A Series of Unfortunate Headlines and a Disappointing Movie

I travelled to Rajasthan, land of the glorious kings and queens of Indian history, in December 2016. I absolutely fell in love with the city of Udaipur. The sheer gorgeousness of the architecture of not just the palaces but also the city, in general, was mesmerising. I still can’t get over the beautiful boat ride in Lake Pichola and the cup of tea, that I sipped relaxingly in the splendidly beautiful Island Jag Mandir Hotel on the lake.

My itinerary also happened to include Chittorgarh. I was highly unaware of the history of the Chittorgarh palace at that time. The big revelation for me was that the scene in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani where Naina and Bunny are supposedly chilling and talking philosophically about never ever having enough time to experience all that the world has to offer, was that the scene wasn’t shot at Sajjangarh, another beautiful palace, like it was implied in the movie, but actually at Chittorgarh!

My friend educated me on the lore of Padmavati and her sacrifice. Being a movie buff, my mind connected the dots and I remembered reading about Deepika-Ranveer’s movie to be directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The movie shooting was going on in Jaipur at Jaigarh that very month.

I came back home with memories of a lifetime and a resolve that I would definitely visit Udaipur again in my life, with a bigger budget of course. And I believe that was the time, when the noise against this movie Padmavati, which has grown so much louder over the last year, began.

It’s been a series of really unfortunate headlines, which really beg us to question the state of our nation’s maturity as a society.

  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali Slapped on the sets in Jaipur, Bollywood demands action.
  • Armed men attack Padmavati sets in Kolhapur.
  • No romantic dream sequence between Padmavati and Khilji, assures Bhansali.
  • Padmavati Rangoli which took 48 hours to prepare destroyed by goons in Surat.
  • 10 crores for Bhansali’s head and Deepika’s nose: BJP Haryana Leader.
  • Rajput Women will commit Jauhar if movie releases.
  • Karni Sena attacks School Bus in Gurugram, school children panic.
  • Harish Salve, the lawyer for Viacom, threatened with dire consequences for moving to Supreme Court to life ban on the movie.
  • Karni Sena vandalises school after kids perform dance on Ghoomar.
  • Ghoomar banned, but good enough to be performed for Israel Prime Minister and Narendra Modi.
  • Deepika’s midriff now covered with CGI cloth after Censor Board suggestions.
  • No Jauhar by women now, instead streets burn in protests.

I could possibly add more to the above list, but I’ve given up. There’s just too many of them and each more ridiculous and saddening than the earlier.

We’re such a young, rapidly developing changing democracy. Everyone’s in this dilemma of figuring out their place here today. The old guard afraid to lose control, the new blood ready to seize the day. Does it really matter that my ancestors were Kshatriyas? I’ve never touched a sword in my life. I don’t really think it’ll do me any good. My grandfather’s a farmer, my dad an engineer and I’m a CA. My brother can be whatever he wants to be if it’s within the realm of what’s possible.

Things that used to matter tremendously before, have lost a lot of their sheen today. For example, the Maratha community used to take pride in upper-caste status. Now they want reservations. Their dependence on a declining sector like agriculture has made them realise, the world’s moving forward and they need to cling on to the next best thing to stay relevant. So Maratha Morcha! Everyone wants to stay relevant. And they’re not going to do that always by peaceful means. Everything is fair in love and war, they say. This is a war of relevance.

A fringe political outfit like the Karni Sena wants to stay relevant in Politics. They leech on to an issue, supposedly of utmost importance for the Rajputs: Rajput pride. There are multiple state elections underway. No politician wants to risk demonising an important vote bank. So, there’s disappointing silence from the government. It’s so predictable, I don’t even need to read the newspapers to guess what’s next.

My father and I binge watched the Crown last month. Its brilliance caused us to be in awe of Queen Elizabeth, the second. I can’t really help but draw parallels between this show and a what’s happening with Padmavati. A living queen, a Netflix show depicting her as a flawed yet brilliant person and no one anywhere in the world is on the streets burning cars to protect her honour. In contrast, we have a mythical queen from the 13th century, a movie which only sings her praises, depicts her as the embodiment of the concept of  most perfect woman and we have grown men scaring a bus filled with children to protect her honour.

Padmavati was my one hope of an amazing movie in 2017, an otherwise disappointing year for movie buffs. My dad had received free movie passes from his office as a birthday gift in June. I’d saved them for Padmavati as they were going to remain valid for 6 months. The movie got pushed to 2018 and we had to settle for Tiger Zinda Hai. I bailed out and my parents suffered instead from what is unanimously described as a stupid movie.

When the movie finally opened for advance bookings on Sunday, I leapt at the chance for the paid previews. I refrained from watching any movie reviews, totally out of character for me. Anupama, Sucharita and Rajeev can wait, I had decided. And then in began.

Theatre

Every frame is beautiful. It’s a painting. The climax of the movie was designed to give you goosebumps. As Deepika walks in slow motion, in all her red gorgeousness and her eyes emit that smouldering intensity; that’s most probably glycerine, I was supposed to think: Epic!

But no, the 2 and a half hours before that build up to this picturesque climax are such a bore, that you can’t help but be thankful that the movie’s ended. The movie has a lot of good ingredients, but it lacks the soul that makes us feel connected to the story, and the characters don’t keep us invested in their fates until the very end.

The characterisation is so unidimensional: Ratan Singh: Good, Khilji: Bad, no worst, Padmavati: Miss Perfect. I believe Shahid Kapoor’s character is one of stupidest kings I’ve seen in movies in terms of war strategy. He should have got lessons from the Bahubali and his son Bahubali Jr. I think.

Ranveer Singh makes the character we are supposed to hate, into something that’s the most admirable part of the movie. Without him, the film actually is a cardboard cutout of 2d characters. I don’t really understand what value was added by making this a 3D movie.

Shoutout to a unique presentation of a homosexual character in mainstream movies: Malik Kafur by Jim Sarbh.

The Rajputs shouldn’t really be worried. It glorifies them to the extent where the rational person inside me was like, now this is just plain patronising. Stop it. Maybe the Muslims should be offended. It’s such a negative characterisation of each and every one of them. But one community at a time, I think.

As I walked out of the cinema theatre, I was only utterly disappointed. What a waste!

Or maybe it’s just me, and I miss Priyanka’s Kashibai from Bajirao- Mastani too much and without her, it’s spoiling all that Bhansali has to offer.

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