A queen who's more than just a pretty face

Deepika Padukone (above) and Ranveer Singh (left) star in Padmaavat.
Deepika Padukone (above) and Ranveer Singh star in Padmaavat.PHOTO: VIACOM 18 MOTION PICTURES/ YOUTUBE
Deepika Padukone (above) and Ranveer Singh (left) star in Padmaavat.
Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh (above) star in Padmaavat.PHOTO: VIACOM 18 MOTION PICTURES/ YOUTUBE

Beautiful Queen Padmavati rallies Rajput women to a stirring climax in the film Padmaavat



164 minutes/Now showing

Rating: 3/5

The story: Obsessed by Queen Padmavati's (Deepika Padukone) beauty and claiming her for himself, the tyrant Sultan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) lays siege on the kingdom of Chittor, which is ruled by her husband Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor).

Deepika Padukone's breathtaking beauty is in full effect in this movie, outshining ornate, gilded palace walls and the elaborate outfits she dons in director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's adaptation of poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi's 16th-century epic poem Padmavat.

Meanwhile, Shahid Kapoor as Ratan Singh radiates strength as he frequently spells out the credos of his Rajput warrior caste: A Rajput would never attack a guest in his house or an enemy who is wounded.

But Ranveer Singh's devil-incarnate Sultan Alauddin has no time for stoicism or decorum. He is repulsive, the sort of ruthless madman who does not bat an eyelid killing his own family members, leering into the camera while he does it. Singh plays the character with aplomb in what is certainly a career-defining role for the actor who is more often cast as the romantic lead in mega Bollywood productions.

His Alauddin, whose only goal is conquest, is the sort who would slit his own hand and unflinchingly rub the blood on his face as warpaint. While other characters are bound by code, he is unfettered, dancing with animalistic abandon on the celebratory song Khali Bali. His performance is magnetic and you can't look away.

In fact, he provides the energy in the film that would otherwise languish in the director's usual tableau of vivid jewel tones, regal fabrics and palatial complexes.

Coming in at almost three hours, perhaps a little too much time is spent lingering - sometimes in slow motion - on the gorgeous faces of the leads and their costumes, instead of moving the plot along.

There is plenty of other drama, but it is perhaps not as riveting because the dichotomy between good and evil is too stark. Characters are black or white, with no subtleties, and the moralistic tone of the Rajput code of ethics becomes cumbersome after a while. You can often predict what is going to happen next.

This is not the first time Bhansali has directed real-life couple Singh and Padukone, who were previously seen as star-crossed lovers in Ram Leela (2013) and Bajirao Mastani (2015).

While Singh and Padukone are electric on screen together, this time she plays opposite Kapoor instead. Though there is barely any sexual tension, there is a believable tenderness in their relationship that manages to peek through the extravagance of a Bhansali production.

Thankfully, Padukone's Padmavati gets to be more than a pretty face in the second half of the film as she rallies the Rajput women in the lead-up to the stirring climax, which is masterfully handled by Bhansali.

As expected of the director, the cinematography is stunning, but the terrible CGI animals and explosions are jarring and not what one would expect of a film of this scale.

While the film was mired in controversy before its release, the rumoured romantic liaison between Alauddin and Padmavati that sparked violent protests by Hindu radicals in India before the movie opened, does not even take place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2018, with the headline 'A queen who's more than just a pretty face'. Print Edition | Subscribe