Aamir Khan plays Mangal Pandey passionately with a complete conviction. All the scenes between Aamir and Toby are a delight to watch. Toby doesn’t fail to impress with his acting or his Hindi-speaking lines.
Stephens’ brief speeches about the ruthlessness of a private corporation pillaging a country seem all too relevant to our own time… The film is wildly entertaining, filled with the color and beauty of Bollywood- superb cinematography, epic sets and crowd scenes, music-and-dance numbers that pop out of nowhere, and a love story…
-Excerpts from reviews on Amazon.com
This is an epic set against the backdrop of what the British called the Sepoy Mutiny; for the Indians, it was the First War of Independence. It took two years to complete this film b/c of the research that went into its production. “Company Raj” (the British East India Company) had been plundering the country, treating the locals unjustly, and causing widespread resentment. During battle in one of the Afghan wars in the mid-1800s, Mangal Pandey (Aamir Khan), an Indian sepoy, saves the life of his commanding officer, Capt. William Gordon (Toby Stephens- son of Dame Maggie Smith). He is indebted, even giving Mangal his pistol. The first act is focused on the friendship; historians have pointed out that this was unlikely. A few years later, the Company introduces the Enfield rifle, which comes w/ a new cartridge rumored to be coated w/ grease from cow and pig fat. This cartridge has to be bitten before it is loaded, which ignites resentment and anger among the sepoys; the cow is sacred to Hindus and the pig is forbidden for Muslims.
The film was offered to Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, but he declined (thank goodness). Director Ketan Mehta first thought of making this film in 1988 w/ Amitabh Bachchan. Hugh Jackman turned down the role of Gordon; this required Stephens to speak w/ a Scottish accent and also in Hindi. A very young Kiera Knightley was considered for the role of Emily Kent, who is new to India and develops a crush on Gordon. After Aishwarya Rai turned down the part of Jwala (due to contract issues), Rani Mukerji was given the script to consider taking the part. Mukherji, however, liked the character of Heeraand asked if she could play her instead. Khan requested to cast Ameesha Patel as the young widow, Jwala, after he saw her on a BBC game show. Patel wears no make-up; this was Khan’s suggestion.
We only sell our bodies; you sell your souls. -Heera explains to Mangal re: the difference between her girls and the sepoys
The BJP wanted to ban the film, as it showed Pandey visiting a prostitute (though their scenes are platonic in the movie). As Lol Bibi (veteran actress Kiron Kher) points out, her house is only for white men (mainly the British officers). Though this is not a “typical” Bollywood film, it contains songs and dances. One number by Heera and other nautch (dancing) girls, Main Vari Vari, created controversy due to Mukherji’s outfit (where her cleavage was covered by transparent fabric). This song serves a dual purposes- to entice the British officers and to show how conflicted Mangal feels re: trusting Gordon (and biting the new bullet). A.R. Rahman was the music director on this movie; the music flows w/ the story. My favorite song is below- Rasiya.
In your Ramayana there was one villain “Ravana” who had ten heads, company has a hundred heads and they’re all joined by the glue of greed. -Gordon replies when Mangal asks re: the Company
I think this movie is a must-see, though it is uneven (particularly when it comes to editing). The narration (in Hindi) done by veteran actor Om Puri is repetitive; I think it was used to appeal to Hindi speakers who may not be fluent in English. There is a mix of English and Hindi spoken in this film, which I’m sure was accurate for the period. The bromance is much more stronger than both the romances. The relationship between Mangal and Heera was underdeveloped, but I could see the chemistry between the actors. I liked the wrestling scene and hand-to-hand combat between Mangal and Gordon. The sepoys and villagers confronting the British one night w/ their torches stood out to me. However, the scene where Gordon stops the sati (bride burning) looks disorganized. Mangal Pandey: The Rising was shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The screenwriter is British of Parsi heritage- Farrukh Dandy- associated w/ black (as in minority in UK) and left-wing intellectuals and activists.
