On Friday afternoon I took time out of my work day to watch Padmavat; first day, first show. There has only been one other time that I watched a Hindi movie ‘fdfs’, and ironically it was another Sanjay Leela Bhansali film – Khamoshi. You might think I’m a huge Bhansali fan, quite the contrary, I was a dye hard Manisha Koirala fan in the 90s.
As for Bhansali, I’ve had a love hate relationship with his movies for a long time. I love watching his stories come to life – the set, the costumes, the ambiance. His storytelling however, has always been weak for me. Whether it was it debacle of an ending in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, the violation of Shakespeare in Ram Leela, or the courtesan like portrayal of Mastani, I’ve never been a fan. Why watch Padmavat then? So I could make an educated decision about the movie, and all the controversy.
It would be unfair for me to critique the screenplay or storytelling of Padmavat because of all the edits that were required before it was released. As for all the Rajput controversy, I felt they were portrayed as an amazing group of people. I saw honour, valour, dignity, Rajput hospitality & ethics, it was all larger than life. In fact, when I first walked out of the theater, my thought was that Rani Padmavati was portrayed beautifully. All the angst I had felt about Mastani’s character in Bajirao Mastani being downplayed and her portrayal as a love-sick puppy was starting to fade away. However, even three days later there is one scene I can’t get out of my head. At the end of the movie, we see a pregnant women walking into the Jauhar fire with her little girl in hand. I just can’t shake it.
Perhaps Rani Padmavati choosing to sacrifice herself rather than be dishonoured by Allaudin Khilji was an act of great honour and dignity in the 13 century, but what value did that scene add to a movie in the 21st century? I believe that art and cinema have a great ability to shape and transform the way people think. In India especially, films are a medium for reaching the masses and affecting change. I wonder if the director thought for a moment about all the little girls that would watch this movie and the imprint it might leave on their minds?
I spent three hours watching the portrayal of Allaudin Khilji as a carnivore, a savage beast, and down right disgusting man. Even I fell for the drama, and momentarily felt a sense of pride in Padmavati when she gave her speech about honour and Jauhar. Me, a self-proclaimed, loud and proud feminist got swept up in the moment, because Mr. Bhansali makes moves that are so powerful. It took nearly 2 days for me to really unpackage my thoughts and decide that I don’t like Padamavat, and won’t recommend it to any friends. In fact, I’ll warn my friends with daughters not to take them.
Shortly before I left for the movie, my friend Sarah told me she won’t watch it because as a feminist she couldn’t support the ending. I went to watch Padmavat in spite of being a feminist, because I believe in the power of cinema and was hoping for something else. But in this case, maybe Sarah had it right.
If you’d like to read further on this, check out this op-ed from actress Swara Bhaskar; At the End of Your Magnum Opus, I Felt Reduced to a Vagina Only.