Here in the South Asian diaspora, away from deadly violence that has befallen the filming, certification, and release of “Padmaavat” (formerly “Padmavati”) and in our own throes of divisive politics and erasure of identities, there are many reasons to celebrate this magnum opus. As the most expensive film of Indian cinema (a budget of nearly $30 million), and the first to be released in IMAX 3D, “Padmaavat” is indeed worth all the hype. Just not that hype.
Based on a Sufi poem of the same name, “Padmaavat” is larger than life. Brought to the screen in a way that transcends the verbal, acclaimed director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has gifted us an epic period drama that centers on Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone). Catching the eye of Raja Ratan Sen (Shahid Kapoor), Padmavati becomes the second Rani of Chittor (the younger of his two wives).
Looming in the distance, and at times on his own plane entirely, is Sultan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh). Driven by desire for all that shines — beauty, jewelry, and battlefield victories — Alauddin and Ratan Sen entangle when the former learns of a beauty in Chittor that seems too good to be true: Padmavati. Alauddin lays seige on Chittor, hell bent upon seeing the queen, and back and forth the two go in plays of action, power, and wit.
“Padmaavat” emphasizes Ratan Sen’s Hindu, Rajput, Kshatriya (warrior) side in a way that is more captivating that one expects. Indeed, as the villain, Allaudin is Muslim, and much can be derived from the religious oppositions between this mad man and the perceived good of Ratan Sen. However, the film has done justice to the valiant Rajput spirit, and more so, has made of it a story filled with battles that are enthralling because of their strategy, instinct and power, not one that should be seen as simply Muslim versus Hindu.
Much has been said about the preposterous protesting of the film, and it would be an injustice to the film to delve too much into in this review–except to say that it becomes strikingly clear that those who opposed it, citing a dishonor of Rajput history and tradition, have not seen the film.
But really, the film’s name change that ended up happening due to all the controversy was, in fact, moot–it really should have been called Alauddin. Ranveer Singh is gripping and delirious in his portrayal of the Delhi sultan. This role has eclipsed his young, innocent debut in “Band Baaja Baaraat,” the adult-film watching, pelvic thrusting Ram of Bhansali’s “Ram Leela,” or even the quiet but intensely focused and passionate Baijrao from “Bajirao Mastani.”
As a character in any other director’s eye, perhaps Allaudin would have just been another villain–dark, mean, and easy to hate. What Singh’s portrayal brings to Allaudin is depth, madness, and in a true testament to his acting, a deep sense of loss when he is not on screen. From dialogues to body language to expressing with his eyes, it is clear just how far Singh went into this character to bring him to life.
Allaudin is a player, thief, and murderer, and yet you get subtle glimpses of a man yearning for love, one who sees beauty and attraction in problematic ways and yet crosses lines of heterosexuality. His contradictory nature makes him one of the most compelling villains of modern indian cinema, brought to excellence by none other than Bhansali’s direction and Singh’s passion.
Second to Singh is Padukone as Rani Padmavati. Showing the restraint and demeanor of a seasoned actress, it is no wonder that Padukone does only a film or two a year. She’s captivatingly stunning and elegant as a woman who speaks volumes with her eyes, and has a sharp wit to boot. Padukone commands the screen throughout the film, showing prowess, fire and determination that is befitting of Rani Padmavati. It’s a pleasant surprise that this role is more than just being a queen — it’s clear that Padmavati is intelligent and well-learned, and in times when the men are otherwise occupied battling and harping among themselves, Padmavati emerges as a leader among women with the ability to outmaneuver the men who surround her.
It would be remiss to not mention Kapoor as Raja Ratan Singh, who warms up to the audience as more than just a kind, mellow king towards the second half of the film. He’s strong and resolute in his depiction, but Kapoor is unfortunately overshadowed by the strong performances and screen times of his co-stars.