You have tasted a black man’s loyalty – now taste his fury! -Mangal declares to Gordon
On second viewing, I noticed how colonialism was compared to slavery (which we may associate w/ the American South and West Indies). Hewson beats a waiter and insults him w/ “kalla kutta” (“black dog”). One of the villagers near the cantonment, Kamla, works as a wet nurse for one of the British officer’s wives. When she gets home, there is no milk left for her baby. Perhaps the most direct correlation to slavery is made in the market scene; Emily is appalled to see an auction of men and women (incl. Heera). It turns out that the Company buys girls, too!
This Bollywood film (which Roger Ebert mentioned) is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll. Manav (Akshaye Khanna), the son of an uber-wealthy family (raised overseas) falls in love w/ Mansi (Aishwarya Rai), the beautiful/shy daughter of a talented rural musician/teacher. He nervously follows her and her girl cousins around and snaps pictures (don’t do this, kids). Mansi’s father warmly welcomes Manav’s father, brothers, and business associates to his house. Though reluctant at first, Mansi decides to give Manav a chance to get to know her. Their first date (or meeting, as Bollywood often uses) is a sunrise yoga lesson high up in the hills.
Their relationship is mocked by Manav’s extended family; when they go to the city, Mansi and her father are humiliated (having to wait outside for hours, then insulted verbally). Mansi has a strong relationship w/ her father; both are humble, straight-forward, but also very proud. Vikrant Kapoor (Anil Kapoor), a slightly older record producer, discovers Mansi’s knack for singing/dancing and helps her climb the ladder of success. As Vikrant exlains, he takes songs from the villages and turns them into hits (remixes). Manav tries to make amends, but Mansi ignores him. In time, Vikrant, finds himself developing feeling for Mansi, too.
Taal (meaning “rhythm” in Hindi) is a must-watch for its hit soundtrack; the music (composed by a young A.R. Rahman) is considered “timeless!” I thought all the songs were great; I esp. liked Ishq Bina (featuring Sonu Nigam), Taal se Taal (sung by Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan), and the remixed version of Ishq Bina Ishq Bina (sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy and Sukwinder Singh). Early in the film, it’s fun to see Rai w/ almost no makeup and wavy (natural) hair; she looks fabulous nonetheless! The ’90s hairdos, bright colors, and funky styles the back-up dancers/singers wear are a blast from the (recent) past. There is simplicity, innocence, and a flow to (most of) this story. The woman at the center of the story isn’t given much agency; Mansi goes along w/ what Manav or Vikrant have planned. The movie was shot in some unique locations, incl. Toronto, Ontario and Niagara Falls, NY.
 I will start off by stating my bias….that I generally hate Bollywood movies because of their excesses, and their general lack of realism.In that light, Devdas is classic Bollywood.
 Devdas and Paro, or Chandramukhi and Devdas had a lot of emotions and feeling unexpressed in the original story. The love the three possessed was spiritual, not physical. That is why Paro loved Devdas for so many years without having seen him.
 One has to admire the technical execution of parts of the film, the sometimes stunning cinematography, the lavish sets and costumes. But the director forgets that form and content can not be separated, that more is not always more, that often less is more.
-Excerpts from comments on IMDB
This Bollywood movie is based on a Bengali romance novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Despite being finished in 1900, the novel was not published until 1917 (due to Chatterjee’s hesitance over some autobiographical elements). He wrote it under the influence of alcohol and was embarrassed by it. According to Wikipedia: “he is arguably the most popular novelist in the Bengali language. His notable works incl. Devdas, Srikanto, Choritrohin, Grihadaha, etc. Most of his works deal with the lifestyle, tragedy and struggle of the village people and the contemporary social practices that prevailed in Bengal.” Due to lack of funds, he couldn’t attend college. Chatterjee wrote since his teen years and lived in Burma (Myanmar), working in the public works office. His first wife and son died due to illness. Eventually, he moved to Calcutta (Kolkata); he married his second wife, who he taught to read and write.
Devdas has been adapted for the screen 19 times in various South Indian languages. This version is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali; he later went on to make Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat. At the time of its release, Devdas was the most expensive Bollywood film ever, w/ a budget of $10.3 million. It was a commercial success in India and abroad, becoming the highest grossing Indian film of the year. Devdas was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was also submitted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival- not something you hear often (or maybe ever) re: a Bollywood film!
