Kabir Singh Movie Review: Testosterone-fueled, toxic love can still thrive in 2019, this film sings a paean to that

There’s enough meat be enjoyed in the film – provided, you leave your opinions regarding gender portrayals behind

Going gaga over this angry young man can seriously hamper your chances of being accepted in social situations
Image Source: Google

Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa, Adil Hussain

Two specific scenes in the Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh come to my mind when I think of a key trait that shapes Kabir, the angry young man of 2019. In the first half – let’s call it scene A – the hero, in a mad dash to get some booty, turns up at a young woman’s house to romp it up. She is thrilled too, except, she changes her mind at the last minute when her fiancé turns up at the door, asking Kabir to leave. Our protagonist, angered, shoves a knife in her face asking her to undress and make good her word. No, I am not making any of this up.

In the other scene in the second half (let’s call this scene B), Kabir and a popular Bollywood actress (played by Nikita Dutta), snuggled in the latter’s car in the middle of nowhere, seem to be assessing each other’s breaths before making a carnal move. Guarded by a reluctant, mildly disgusted driver standing a little distance away from the car, the two, in hurriedly stripped-down states, ready themselves to get it on – when a soft “I love you Kabir” jerks our hero back into reality. In a split second, all plans of sexual gratification are flung out the window, as he walks away, leaving a shocked, heartbroken, half-undressed woman calling out his name, pleading with him to come back.

Kabir doesn’t. He hates the mere mention of love.

And perhaps, the woman’s exercise of her agency in matters of sex and relationships.

The trajectory from scene A to B is clearly steeped in copious amounts of expensive and dirt-cheap alcohol, drugs, cussing, irrational aggression, familial abandonment, social humiliation, public ridicule and condemnation, and more – never grazing the one characteristic in the hero that ought to have been addressed, one that could have redeemed the character to a great extent: Kabir’s sense of entitlement and a stubborn will to play by the rules. His rules only.

The pattern is prevalent from start to finish. In fact, it is no more apparent than in a showdown with the dean of the college (Adil Hussain) over his violent, uncontrolled behaviour on the football field resulting in a well-deserved suspension. Kabir, quick as lightning, respectfully retorts, reducing the dean to a mere employee “who was just doing his duty” while asserting himself as one of the torchbearers of the university and its pride by virtue of his position as a student par excellence, on and off the field. There are numerous other instances where we get to witness that flash of privilege in Kabir’s demeanour – the very first time he locks eyes with the docile, demure Preeti (Kiara Advani) and walks into a classroom to “inform” the juniors of his newfound interest so as to “mark his territory” via the announcement “Woh meri bandi hai”, or the way he kisses Preeti on the cheek – without her consent, no less – in full public view- cementing his mark – both are testimony to a full-scale manifestation of toxic masculinity. Backed by raucous laughter and soft chuckling on this side of the silver screen, of course.

If that is not enough to establish our lead’s bravado, then please note: Kabir is also the super brain, multitasking orthopaedic surgeon who holds a record of operating hundreds of patients (more than his fair share) – without causing a single life to pop out – all while being stoned drunk. Thankfully, this one flaw in his character is not celebrated despite the subtle and overt eulogies tendered to his other traits.

 As flawed and precarious the character arc is, we are not quite sure what makes Kabir Singh the raging, vicious wayward man he is. But we understand, that having wealthy influential parents, a doting brother (Arjan Bajwa) who ought to have slapped him at least 20 scenes earlier, multiple academic and professional badges of honour caking his persona, and a gang of friends who enable his crass, abusive behaviour by either cheering him on or laughing it off – is far too much temptation to will away. In these given circumstances as well as the heightened context lent to the character by placing him in Delhi (the land of false machismo and regressive gender attitudes), what is a man to do but turn outward and unleash his most destructive states on his immediate environment?

