Padmaavat movie review: It’s pretty and partly absorbing but not quite exhilarating

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast: Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari, Jim Sarbh, Raza Murad, and Anupriya Goenka.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ is the most ambitious film to emerge from Bollywood’s stable in quite a while. It is based on the legend of Rani Padmavati, a legendary Hindu Rajput queen, mentioned in ‘Padmavat,’ an Awadhi language epic poem written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540.

I seldom feel this way about a Bollywood film, but sitting in my seat watching ‘Padmaavat’, I felt privileged as a moviegoer. Privileged that such a film has been made about Rajput pride, and privileged that it has been made in our times that only glorifies the Rajputs. But unfortunately, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali fails to give us a compelling cinematic experience which does not rely only on visual appeal of the film.

‘Padmaavat’ is essentially a love story between Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), a very beautiful princess of Singhal and Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), the King of Mewar. Their love at first sight quickly results into the King’s second marriage. Meanwhile, a power obsessed Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), the Turko-Afghan ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, hears about mesmerising beauty of Rani Padmavati, who ultimately calls for a war on Chittor to capture her. The subsequent events form the rest of the narrative.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes his most courageous film yet, but sadly the results are not very impressive. The film that is a war epic, love story, and costume drama, all in one, is bogged down by mediocre execution. Much will be said about the film’s daunting length, and the truth is, it could have been shorter. It’s the kind of film that tries too hard to get your attention in the run-time of almost three hours. However, the second half of the film does get little pacy and you are swept into Rani Padmavati’s political tactics and her personal growing-up journey. The idea of Sati/Jauhar seems a bit jarred in today’s times, especially when the entire film builds to that one high moment.

Deepika Padukone performs adequately. She looks ethereal – a compliment that she has heard many times before, especially in Bhansali’s last two movies. Here, she has minimum dialogues to deliver, and she lets her expressive eyes do the talking and that only works in her favour. Shahid Kapoor gives an earnest performance; it is a very controlled performance from his part and he owns literally every scene he is in. Also, Deepika and Shahid’s chemistry is ravishing. They sizzle in every scene they are in together. Ranveer Singh as the menacing Khilji is effective in parts, but overall, his egomaniacal act is too loud. ‘Padmaavat’ is certainly not his best work, but it offers ample evidence of his growth.

The supporting cast has done a fine job – especially Jim Sarbh and Aditi Rao Hydari. A slight regret is that Sarbh should have had a stronger characterisation for his background, as his character does not impact the movie in any way. Hydari as Khilji’s wife Mehrunisa, manages to leave a mark in her limited appearance.

This film has a fine production design, costumes and camera work. It’s the technical finesse on display which makes you realise how much hard work Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his team of technicians has put in making this film to look exquisite. But even Sudeep Chatterjee’s stellar cinematography that carries on all the way through fails to compensate for run-of-the-mill storytelling and conceptual inconsistency. There is no ferocity of war, no anguish or post traumatic stress. Also, the sub-plot of Maharawal’s first wife (played nicely by Anupriya Goenka) gets conveniently mend towards the climax, which is baffling.

Music by Sanjay Bhansali is good enough, but the songs appear a redo of his previous work. While ‘Ghoomar’,’Ek Dil Ek Jaan’ are visually appealing, Ranveer’s futile dance number ‘Khalbali’ reminds you of Bajirao Mastani’s ‘Malhari’.

The makers should know that quality trumps quality when it comes to special effects. The clunky CGI in the film is pretty awful and distracting. The inconsequential 3D and an overly glossy crowd-wowing star spectacle make ‘Padmaavat’ look like pure product which manipulates the audience to love it. But the fact is, it lacks the real depth and hence the high of watching a good piece of cinema.