Padmaavat – A Review

Image resultSanjay Leela Bhansali directs Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh & Shahid Kapoor in Padmaavat, the cinematic adaptation of the opera that Bhansali was invited to direct in 2008 which is based on a 1540 poem by poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The epic poem tells the story of the beauty and valor of Princess Padmavati of the kingdom of Singhal who later becomes the queen of Mewar, the pride of Rajput king Raja Ratan Singh and the lust of Allaudin Khilji.

 

Deepika plays Rani Padmavati, Shahid plays Raja Ratan Singh and Ranveer plays Allaudin Khilji. The movie has courted enormous controversy and walking out of the theatre I couldn’t understand why. If anything this is a movie that ought to be cherished by the very people who are protesting in the streets. It glorifies the Rajputs of ancient India who never gave into the Mughals. Those who threatened bodily harm to Deepika for what they deemed mischaracterisation of the queen goddess owe her an unconditional apology. Her portrayal as the proud Rajput queen would make any Rajput walk two feet taller.

Ranveer Singh plays Allauddin Khilji in Padmavati.

Ranveer Singh brings a barbaric, manic and frenetic interpretation to Allaudin Khilji. There is an animalistic madness in his eyes and he tends to push it a little too far with that misplaced dance number but overall at no point do you sympathise with this lustful power crazed barbarian who thinks he owns the world. Ranveer is competent as ever and it is indeed hard to imagine any other actor being able to pull off a character so over the top.

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Shahid Kapoor is stoic and regal as the king of Mewar. Even when he is besotted with his beloved Padmavati he does not put on school boy airs. He carries himself with such grace and dignity and presents a polar opposite to Khilji. His words are measured and his intense gaze does most of the talking.

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Deepika Padukone is fantastic and back to top form. After a brief Hollywood stint the queen is back to rule Bollywood. To be laden with such opulent costumes and jewellery that probably weighs more than her she still manages to shine through from under all that Bhansali extravagance. The doe-eyed beauty transforms into goddess-incarnate filled with raging pride when she delivers the final sermon. Her walk to the jauhar pyre will give everyone the chills.

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The story while loosely based on an epic poem does not shy away from topics that most other directors would either have swept under the rug or made a caricature out of. Take for instance Khilji’s penchant for effeminate boy-slaves. Jim Sarbh plays Mallik Kafur who seems infatuated by Khilji. Aditi Rao Haidari plays Khilji’s cousin who he marries and mistreats. Anupriya Goenka who plays Nagmati, Ratan Singh’s first wife leaves a lot to be desired. A strong seasoned actress would have elevated the one scene where she is supposed to be have shined.

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a visual maestro – every frame of his is visual poetry. Every detail is meticulously crafted. The oil-lamp lit vistas of the Ghoomar song are jaw-dropping. Small nuances like the small pool right outside the private chambers, the carvings of hands outside the temple – these are details that anyone who has visited Rajasthan can attest to as being authentic.  However the controversy surrounding the movie which began from the very first shoot must have weighed heavily on the director’s mind. The screenplay seems flabby at the start. The pacing is off. The scenes between Khilji and Ratan Singh too long and too repetitive. He manages to rouse the passions towards the second half and pulls it all together visually and narratively towards the end. The sea of red saree clad women making the final walk through the different niches of the temple is unrivalled for it absolute beauty.

Image result for padmavatiThis might not be Bhansali’s best story telling but visually it is peerless. Shahid and Ranveer turn in fantastic performances but it is Deepika Padukone whose fire burns the brightest. The beauty, grace, dignity and pride with which she portrays the famed Queen Padmavati is one for the annals of cinematic history.

Bajirao Mastani – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in his long gestating magnum opus Bajirao Mastani based on the fabled romance of Bajirao Peshwa the great Maratha warrior and Mastani Bai the warrior princess of Bundelkhand. SLB is a master of star crossed lovers and breath-taking visuals that are second to none. It is no secret that SLB has likened Bajirao as a seminal tribute to the greatest Indian movie Mughl-e-Azam, a comparison that few would dare to want to draw to their own movies lest it fall short of the ShahJehan and Anarkali romance that shook the foundations of the Mughal dynasty.