Kabir Singh is what most men dream to be – the holder of an “impeccable academic record”, topper of the board and the university, “one of the best ever” – and the wearer of jaw-dropping sexiness in that I-don’t-need-to-try-hard-to-get-chicks style is the allure that men and women secretly wish to possess. Albeit, in different capacities. Raw maleness dripping in every frame, the hero’s near-obsessive attempts at securing the woman’s affections, intense combats with opponents/anti-heroes and a subtle theme of ‘love conquers all’ has long been a staple of Hindi movies. While on one hand it reaffirms the social standing for the men, it projects to the women the kind of guy they must aspire to because, well, that is the stuff Mills & Boon is made of.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Kabir Singh, however, cuts out the rigmarole of delving into the female lead’s internal conflict and her thoughts about the potential lover in question. There is no internal dialogue, no conversation shared with friends as regards the suitability of the suitor and no objection raised to Kabir’s manhandling of Preeti as he walks into her classroom, asks her about the topic of the day and leads her out saying he would tutor her on the same. Heads bow down collectively, justifiably prying eyes turn away from the couple as Kabir takes Preeti around the college, out riding his bike, even as he packs her bags and gets her to live with him in the boys’ hostel.

To say it was mildly disturbing yet funny (primarily for the director’s witty portrayal of the lead pair’s dynamics) would be an understatement. If Kabir, on his part, is supremely confident that his affections and searing interest are being reciprocated, never mind the domination, Preeti, on her part, is equally compliant in the way the relationship begins, progresses, even till the point it breaks off – by following her lover’s lead, content in playing by his rules. In 2019, when feminism and sexuality are a hot topic, the portrayal of a romantic relationship with such skewed power dynamics and the concept of “ownership” is bound to raise eyebrows. And yet, before we castigate the makers of Kabir Singh for being primitive, sadistic and setting a dangerous example for the youth of the nation – it cannot be denied that they are clearly playing to the gallery. The fact that the director Vanga’s original Telugu movie Arjun Reddy (2017) was touted as a commercial and critical box office hit, thus, paving the way for a Hindi remake of the same, is evidence enough of which side of the moral high ground the average viewer occupies.

Shahid Kapoor as Kabir is phenomenal – from the word go. Whether he is ruthlessly smashing opponents on the football field, declaring to the dean that he has “no regrets about who he is”, fighting for the love of his life but also expressing in a moment of weakness his vulnerability or demanding his lover to stand up to her father with the kind of intensity she otherwise expresses when she is with him, like she “owns him” – Kapoor as Kabir hits high octane notes on almost all fronts. It would be safe to say that he manages to render a certain charm – and humaneness- to this gravely unlikable character, so much so that at one point you find yourself rooting for him, despite knowing fully well he has been digging himself trenches for far too long and must, one day or the other, pay the price for it. The sight and sound of a bottle popping up every now and then gets repetitive, however, Kapoor nails it with the nuance of a polished actor. Ultimately, even though he shocks you with his unconventional, insolent attitude, you care for him and want the self-inflicted torture to end.

Kiara Advani, on the other hand, massively underplays Preeti. If you can come to terms with the fact that she does not speak one whole sentence in the first 45 minutes (barring saying her name out loud twice), then there is much to be surprised by how the character transforms as the minutes go by (provided you have not watched the original).

A woman like Preeti might seem like a rare sight in 2019
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The climax, in particular, pays tribute to her passable evolution over the course of the film – startling both the audience and, for a moment, Kabir himself. Her scenes with Kabir during their time in the college are refreshing, passionate and filled with the sweet angst most teenagers and young adults in love would find relatable. Special mention to Royal Enfield for heightening the pair’s romance on the roads, as well as later redefining Kabir’s relationship with his true self. The frills aside, the infantilization of the leading lady and her largely wallflower-like characterization is bound to rub many viewers the wrong way.

