It’s almost understandable why Khilji would be willing to put everything at stake for Raja Ratan’s second wife, Deepika can bring that out in you. The grand climax of this film depends entirely on the actress (and her eyes) and it’s one of the most breathtaking scenes I’ve seen in a Bollywood movie in a long, long time.
But my highest praise will be reserved for this guy who has proved that he can literally do anything. Ranveer Singh is a precious talent and we’re lucky to have him in this world. This guy steals every scene he’s in, even if it involves a ridiculously CGI-d ostrich. It would have been one of the unintentionally funny bits of the movie had a lesser actor played this role, but Ranveer pulls it off. A mix of Heath Ledger‘s Joker from The Dark Knight and Malcolm McDowell‘s Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Sultan Alauddin Khilji will be considered one of the actor’s best performance. The most interesting part about Ranveer as a lusty, angry and extravagant character is the amount of fun he’s having with it. From pouring ittar on a sex slave and rubbing himself all over her to casually giving out a death sentence to one of his most trusted advisers, Khilji’s antics make the movie delightful. The more insane he gets, the more fun it is to watch him. Getting the perfect tone of such an unhinged person is Ranveer’s greatest achievement.
Complimenting Ranveer is the brilliant Jim Sarbh playing Malik Kafur, Allaudin’s slave and what is heavily implied, his occasional sexual partner. Allaudin’s bisexuality is thrown across almost casually, making their coupling a very natural progression instead of something to be ridiculed (which is sadly still the case in many Hindi movies). Their chemistry is exciting and one of the most erotic scenes in the film (that includes a bathtub, Ranveer and Jim together) is shot on them. Kafur even sings in the background when Khilji is making love to one of his many squeezes. If Khilji wasn’t so obsessed with getting something unattainable (Queen Padmavati in this case), I think they’d make a pretty happy couple.
The gorgeous Aditi Rao Hydari and Anupriya Goenka play Mehrunisa and Rani Nagmati, the doomed first wives of the Khilji and Ratan respectively. Women destined to be second in place, behind the magnificent Padmavati and Raza Murad portrays the role of Jalaluddin Khilji, the first Sultan of the Khilji dynasty. The supporting cast has done an able job. Shahid and Deepika look magical together, but there is something almost palpable about Deepika and Ranveer’s chemistry, even if they don’t have a single scene together.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has shown once again that he’s one of the most ambitious makers we have. The trials and tribulations he has had to go through to make and release this movie is appalling. A director of such caliber should be celebrated, not threatened. While this is not his finest work, it’s still a must-watch. Ranveer, Shahid and Deepika should be ready to win all the awards, again.