 

Bajirao Mastani is stunning exercise in visual mastery that one has come to expect from SLB. While earlier Bhansali has relied primarily on enormous sets with ostentatious production values here he goes more for the panoramic shots of the horizon upon which many a battles erupt and end rather violently but the faint pinkish hue of the sky somehow applies a calming touch to the bloodshed. There is a shot where Bajirao mounts an attack on the Mughal king attacking Bundelkhand which has featured prominently in the trailers as well that shot is worthy of a LOTR comparison in terms of the fight choreography and the scene composition. There are many a visual cues that evoke a 300 or LOTR like vibe but not because they are replicated like in those Hollywood movies but more so because of the cleanness and the competence of the craft involved.

But war is not what Bhansali specialises in – Romance is where the auteur’s signature touch comes through. The main characters are introduced in such a casual fashion that it is clear that in Bhansali’s universe the story comes first and its stars later.

Speaking of its stars there are clear stand outs. Ranveer is fantastic once again as Bajirao Peshwa – the sword of the Maratha Empire that at once threatened to overthrow both the British and the Mughal invaders from India. Ranveer manages to strike a respectable restraint when portraying the poignant Maratha warrior and does not render him as a caricature but rather as someone worthy of the awe that surrounds him. Deepika as Mastani continues her winning streak with her ability to get to the essence of each of her characters and to pull each one off with an exquisite elegance. Madhubala she is not but the grace and poise with which she carries herself in royal courts is brilliantly juxtaposed by the fierce warrior that she is on the field. Deepika either has some magical powers or all the cinematographers she works with love her and are able to light her in ways that not even the most famed beauties have ever been shot as. There is a luminosity to her which seems to emanate from within her rather than from the outside. Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, Bajirao’s first wife is also wonderfully restrained. She carries her proud self while still letting slip her vulnerability in moments when she confronts Bajirao after he marries Mastani. While Deepika’s gestures are more languid and lyrical befitting a Muslim princess, those of Priyanka are more energetic and exaggerated as one would expect the women of Maharashtra to embody. Their dance off in Pinga is SLB’s directional nuances at his best. Priyanka wears a silk blouse while Deepika wears a velvet one, Deepika holds her head high while Priyanka bobs hers enthusiastically, Deepika arches her back yet manages to look long and lean while Priyanka goes in for the more energetic hip action. Both similar yet strikingly different. This is why when people complain that Bhansali goes for mostly ostentatious sets they seem to miss the minute details that he puts in to etching out his characters. Milind Soman as Pant Pradhan to Peshwa and Tanvi Azmi as Peshwa’s mother are important characters in the story and the choice of the actors couldn’t be any better. Milind Soman is rather unrecognizable yet entirely impressive.

No Bhansali movie is complete without a smashing sound track with memorable songs and tunes that linger on in your head long after you have left the theatre. And Bajirao Mastani is no different. Deewani Mastani is without a doubt the most visually stunning song, Pinga evokes a Dola Re déjà vu and has a catchy hook. Albela Sajan seems to be a straight lift from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but with the reworked music works well. The only sore spot is the Malhari song, that song has no place in the final cut of the movie it should have been left on the chopping floors.

Camera work by cinematographer Sudeep Chaterjee is beautiful. The scenes with Priyanka coming forth with the Aarti to welcome Bajirao, the slicing of the peacock feather and the dagger thrown at Chimmaji Appa are particularly captivating but it is the entire sequence in the Aaina mahal during Deewani Mastani and the triple jump and slash scene in the battle field are so good that they will become the hallmarks against which future cinematic references will be made.