In the early 1900s, Devdas Mukherji (Shah Rukh Khan- then 36 y.o.) is the only son of wealthy zamindar (landowner) of a Bengali Brahmin family. After 10 yrs of boarding school and studying law in England, he returns to his village, where his extended family prepares to welcome him. In the original story, Devdas comes back from studying in Calcutta. However, their happiness changes to shock when Devdas prefers to visit his childhood sweetheart, Parvati AKA Paro (Aishwarya Rai- in her most notable role at 28 y.o.) before paying respect to his mother, Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar). In the first song (Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka), we see Paro dancing w/ the diya (small lamp) which represents the life of Devdas. Then only 16 y.o. Shreya Ghoshal sang five songs for this movie as the singing voice of Paro.
When Devdas’ grandma, Badima (Dina Pathak), lays out her jewelry, his greedy/cranky sister-in-law Kumud (Ananya Khare) giggles and picks up an elaborate bangle. Badima says she can have it all, but not that bracelet, b/c she saved it for Devdas’ future bride. Devdas jokes w/ Kumud, but she gets mad and storms off. She is followed by Kaushalya, who wants to calm her down (b/c she’s pregnant). Later that night, Devdas gives Paro the bangle (Bairi Piya). Kumud watches them (w/ binoculars) and then shows this to Kaushalya.
Devdas’ mother isn’t keen on the match, as she tells her husband when they are alone. The father (a lawyer knighted by the British government) flatly says no way. Paro’s mother, Sumitra (Kiron Kher), tells her husband that Devdas will ask for Paro’s hand, but her father looks worried. Sumitra dresses up and goes next door to Devdas’ house, full of hope. We learn that Paro comes from family that had a tradition of being entertainers and accepting “bride price” (dowry) from the groom’s family. Sumitra explains that was a long ago; they plan to give Paro away (send dowry with her). Kaushalya says it’s settled; both sides will handle the costs of Paro’s wedding. Sumita performs a song and dance re: the love between two Hindu deities- Radha and Krishna (Morey Piya)- while Paro and Devdas frolic by a lake. I esp. liked the lighting in the lake scene.
After her (emotional/dramatic) performance, Sumitra learns the bitter truth- her friend/neighbor thinks Paro- and therefore her family- beneath them. Sumitra explains that their children are deeply in love and pleads w/ Kaushalya to allow them to marry. Kumud (a one-note villain) makes a nasty remark, insulting Paro’s character. That’s the last straw for Sumitra; she declares (in tears) that this decision will lead to the “ruination” of Devdas.
Paro still holds out hope for marrying Devdas (after her mother has been insulted). In a bold move, Paro sneaks into Devdas’ room and declares her love for him. He is nervous and tells her that his father is opposed. Paro (not thinking of her reputation) says they can change his mind. Devdas says he will escort her home, but they run into his father, Narayan (Vijay Crishna), who insults Paro (and her mother). She runs away in tears. Devdas gets mad at his father; he gets slapped. After their big argument (which I thought could’ve been acted better), Devdas leaves home w/ the shawl that Paro dropped. Paro runs after his buggy, but is left in the dust. As I noted before, this director is not a fan of subtlety. After the first 45 mins-1 hr, the film becomes slower.
As journalist Rajib Kanti Roy noted (in an article published on September 14, 2018 in Daily Sun): According to Sarat Chandra, pure love of a woman is a treasure for the world. That is why he has made no mistake in highlighting true love of Bengali women in his fictions. The character of Parboti in Devdas is a classic example of that. A girl of strong willpower and passionate feelings, Paru (Parboti) is not dependent on Devdas. When confronted with the practical choice of marrying a rich man to save her family name, or pining for a fickle lover who changes his mind on the whim, Paru chooses the former.