Indeed even Aditi Rao Hydari and Jim Sarbh shine in their smaller roles. Bringing stability and restraint to characters that are pivotal to the film’s story, Hydari and Sarbh are magnificent in their ability to entrench themselves in roles that stand up to the lead actors and still leave their mark.
Sarbh, coming off critical praise from “Neerja,” is an apt choice as Allaudin’s closest adviser — and Bhansali’s depiction of passion between Sarbh and Singh is subtle yet palpable. It is a welcome depiction of bisexuality in Indian cinema, without stereotypes, oogling or any other attention to it besides devotion. It is a brave directorial choice for Bhansali, one that I actually wish he had deepened a little further — with so many eyes on this film, and with Singh at the helm, this aspect could have done more to face the taboos of sexuality. Still, their glimpses of chemistry are electric, adding another layer to an already nuanced film.
And with that, there isn’t enough that can be said about the film’s director. Bhansali is a maestro at what he does. Aside from hiccups like “Guzaarish,” the filmmaker has, for the most part, brought us emotional, impactful, and memorable films that stand as blockbusters in their own right for more than two decades.
As of late, Bhansali has moved from the 90s romance of films like “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” to historical fiction/period dramas, a genre that is clearly his forte. The creative vision and the lasting impact of pulling off a large budget film with realistic war scenes, stunning sets, intricate costumes, and still, the ability to evoke groundbreaking performances from his lead actors is a testament to Bhansali’s growth as a filmmaker and his unequivocal artistic abilities.
The film does miss the mark at times, too. At 2 hours and 40 minutes, “Padmaavat” plays rather long. Though an enthralling story, the intensity of the characters and scenes begins to exhaust the viewer in the latter half, as you wait for a culmination of the conflict. Also, as per the poem and time in which it is based, the film has a long scene towards the end that depicts “jauhar”, the self-immulation of women to protect their honor. Though its premise is set earlier in the film, the scene itself seems misplaced, in fact made worse by what seems like a glorification of the practice.
The practice is not something Bhansali may have been able to avoid, and such, to criticize him for including this scene is ridiculous. Hoever, he did not have to show pregnant women or children, and make the scene so long that it teetered on distastefully voyeuristic.
It is uncomfortable to acknowledge that this practice was once common and respected, and it is a great sign of the times that so many have raised offense to this part of the film. It means we are learning and growing in the direction of acknowledging women as more than objects. Indeed, it seems a waste that Rani Padmavati, for all her intelligence and wit, would be reduced to such an act — but this in itself, is not Bhansali’s fault.
“Padmaavat” has brought an onslaught of thinkpieces and opinions from those across the board, from the Karni Sena, to the Supreme Court, to journalists and viewers across the globe. Whatever you think about the portrayal of religion and women in “Padmaavat” after seeing it, I do believe it is about time Bollywood starts being held accountable across the board. Instead of holding Bhansali’s feet to the fire, or ordering the beheading of Deepika Padukone (or cutting off her nose), let’s start holding ALL films and storylines accountable.
In a phase of Bollywood where we can’t go more than a week without hearing a remake of a hit 90s song or movie, perhaps it’s time to celebrate a filmmaker who is breaking boundaries and putting Bollywood on the same level as Hollywood in terms of quality, acting, and budget. All the controversy around this film seems unfair for a historical drama when we do little to address regressive storylines and characters in other films (item songs are still a thing, right?) that negatively impact all minorities, including gender, sexuality, caste, disability, and religion.
Is this film perfect? No. Is it pretty darn close? Yes. Go see it — it’ll be worth it, I promise.
Priya Arora is a queer-identified community activist, editor, writer and Netflix enthusiast. Born and raised in California, Priya has found a home in New York City, where she currently works as a Frontpage Editor at Yahoo. When she’s not working, Priya enjoys watching old school Bollywood movies, laboring over NYTimes crossword puzzles, reading books she never finishes, and eating way too much of her partner’s homemade Hyderabadi biryani.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.
“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.
The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.
Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.
Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.
There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra, and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.
Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.
Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.