The story and particularly the climax evokes strong Devdas vibes, The nods to Mughl-e-Azam are more than a few the Holi Song is Mohe Panghat pe, The jailing of Mastani is Utho hamara salam le lo. But despite these minor flaws this is a stunning piece of cinema and without a doubt the best I have seen this year coming out of Bollywood.

Watch this for Bhansali who for me is the best director working in Bollywood today who delivers with a consistency, a visionary who makes going to cinema worth it. Watch it for Ranveer who continues to defy expectations and delivers a performance that is equal parts abandon and equal parts restraint. Watch it for Priyanka who shines like a finely cut diamond in the hands of the master craftsman. And watch it for Deepika Padukone who continues to defy the law of averages and keeps getting better with each movie and is at present peer-less in Bollywood and the queen continues to reign supreme as the warrior princess.

Finding Fanny – A Review

Homi Adajania directs Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur in the the dark comedy Finding Fanny. In a clear departure from his last outing as director where Homi directed Deepika in cocktail, he goes back to territory he first explored with his directorial debut Being Cyrus.

Finding Fanny is the story of Ferdie played immaculately by Naseeruddin who is the oldest choir boy and post-master of a small goan village. Ferdie discovers a letter he wrote to the love of his life Stephanie, the eponymous Fanny, was never delivered to her.   Lamenting a unrequited love Ferdie confides in his best friend Angie played by the lissome Deepika Padukone. Together with her larger than life mother-in-law Rosie played by the ever-enchanting Dimple Kapadia, childhood friend Savio played by the brooding Arjun Kapoor and the lecherous Don Pedro an artist of international acclaim played to perfection by Pankaj Kapur, Angie and Ferdie set out to find Fanny.

This road trip takes us along the beautiful and scenic vistas of Goa reminding us once again that Goa is not only about beaches and booze. Other than Ferdie who is searching for the love of his life, every character is on a personal quest of sorts and they each manage to find it in a strange sort of way.

Don Pedro and his Ruben-esque love for the voluptuous Rosie is definitely the most guffaw inducing with his hammed-up, lecherous antics. There were two scenes which had me baffled and wondering if the director needed more time to resolve the outbursts. The first one involved Pedro finally finishing his portrait of Madame Rosaline and thus dubbing her vapid and empty – I think it should have been more about her insecurities and the lies she had bundled up to maintain appearances. The second was Rosie berating Savio about how he should have died instead of her own son Gabo, it seemed to be too abrupt with no real preamble or conclusion.

Deepika Padukone seems to be going from strength to strength with each movie and for her own good I hope she manages to strike a balance between box office blockbusters like Chennai Express and pseudo-indie movie like Finding Fanny because they help her grow as an actress. Here she lights up every scene she is in just by the slightest of knowing smiles as she adoringly indulges the lovable Fredie. There is an inner strength and conviction in her own craft that is clearly visible in her poise and composure throughout the movie. For me Deepika Padukone has well and truly arrived as the Queen Bee of Bollywood. Arjun Kapoor is surprisingly good as the brooding and pouty Savio and gets the job done. With Deepika around, Kapoor ends up being a supporting actor than a lead.  The trifecta of veterans Shah, Kapadia and Kapur are what lifts the movie from being a comedy of errors to a dark and brilliant comedy. Their craft is so nuanced that it leaves me baffled that they are not doing more movies.

Anil Mehta’s work behind the camera is brilliant as he takes on a journey through the leafy bylanes of rural goa and frames the perfect sunsets beautifully. The production on the movie is also top notch with kitschy and retro props that help transport the audience to rustic goa where the time literally stands still as no one is in a rush to do anything, Susegad as they say.

Finding Fanny feels more like a taut short story than an elaborate movie but is thoroughly entertaining. Deepika Padukone is reason enough to shell out your hard earned cash to catch this on the big screen. Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur and Naseerudding Shah are added bonus. Watch this movie because brave movies like these need the audience love and support to encourage directors like Homi Adajania to keep on this path and not steer off-course to cocktail land.