Adil Hussain is commanding, despite a brief appearance. Suresh Oberoi as Kabir’s father packs a punch as the authoritarian rich dad who refuses to take his son’s frequent brushes with authority (both in and outside the college) as well as the boy’s rebellious, angry ways lightly. Kamini Kaushal as Kabir’s grandmother is effective, despite a brief role. Her understanding of her grandson’s defiant and provocative ways, as well as her reluctance to intervene in his processing of his personal grief is subtly philosophical, never treading the preachy route.

In the medley of performances and a bevy of characters thrown in, Shiva (Soham Majumdar), playing Kabir’s best friend, sidekick, and even on occasions his man Friday, puts up a stellar performance. Loyal, trustworthy, patient and miraculously accepting of his bestie’s constant emasculation of his less-than-macho ways and lack of confidence (or should I say an absence of sho-sha of masculinity), he is the kind of friend you want to have by your side when you’re plodding through hellfire. Or well, just to experience life in its sweetest, most sparkling glory. It is a pity Shiva’s constant pleas – asking Kabir to move the fuck on and do something concrete with his life – are met with ignorance and a few more bottles of alcohol.

Despite holding divided opinions on the content of the movie, people are quite in agreement when it comes to the music of Kabir Singh. The timeless ‘Bekhayali’ can compel you to dig up every past pain you may have buried in your chest and cry unshed tears. Yes, even the ones in currently happy relationships. ‘Kaise Hua’, my second favorite from the album, is sweetly melancholic and draws you in as you try to make sense of this odd couple falling in a deep, mad love. ‘Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum’ haunts you long after you listen to it, spelling the pain and anguish of broken love no song in recent times has succeeded in. The other tracks – ‘Yeh Aaina’ and ‘Pehla Pyaar’ are hummable too.

As for the cinematography, cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran’s captures of camera angles are crisp, taut and soft enough to bring out the different shades of the story. The sequences with Kabir riding the bike (alone as well as with Preeti), a stray scene where the old, dusty bike is getting ‘cleansed’ (quite literally) are impressive. These little details bring out a touch more magic than is indicated by the actual storyline of the movie.

As mentioned earlier, it may have been a more solid redemption had Kabir moved away from “Woh meri bandi hai” (she is my girl) to “pehle usse toh pooch lun” (I should maybe ask her once). Having said that, his character, however blemished, is fierce, fearless, and does not mind taking risks…it is adrenaline-pumping watching a human walk single-mindedly towards the object of his desire. However vehemently the audience may protest such mania.

Kabir Singh is controversy designed as a rollicking good tale, turning love stories on their head, and unabashedly telling you – that not all love is equal, but maybe, not all love needs to be so long as concerned parties come away feeling loved. To summarize it – if the world can go gaga over Fifty Shades of Grey, Kabir Singh would likely seem enjoyable, albeit, a mere warm-up for people intending to explore the darker side of love.

Rating: Purely, in terms of entertainment value and the fact that I have good sense to divorce cinema from its inherent social impact, I’m going with 4/5.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu Review: This Shahid Kapoor starrer is well-intentioned, but trips far too much

Promises some heavy-duty storytelling, but mostly feels like it is running out of power.

Director: Shree Narayan Singh

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha  Kapoor, Divyendu Sharma, Yami  Gautam, Farida Jalal, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Atul Srivastava

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Set against the backdrop of the picturesque hilly town of Tehri in Uttarakhand, Batti Gul Meter Chalu begins on a rather attention-grabbing note – with an archery competition in the dark, where the winner gets enough fuel to keep the neighbourhood community centre’s generator running for six months. If this unusual motivation behind winning the local competition does not sufficiently stir your curiosity, a few fused light bulbs later – added to the rampant town talk of electrical grid failures – let you have a sneak peek into what dominates the existence of the inhabitants. Acute power shortages, and ironically, inflated bills.