Devdas writes a letter to Paro, saying that he doesn’t love her, but sees her only as the “girl next door/friend.” We realize that he doesn’t want to go against his father. Devdas stays w/ a friend from college who drinks and lives a life of debauchery, Chunnilal (Jackie Shroff). When Devdas looks “stressed,” Chunnilal (who some viewers consider annoying) tells him to relax and offers him a drink. Devdas says no, as he never drinks alcohol. The men go off to “escape” in the next scene; Devdas meets a courtesan named Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit- then 34 y.o.) She and her fellow dancing girls perform (Kaahe Chhed Mohe). This song (by Kavita Krishnamurthy, Dixit, and Birju Maharaj) carries on the Radha-Krishna romance theme. Before the number ends, Devdas gets up to leave; he regrets that letter and wants to go to Paro. Chandramukhi stops him; he advises her to do something else w/ her life (giving her his wallet). Suddenly, she goes from flirty to very serious; she has fallen in love w/ Devdas. I thought Dixit did as well w/ this clunky dialogue; her eyes expressed much.
As Roy noted:Chondromukhi is a prostitute who stands out for her assertiveness and independence. Though repeatedly scorned by the man she loves, her body and mind remain free from the societal control that women are subjected to. She stoops only to love and that too out of her own choice.
Sumitra (w/ in a week) arranges a marriage for Paro; she helps dress and adorn her daughter as Devdas returns. We take notice of their big argument; Paro stands up for herself and the pride of herfamily. Devdas (who is spoiled and temperamental) thinks it’s not too late, but she is headed for a new life (where she will be “an aristocrat”). About 12 yrs ago, I met a young Indian-American woman at a literary event in NYC; she was writing a PhD dissertation on domestic violence in Hindi cinema and discussed the next scene. Devdas calls Paro “vain,” grabs a heavy pearl choker, and hits the top of her forehead. Though he claims this is “the mark of his love,” we see that it is physical abuse. The saddest song of the movie follows (Hamesha Tumko Chaha) as Paro leaves home; the two voices are Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan. One of the main things here is that before touching her parents’ feet (sign of respect), Paro crosses the courtyard to touch Devdas’ feet.
Bhuvan Choudhry is a widower w/ a large estate; his white-haired mother introduces Paro to his adolescent son and daughter (who will call her Choti Ma- “little mother”). We also hear of an older daughter who is not happy about having a stepmother. After the wedding night, some giggling maids reveal that the bride and groom slept apart. Bhuvan explains that he married only b/c he needed a “lady of the manor and a mother for his children.” He shows Paro a picture of his late wife, saying that he will remain loyal to her memory. The look on her face is hard to determine- maybe she is a bit surprised and relieved.
We learn from Chunnilal that Devdas (very distraught) was taken care of for two nights by Chandramukhi. When Devdas cuts her down and offers her money, she retorts that he already paid her. We see that she wants to dance for him. She waits for his arrival, which annoys Kali Babu (an impatient patron w/ a thick mustache). As Devdas watches this song/dance (Maar Dala), he pours out some drink. (SRK actually drank alcohol while shooting some drunk scenes, so had to do many retakes.) He admits to Chandramukhi that he’s drinking to forget memories of Paro that haunt him- yeah, no kidding! I never got the feeling that SRK was losing control here, or in the following scene (where he cries, yells, and displays self-pity).
Back at her mansion, Paro is handling things quite diplomatically. She isn’t intimidated by a formidable guest (mother-in-law of Yashomati, Bhuvan’s oldest child). Since they are close in age, Paro explains to Yashomati that they can relate to each other as mom and daughter or friends. Yashomati (also a new bride) is very touched and gives her a hug. Then the groom enters to touch Paro’s feet- it’s Kali Babu- the creepy guy we saw earlier.
Paro goes to visit her family and sees that many people of the village are flocking next door. Sumitra explains that Narayan is at death’s door. Paro (being forgiving/kind-hearted) insists that they go to pay their respects, too. The old man weakly calls out for his son, but finds Paro instead. Kaushalya weeps, recalling how Paro used go find Devdas when he’d run off. Now, the family doesn’t know where to look for him.
