December 18th, 2018

Spoils of War Spoil Your Thyroid Artery

The Digital Birds of Song and Controversy

A psychopath walks into a palace with a cgi ostrich, demanding a wife in return. So begins 2018's Padmaavat, the year's second highest grossing Bollywood film despite being banned in many parts of India and Malaysia. Some considered it anti-Muslim for its depiction of a sadistic, ambitious Muslim ruler; on the other hand, sets were vandalised and crewmembers assaulted before the film was completed because it was believed the Hindu ruler and title character, Padmaavat, was shown in a negative light. Maybe it's for these reasons that the film has such broad, simplistic characters, reducing the story of the 16th century source poem to a low brow tale of good versus evil. But the sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, demonstrating once again how Bollywood benefits from HD showing off intricate beads, jewels, and arabesques.

Set in the 13th century, the film tells the story of a beautiful woman named Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) from Sinhala (modern day Sri Lanka) who marries the Rajput king, Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), after accidentally shooting him with an arrow during a hunt for a cgi deer. All of the animals in this movie are very, very obviously cgi, and not just because there's a disclaimer at the beginning that says so.

This is the third of three disclaimers, the first being the longest;

The needless inclusion of plural forms in parentheses seems a bit passive aggressive, as though the writer is emphasising the purely obligatory nature of the disclaimer. The feeling that the film is anti-Muslim is largely due to the portrayal of Alauddin Khalji, the aforementioned psychopath, played ridiculously by Ranveer Singh.

He's so over the top he makes Jim Carrey in Batman Forever seem like Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. There's a scene where the camera just pans around him while he gnashes his teeth. Scene after scene portrays him revelling in his pure evilness when he's not insulting or murdering people. Apparently the real Alauddin was nothing like this but no leader ever was. Even the cruellest tyrants had to have some charisma, some ability to imply to people around him that there'd be something good or useful about him being in power. As far as I can tell, the only person who really likes this Alauddin is his fellow psychopath, a eunuch named Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), Alauddin's assassin slave who bears a distracting resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen.

There's a kind of fascinating scene where there's some very, very indirect implication that Alauddin and Malik may like to sleep together. The scene begins with Malik washing Alauddin's feet and then singing a song about legendary beauty . . . then Alauddin goes to bed with a woman who abruptly turns up. I guess it's a half buried homophobic message though I don't know why they'd give Malik such a sweet song if that's the case.

Supervillain Alauddin is the real focus of the film. He lays siege to Chittor, Ratan Singh's fortress city home, with the aim of stealing Padmavati. Ratan's a pretty dull, straightforward, honourable hero type while Padmavati displays some prowess in diplomacy and war tactics beyond her husband--though it doesn't amount to much more than advising Ratan to kill Alauddin at the first opportunity. She can't dissuade Ratan from meeting the evil ruler unarmed and, of course, Ratan's captured and Padmavati has to use her wits to rescue him--but she ends up requiring the help of a Muslim character (Aditi Rao Hydari) who I must say is portrayed in a very positive light.

The action sequences are really sub-par; the sword fight in the climax looks like it was the result of about a day of choreography. The dance choreography, on the other hand, is pretty good and the songs aren't bad. Still, you'd be a lot better off watching Jodhaa Akbar.

Padmaavat is available on Amazon Prime.

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