Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, and Jim Sarbh.
Set in medieval Rajasthan, Queen Padmavati is married to a noble king and they live in a prosperous fortress with their subjects until an ambitious Sultan hears of Padmavati’s beauty and forms an obsessive love for the Queen of Mewar.
Have you ever sat down and watched Lord of the Rings, but wished the actors were all inhumanly attractive? Have you ever watched the Battle of Helm’s Deep but wished there were more song and dance numbers? Then Padmaavat is just the film for you!
The latest big Hindi release has been the source of great controversy. Since January 2017 there have been riots and protests ranging from vandalised the film set and slapping the film director, to burning buses, to offering a reward in exchange for the heads of Sanjay Leela Bhansali or Deepika Padukone, Padmaavat’s director and female star, all because of stupid reasons you can read about here.
So, stupid controversies aside, is the movie good? Hell yes.
After a depressing series of disclaimers where the filmmakers apologize for any offense, we are thrown in the middle of a palace in 13th century Afghanistan. It is here we meet the fabulously idiosyncratic Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) who was tasked to bring his uncle an ostrich’s feather, but instead arrives talking about himself in the third person and bringing a full-sized ostrich. As a reward he asks for his uncle’s daughter’s hand in marriage, and proceeds to cheat on her on the night of the wedding, before jumping to the dance floor like nothing happened.
Ranveer Singh is clearly having the time of his life in a performance so ridiculously over-the-top and entertaining, it is pretty much the real-life human version of The Lion King’s Scar. Alauddin is a swaggeringly cocky soon-to-be Sultan that exudes self-confidence – and Singh makes it look like he’s been inhabiting the role for years. His two musical numbers alone are worth the price of admission.
I am not familiar with the epic poem Padmaavat is based on, but the film’s story is fairly standard and a bit too underwhelming. The characters are merely more than an archetype without any depth. Alauddin is your typical megalomaniac who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if he has no reason whatsoever to get it – like trying to conquer a kingdom for a woman he’s never even seen before. Queen Padmavati and her husband Ratan Singh could easily have a halo over their heads and it wouldn’t seem out of place, as they are pretty much the most perfect people to ever set foot on Earth. Shahid Kapoor’s Ratan is your Ned Stark-type that’s honourable to a fault, and a calm and stoic King that serves to balance out Ranveer Singh’s sadistically impulsive and operatic Alauddin.
At least Padmavati – the object of Alauddin’s desires – is more than the most beautiful girl in the history of mankind. Her role in the story reminds me of Helen of Troy, but she’s smarter and a way better war-tactician. Deepika Padukone is perfect for the role, she gives emotion and intellect to the character, while being so beautiful you’ll believe someone would be willing to conquer a kingdom for her. She manages to convey more with glances and reactions than most actors do with dialogue.
Unfortunately, she is underused in her own film, with most of her storyline being focused on her husband, Ratan. The upside is that we spent more time with the far more entertaining scene-stealer Alauddin, who is like if Game of Thrones’ Khal Drogo was a rock star. Not unlike that fantasy TV show, Padmaavat’s cinematography is opulent and splendid. Every frame is meticulously composed to be as beautiful as medieval paintings, and the set and costume designs are simply exquisite, to the point where you just sit in awe trying to catch every single detail. While the practical effects and props in the film look great, the digital effects leave a lot to be desired, specially the digital animals used to please censors and animal rights groups.
While it could use a shorter runtime and the ending may be controversial for some – especially western audiences, Padmaavat is a highly entertaining fantasy epic with some amazing performances that excels at crowd-pleasing spectacle. This is a perfect entry point into Indian cinema. Now, if only they would make 10 sequels just about the adventures of Alauddin and Malik Kafur.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★