Devdas is staying w/ Chandramukhi, but they are not together; he won’t let her touch him. She continues to listen to him go on… and on… Suddenly, Dharamdas (a loyal servant from his house) comes w/ a message- his father is dead! At the funeral, Devdas is falling-down drunk in front of his relatives and other mourners. I liked this next scene- both actors played it well (and it wasn’t too over-the-top). He opens a small treasure chest filled w/ items which belonged to her- anklets, a water pitcher, and the shawl (from when they were last alone). Paro (again in tears) insists that he stop drinking, but he refuses. She can’t bare to see him in this condition. Paro says she wants to take care of him; Devdas asks her to “elope” w/ him that night. What a clueless man- that’s what some viewers were thinking- no doubt! We see that Paro has matured, but Devdas is still a little boy.
Devdas finds Kumud (who holds a big ring of keys) and his older brother plotting to steal all the inheritance. He comments that Kumud doesn’t know re: the “crazy” side of his family, then sets a fire in his father’s office. For six mos. after he’s kicked out of the house (by his mother), there is no sign of Devdas. Paro finds an excuse (Durga Puja) and goes to check out the brothel (having learned of it from Dharamdas). Chandramukhi is no longer a courtesan and keeps praying for Devdas’ return. We see an altar, some of his possessions, and a diya which she lit for him (a recurring motif). Paro realizes that this woman also loves Devdas; Chandramukhi says she “worships” him. Before Paro leaves, she presents the bangle (which Devdas gave her) to Chandramukhi. They meet again at the Durga Puja, talk, and dance together (Dola Re Dola). This has a mix of Indian classical dance forms w/ steps that come from Kathak and Bharatnatyam.
As an Indian viewer noted (on IMDB), it is unlikely that a conservative Hindu woman (like Paro) would’ve visited a brothel or danced at a gathering (even in her own home). When Kali Babu reveals who she is, Chandramukhi is not bowed- she gives some strong retorts (calling out the hypocrisy of the aristocrats). I enjoyed that scene- she’s a badass! As he leaves, Kali Babu apologizes for what he did, but also tells Paro that her husband and mother-in-law now know of her er “friendship” w/ Devdas. When Bhuvan asks re: Devdas, Paro replies that he’s her “first love” (just as his dead wife). Bhuvan decides that she will not be allowed to step outside the manor, and she accepts his punishment. When the old lady tries to put out the diya (“fire in own house”)- Paro quickly stops her. I think this was a kind of gutsy scene- I hadn’t remembered from previous viewings.
At a bar, then on the streets, Devdas and Chunnilal drink (Chalak Chalak). Some women join in, incl. Chandramukhi (who is very happy to see Devdas again). Some viewers commented that they liked this number (sung by Ghosal, Narayan, and a few others). It starts out humorous, then becomes more frenzied/unsettled. We see that Devdas’ health has deteriorated; a doctor says he’s in a “treacherous” state. This is basically a drawn-out form of suicide. Devdas (finally) tells Chandramukhi that he loves her! He also tells her “if they meet again in Heaven, he will not be able to renounce her.”
Devdas travels by train w/ Dharamdas watching over him; Chunnilal finds him and they drink to friendship (not a good idea). His friend learns that Devdas is “incurable.” Devdas gets off at a station and travels to Paro’s manor, as he promised. Paro hears his voice (in her mind) and wakes up in the middle of the night. In the early morning, there is a crowd of men gathered around Devdas sleeping on the lawn just outside the manor’s gate. Paro runs through the house, evading servants and family, but her husband orders the gate to be shut. Devdas dies and the diya’s fire is blown away w/ the wind. This last sequence is well done and very intense, even to those of us who know how it ends.
…a look into the dark side of ambition. Each character has questionable motives, and the human drama alone kept me riveted through the film. The acting is convincing and the plot has many surprising twists and turns.
The plot was sneaky. You didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was totally shocked with the ending. They put a lot of work into the dancing, and it showed.
Abbas Mustan [the directing duo] lay pretty heavy emphasis on the villains in their films, and this film is no exception.
