I at the end of Padmavat

It was saturating to come by long-form reviews, blogs, microblogs and all other available formats of opinions about Padmavati – some critical, some complacent and others congratulating. For this saturation I blamed the natural felon – the digital revolution that enabled everyone to express their expert opinion – and now am taking advantage of the same platform to express some of my own. Let’s put one more voice on top of the noise.

Padmavati. Where do we begin?

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One of the reviews was from Namrata Joshi from The Hindu. She picks a few threads that did not go down well with her. She says the climactic jauhar has been carefully orchestrated and glorified; totally out of depth in these #MeToo times. And that “for the jauhar, Padmavati has to seek her husband’s permission”. It is easy to disagree with her with respect to this because:

  1. As we are shown, and as it is easy to understand, the Rajputs are ceremonial people. So there is no point expecting to see their queen and her followers announcing their death and falling to it in the next shot. And as Cinema demands, there is a mandatory need for tension in the sequence: in her decision and its acceptance; in Alauddin Khilji’s futile attempt to steal at least one glance of his dream woman. So if this orchestration, if this staging, had been missing, we would have only criticised Bhansali for the hurried, perfunctory climax.
  2. There is statement pasted before the film starts: that this film is based on a poem written around the events shown. The glorification of sati, of a practice dutifully followed in itihaas, of an event penned down in the poem, therefore can neither be Bhansali’s directorial decision, nor the endorsement of the crew. Could be that the reviewer was a few minutes late to the theatre. Also, why did #MeToo appear here? Is the filmmaker necessitated to validate his script and choices against social media hashtags?

She also writes Padmavati “deliberately lives on the extremes”, and I heartfully agree with this. The demonisation of Ranveer Singh’s character is lazy writing. He could be a man with one foot in scruples and the other in cesspool, and this choice would have lent dimension to the character, rather than having to seek it in 3D, a tool uncalled for in this picture.

To nitpick others’ reviews is difficult, both for me and the reviewer (if (s)he sees this post). To look at my own two cents, I strongly feel the narrative was facile. As we settle down to watch Alauddin Khilji’s story, we drift to important occurances in Padmavati’s life. Well, the title did warn us it is her story. So as we reorient ourselves (tough in the cushion chair allotted to me) and lean on her narrative, her husband Ratan Singh bad mannerdly intervenes, just as he comes between Khilji and the queen every time the man readies himself to realise his dream. And then there is hope lighted for the raj guru’s own villainy narrative, but he reduces to being a unexplored instrument.

How would it have been to see Khilji as a decent sultan (we can dismiss the killing of his predecessor as it might have been normal for those fellows in those times) and his hearing of Padmavati’s beauty inciting the storyline and giving him his motive. After this we could have simply followed him through his systematic investigation, learning of her, her husband, how they came to be, etc. and his own qualms of being interested in someone else’s wife could be the inner conflict, while the external conflicts could be his journey to and stay in Mewar, a potential mutiny among his soldiers, and his wife’s resistance to his motive. All along, we could just be Malik Kafur (the dedicated eunuch and confidante of the sultan) or some other fellow traveler in Khilji’s journey as he fights forces in him and others to set eyes on a promised beauty.

This way, the film would have stood up from simply being a telling of incidents, to being a powerful, emotionally packed insightful story. (This narrative would mean tilting the poem written, but it’s nothing that’s not permitted by this craft’s liberty.)

At the end of the three-hour experience, Padmavati felt fascinating and susceptible of improvement at once.

Bitterest feeling: The film’s renaming. Nothing shown to me seemed injurious to the Rajput pride nor warranting a snip at the title.

Happiest feeling: Sathyam Cinema’s parking charge is just too pocket-friendly.

Surprise feeling: This story has already been filmed in Tamil in 1963, called Chittoor Rani Padmini.

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Kaatru Veliyidai – To Like or Not to Like

What is the film? Is it the breeze you want to embrace? Or the dusty storm you want to run from? Whichever side you snuggle to, there is no denying Kaatru Veliyidai‘s lead character VC is perhaps the most complex role ever written in Kollywood.

VC, for Varun Chakrapani, is played by Karthi, an Indian fighter pilot made and kept charming throughout the film. And one layer beneath that charm resides everything we don’t want to see in a hero. Self-obsession, aggressive confidence, a pound of ego and chunk of misplaced romanticism.  It is all these that conduct half the dynamics of this relationship story.

The other half is Leela Abraham, a doctor girl who keeps going back to VC all through the film regardless of how carelessly he treats her: he shouts at her; twists her hand; pulls her to his lap, only to stress the fact that she’s a girl and can’t afford to be anything but beautiful. In her own words, he sees her like a pet dog and not as an equivalent with self-esteem. And briefly in a scene, we see his father is very similar: dominating, and if disrespected in the least, a violent man.

There are two beautiful, subtle-as-snowflake scenes that unravel for us these two characters. One shows us the romantic Leela is. She’s been hearing of VC since her twelfth grade through her brother’s letters (he’s VC’s colleague). She has not seen him at all, but has been hearing of him for years. Imagine what years of highly opinioned letters from a close brother could do to a mellow girl. It is this combination of mystery, age and credibility that makes her accept VC’s date invite. Once here, he only had to smile his charming smile and show-off some heroics to make her realise she has fallen for him years, years ago. And this is precisely why she doesn’t leave him at all.

The second luminance is about VC. He has taken Leela to a snowy peak, but in a minute senses a snow storm approaching them. He tries to take her away for her safety, but forcefully, and when she resolutely expresses her wish to stay longer, he warns he may slap her. She asks him what the storm could do and he replies it could swallow them entirely. ‘Couldn’t you have said this earlier? Instead, why treat harshly?’ she asks. That is VC. He cares, he loves, but all in his own self-centered, gene-inherited way. Even when we see him woo her with a song and much love, it is only, we realise later, to boast to his friends he can get his girl back.

So the internal conflict is himself. He loves her, quotes Bharathi, and calls her ‘Azhagu Rani’, but he can’t let her have her own way and can’t even marry her because he fears he wouldn’t make a good father, a good husband. The external conflict is Kargil, which captures and locks him in Rawalpindi prison. Left alone, he thinks of his mistakes, how much cruelty he must have dumped on the woman who had given him her everything. Fragments of memories and a rudimentary love now assuming shape in the absence of the woman it stands for keeps him sane and helps him escape prison, and Pakistan.

That most of us have in some point in our lives thought and acted like him connects us to the film, but to feel this, the audience I watched the film with wanted something stronger than snowflakes. Missiles of messagey writing would have maybe given them reason to connect.

While coming to like the film or simply dismissing it is a personal issue, missing the subtleties that underscore the story and stroke every character’s image is as grave as the sin VC self-confesses near climax. For the film is a visual thesis on character study. It plucks an exemplary one of us to show us what we basically are and how mad we can get, in and out of love.

Some of Ratnamisms are retained in this film. The most important being the hero’s romance built on an equal proportion of love and lust, if not more of lust. It is evidenced throughout the film and in the songs Saaratu Vandila and Azhagiye. But in my opinion, nothing can match this outright lyric from Aayutha Ezhuthu: Kadhal konjam kammi, kaamam konjam thookal.