SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie.
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. -Synopsis
I didn’t know I would have to suffer THIS much just to see Shahid Kapoor’s spectacular abs! Seriously, this is one Bollywood movie (directed/co-written by Sanjay Leela Bhansali) which deserved the controversy it got- it’s misogynistic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic. One army is shouting and riding through a desert carrying green flags w/ a white crescents (just like the flag of Pakistan). There is a scene of many men all wearing white thobes and turbans doing namaz (prayer), then yelling and picking up weapons to fight in the next moment. The stereotypes are so blatant, this movie could be considered dangerous (esp. given the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in Modi’s India)! For those of you who watched Game of Thrones, there is a murder scene very similar to the killing of a lesser Lannister cousin by Jaime in Season 2.
I’m sure some of you’ve heard re: the characterization of the medieval sultan, Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh); he is violent (even w/o cause), lustful (incl. for power/lands), obsessive, and animal-like (eating raw meat w/ his bare hands). In stark contrast, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), is peaceful, loving (having eyes only for his wife), calm, and honorable leader. I learned that one of my fave veteran actors (who has worked all over the world), Naseeruddin Shah, is a maternal uncle of Kapoor! Yes, the actor has both Hindu and Muslim heritage; this is not unusual when it comes to some of Bollywood’s film families.
In the early 1300s, an arrogant/confident prince named Alauddin marries his cousin, Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari), and plots to take the throne of her father/his uncle- Jalaluddin (Raza Murad). None of the Muslims in this movie are portrayed as good, aside from the luminous/sad-eyed Mehrunissa. In one memorable scene, a warrior named Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), kills two hardened soldiers with balletic/swift strokes of his knife. Unfortunately, he spends most of the movie pining after Alauddin like a love-sick teenager.
When Mehrunissa is close, Kafur is jealous. In one scene, he is washing Alauddin while they sit in a big bathtub (talk about homoerotic undertones)! In the original story (written by a Muslim poet), Malik Kafur was both a fighter (respected general who fought in many successful battled) and a lover. In Ridley Scott’s Alexander, he has a handsome male companion who hails from somewhere in the Middle East; this was based on records uncovered by historians. In this case, Malik Kafur’s homosexuality serves as a running joke and makes Alauddin seem like even more of a freak of nature.
The princess (of what is now Sri Lanka), Padmavati (Deepika Padukone- sporting an unibrow), is first seen frolicking in the woods w/ a bow and arrow. This might bring to mind Diana (the huntress in Greek mythology) or Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy. She attempts to shoot a deer, but ends up wounding the King of Chittor- Ratan Singh! He admits that it was his fault- he was staring at her (struck by her beauty, not just her arrow). Padmavati takes care of the king (in the cave where she lives- no reason why) while he recovers. This section of the movie reminded some viewers of Wonder Woman.
Of course, Padmavati and Ratan Singh fall in love; the actors portray this well. She gives Ratan Singh handfuls of pearls (which he had been searching for at the request of his queen). The marry and go off to his kingdom, where his first wife, Nagamati (Anupriya Genka) is put on the back bench. When the court priest- Chetan- is caught spying on the king and queen; he is promptly banished. Chetan ends up working for Alauddin, convincing him that in order to succeed, he must have Padmavati by his side! This is one character I wanted to see a bit more of, along w/ his motivations.
The middle section of this story drags on… and on; the viewer is bombarded w/ scenes of dust, desert, marching armies, as well as the opulence (of the Rajputs). Honestly, I couldn’t judge who had the better costumes- Kapoor or Padukone! Eventually, Ratan Singh invites Alauddin to share a meal and talk alone (w/o any men or weapons). When Alauddin asks to see Padmavati, Ratan Singh is deeply offended and says no. Alauddin says that he expected to meet both the rulers. Padmavati convinces her husband that, in order to appease Alauddin (and maybe save the kingdom from war), she will let him see her. Before Alauddin can get a good look, a curtain is pulled down, hiding the queen. This makes the sultan very angry; he vows to get Padmavati to come to him! Alauddin invites Ratan Singh to his tent for meal, then kidnaps him. Though Nagamati pleads w/ her not to, Padmavati insists on going to rescue her husband (w/ his two best soldiers by her side and 800 attendants).
The movie opens with some disclaimers, one being that it is not endorsing jauhar (Wikipedia: “the act of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by Islamic invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war.”) As some of you may have guessed, jauhar is closely connected to sutee (“bride burning”)- the custom of a Hindu widow being burned to death on the funeral pyre of her husband. Kaushik Roy said that the jauhar was observed only during Hindu-Muslim wars; John Stratton Hawley states it was present before them and was likely started by the actions of the Greek conquerors.
Well, in the last act of the film, jauhar is most obviously valorized! After the fight between Alauddin and Ratan Singh (where the good king is shot in the back), the girls and women (incl. ones who are pregnant) inside the fort are seen dressed in their finest (bridal) red outfits. They are led by Padmavati, who defiantly declares that Alauddin’s army will not defeat them. They walk in a slow procession for some time- too long- and bravely walk closer… and closer to a huge wall of fire. No one looks nervous, scared, or even hesitates for a second- that can’t be realistic!