Friday 26 January 2018

"Padmaavat" (Guardian 26/01/18)

Padmaavat ****
Dir: Sanjay Leela Bhansali. With: Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Aditi Rao Hydari. 164 mins. Cert: 12A

After the trial-by-fire this reimagining of a 16th century epic verse underwent in its native India – onset mob violence targeting director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, death threats against leading lady Deepika Padukone, the loss of an “i” in a court-ordered retitling – the surprise is that its vision should emerge as so complete, with big-picture images that would set a Kurosawa or Lean to salivating. What those unruly mobs imagined lay ahead – the besmirching of a sainted heroine – is nowhere to be seen. What is evident is a measure of knowing camp (guyliner! CG ostriches! a bathing scene to out-queer Spartacus!) and beauty enough for a thousand features.

Bhansali has pared back poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s narrative line – loved-up royals (played here by Padukone and Shahid Kapoor) find themselves under siege from a grabby Sultan (Ranveer Singh), determined to plunder continents and women alike – and overwritten it with around two billion Rupees of opulence. Yet as in Bajirao Mastani, this director’s gleaming Christmas bauble of 2015, it’s not just the extravagance that catches the eye, but the precision with which it’s applied. Every twirl of every sari and every arrow in every battle appears to have been guided by the hands of angels.

Such excess could have proved deadening, but dynamic deployment of old-school star power keeps almost all its scenes alive with internal tensions. Kapoor and Padukone make a most handsome couple, while Singh, pitching up somewhere between peak Alan Rickman and The Lion King’s Scar, offers a study in toxic masculinity that is close to irresistible. For all the hoo-ha, it’s a simpler film than Bajirao – contentedly paralleling its kingdoms of love and hate – and perhaps a little more trad in its sexual politics. Yet while it’s unfolding before us, it provides – whatever else the courts insist we call it – stirring, seductive spectacle. 

Padmaavat is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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