This is the Bollywood remake (or re-imagining) of A Perfect Murder (1998) starring Michael Douglas, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. It was also somewhat influenced by Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954). The title of Humraaz (“soulmate”) refers to “someone who knows your secret or someone whom you have shared your secret with.” You can’t skip the songs here, b/c every great playback singer of that era sung in this movie! Karan (Akshaye Khanna), the head of a dance troupe and his girlfriend, Priya (Ameesha Patel), are two 20-somethings who have energy, passion, and talent. They audition to perform on a cruise ship owned by young industrialist, Raj Singhania (Bobby Deol).
They get the cruise job and put on a fun number (Bardaasht Nahin Kar Sakta sung by KK and Sunidhi Chuahan). Raj can’t keep his eyes off Priya. He sends her flowers, invites her to a fancy dinner, and they dance under the stars. Raj is quickly developing feelings for Priya; they go sightseeing in Malaysia (Dil Ne Kar Liya sung by Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik, my favorite Bollywood duo). Priya didn’t want to go out, b/c she vowed to walk barefoot all day (since the troupe had become “permanent status” on the cruise line). Raj decides to go barefoot also; he finds her beautiful, charming, and innocent (basically the girl of his dreams)!
On her birthday, Raj throws a big bash, and asks Karan for a “special song” (Piyar Kar sung by Udit Narayan, Shaan, and Kavita Krishnamurthy). The lyrics fit very well w/ the story. Later on deck, Raj offers Priya a ring. For a brief moment, Priya looks conflicted, but then puts it on, saying “some dreams do come true!” Priya reveals to Karan that she’s engaged. At first, Karan looks shocked, but then smiles and hugs her, exclaiming “I can’t believe it happened so fast.” It was their plan all along- get Raj to marry Priya! One of the guys in their troupe watches from afar, wondering what is up.
Raj takes Priya to his family estate in Jaipur. Dadi (Raj’s grandma w/ whom he shares a close bond) declares the couple will be married ASAP. The family and guests celebrate w/ a sweet/hopeful song (Life Ban Jaayige sung by Sonu Nigam and Jaspinder Narula). On their wedding night, Priya tells Raj that she took a vow of celibacy for one month (b/c destiny had brought them together, as she’d prayed). Raj is surprised, but then says he respects her decision.
Raj and Priya hold a reception at their house; Karan comes to congratulate them. Raj describes his new life and the many emotions w/in him (Tune Zindagi Mein by Udit Narayan). This song starts off as pretty innocent, but we get some lines where Raj talks about jealousy (foreshadowing). More drama (life-altering) ensues. We see more of the violent side of Karan (as in the opener). One morning, Priya realizes that she does love her husband! We get the title song (Sanam Mere Humraaz sung by Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik). From here on (the last 45 mins or so), the movie takes dark turns (w/ scenes that are guaranteed to shock some viewers)!
Are you missing the (loud/colorful) hair and fashions of the ’90s? FYI: Khanna is wearing a hairpiece (as he started losing his hair before his mid-20s). Do you get a kick out of seeing (old) technology? Then this may be the movie for you! It’s around 3 hrs long (no joke), so it could take 2 days to watch. The first 90 mins go pretty quickly, thanks mainly to the musical numbers. The dancers here are also supporting actors (which is rare for Bollywood). I’m a fan of Khanna; his older brother (Rahul Khanna) is also actor. Rahul is seen in indies and TV shows (in both the US and India). I recently came across an article re: Patel (who is now 44); she celebrated 20 yrs of working in Bollywood. She still looks youthful and fit; she is producing movies now.
The comedic supporting characters are mostly one-note; they are present to serve the larger story. Raj’s loyal personal assistant, Mr. Darshan (Johnny Lever) is a veteran of Bollywood. In one scene w/ Karan, Darshan (who is always worried re: “what ifs”) sums up the entire story! After leaving school (lack of funds) as teen, Lever worked on the streets (selling small items) and copied famous actors. He worked at Lever’s soap factory in Mumbai, where he entertained co-workers and earned the nickname “Johnny Lever.” Eventually, he studied comedy and toured in variety shows. In the ’80s, he met Amitabh Bachchan and started getting small roles in movies. Lever is short, stocky, curly-haired, and dark-skinned. He is from Andra Pradesh; Telegu was his first language, not Hindi. In Bollywood, there are few actors like him who have become a success.
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!