RamLeela – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in the “goliyon ki Rasleela – Ram Leela” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And after the directorial misstep that was Guzarish and the producing abomination that was Rowdy Rathore Bhansali retreads the familiar paths he etched with “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Devdas” and the result is a richly layered and textured visual masterpiece that manages to strike a balance in catering to the masses and appealing to the classes as well.

Ram as played by a mustard-oil drenched Ranveer Singh and Leela as played by the statuesque Deepika Padukone play the Romeo and Juliet belonging to the opposing clans of a village in Gujarat whose rivalry goes back 500 years. The ill-fated lovers lay eyes upon each other on holi-day and what unfolds is a tragic romance that has found innumerable adaptations and countless influences when it comes to love stories.

The story by Siddharth and Garima and also the screenplay steers clear of the clichéd and predictable tropes for most parts and manages to even surprise once or twice with you holding your breath as what unravels was so far away from the expected that the result is spectacular. I wish they had worked on giving the opening sequence a bit more dynamism than a person relaying the backstory and context to someone else via a telephone call. Also the second half really needed to be cut short to drive home the impact even more effectively but these are minor grievances.

Bhansali and Ravi Varman capture stunning visuals that are nobody’s business. There is no better visual auteur in India today who understands how to frame a beautiful shot than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Every shot is a painting that can be hung up on a wall. Every scene is visual poetry. The dance sequences are framed and shot with such throbbing vibrancy that you cannot help but take a sharp intake of breath as the set pieces unveil and the scenery is laid bare before you to soak in.  No one does water reflection shots like Bhansali does – from the glittering havelis of the tavayafs of chitpur from devdas to that one tracking shot in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam from the song “Dholi Taro” and here to Udaipur become Jantara and the lights of the city palace reflect like precious jewels in Lake Pichola. STUNNING! Another spectacular shot is that of Kesar running away from her pursuers and the rolling of the pot along with her – like I said visual poetry.

All this visual artistry would be wasted if it wasn’t for the solid acting chops on display. Ranveer who always makes me cringe with his off-screen presence (interviews et al) still manages to strike a balance between playing a playboy and transforming to the titular Ram (yes of the mythic Ramayana). Deepika just takes your breath away every time she is on screen with her beauty but she has grown in the acting department and how! This is perhaps the best she has ever been and she manages to carry most of the movie on her shoulder while Ranveer is focusing more on thrusting his pelvis every chance he gets.  Richa Chaddha and Barkha Bhisht who play the daughters- in – law of the Saneda and Rajadi clans respectively are brilliant in their respective roles. Supriya Pathak Kapur who plays Dhankor the clan-mother of the Saneda clan is power personified. She plays the lioness like Dhankor with such aplomb that I was going into giddy fits every time she appeared on screen. I would pay top dollar to watch Supriya Pathak’s Dhankor vs Shabana Azmi’s Santok Jadeja the fight of the godmothers would make Brando blush.

Another very important element of the movie is the music and the songs. Every song with the exception of Ishqiyaon Dhishkiyaon is perfectly suited to the movie and given that the lyrics were written by Siddharth and Garima who share story credits as well every song helps in furthering the story. The background score by Monty and the actual music by Bhansali himself infuse Gujarati Folk songs into every note that the movie pulsates with a rhythmic frenzy that can only be witnessed during the final notes of a Garba dance. The costumes deserve a special mention because utmost care is taken to champion the traditional handloom techniques of the different regions of Gujarat, from the Kutchi-threadwork to block prints, Patola-weaving to many other exquisite techniques that only act to enhance Deepika’s beauty.

While this is not a perfect movie and the opening sequence and the second half needed more care from Bhansali and the character of Ram didn’t need those many pelvic thrusts, this is a movie that must not be missed. Watch it for Bhansali who makes a triumphant return to directing epic love stories like only he can. Watch it for Deepika Padukone. Watch it for the visual artistry that does not rely on exotic foreign locales; watch it for set pieces that are unparalleled in Bollywood today. Watch it for this is a beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet