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.

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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.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

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B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

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 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

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