Amidst near-perpetual darkness engulfing the city and mostly nondescript lives of the locals, there is however, a trio that finds its joy and light in the idiosyncrasies of its ordinary existence. Sushil Kumar Pant (fondly addressed as SK by his friends, played by Shahid), Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma) and Lalita Nautiyal (Nauti) are childhood friends and thick as a bunch, despite their wildly different personalities.

SK is a crafty lawyer, who doesn’t mind breaking the law to make a buck, whereas Sundar, entrepreneur-in-the-making is the gentle one, and more of a straight shooter. Nauti, the feistiest of them all, is an aspiring fashion designer aiming for the stars, is outspoken and can easily be slotted into the stereotype reserved for Hindi film heroines, which, as the norm goes, hardly scores any brownie points for how the movie perceives women.

From sneaking out to their favorite adda and drinking till they drop, to chatting and joking about mundane, everyday stuff, the three friends find easy comfort and boundless platonic love in each other’s company. Until, Nauti wakes up one fine day to realize she is of marriageable age, and decides to navigate this new path by dating the boys in turns, for a week each. Needless to say, the arrangement to find the perfect “husband material” in this slipshod fashion is childish, to say the least. At its worst, it spells disaster and brings about the ruin of their years-long camaraderie. And eventually the narrative of BGMC.

Their predictable friction notwithstanding, the real backstory is that of faulty meters and extortionate bills, which, naïve and honest Sundar becomes a poster victim of. With a bill of a whopping 54 lakhs to pay, his printing press business practically comes to a standstill, and with no respite in sight due to a callous, insensitive system, Sundar is driven to the edge. Quite literally.

This medley of events doesn’t quite seem like a tremendous lot to carry, and yet, BGMC takes an arduous 1.5 hours to get to the core – time wasted in picking apart pointless nuances of the trio’s friendship, and squeezing in out-of-context song-and-dance routines on ludicrous lyrics such as, and I kid you not, When you getting Gold, Why go for Tamba. And of course, time spent in establishing and re-establishing the authenticity of the pahaadi/Garhwali setting, courtesy an excessive use of words like “bal” and “thehra”. After hammering the local dialect into our eardrums as a suffix to practically every sentence uttered by literally every character in the movie no less than twenty times within the first twenty minutes, I figured the makers could easily have titled the movie Batti Bal, Meter Thehra.

However, that is not the only exasperating bit about BGMC. The movie, which actually delves into the menace of power shortage, the role of corrupt private electricity companies and (as we come to see later) and the absolute inefficiency of the government in living up to the thousand and one promises made in recent years (cough, cough, “Acche din” subtly couched as “Badhiya din” in the movie), only in the second half, slips and trips ominously, much like the subject it deals with.

The second half follows almost the exact same graph as the director’s 2017 feature Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, with minor differences. In Toilet, what begins as a Prem Katha becomes a full-fledged documentary of social activism, replete with viral videos, protests and an ode to the government’s unfailing work towards improving and maintaining national hygiene. In BGMC, we are treated to the explosive effect of social media virality and innovative, eye-grabbing protests yet again (with people from over three states sending in fused light bulbs to the electricity provider’s office), however this time around, it is intended to be a mockery of the government’s failure in addressing a basic, fundamental right of the common man – access to electricity supply. Most denizens in the hinterlands of the country have to go without power supply for weeks and months on end, living crippled lives, despite the gazillion welfare schemes promised by the government – the fact that BGMC even attempts to broach the subject and make hard-hitting notes about the same is praiseworthy. However, a gauche execution of the same belittles even the best of the makers’ intentions, clumping it as trivial and farcical by the end.

For instance, during the second half which primarily deals with a courtroom drama, Shahid Kapoor as the common man’s representative – in a laudable turnaround from his cocky, crooked avatar in the first half – thinks nothing of shooting witty repartees and sexist jokes at the defence lawyer (Yami Gautam), possibly to diffuse the seriousness of the matter being dealt with. From body shaming Gulnaar (Yami’s character) to asking her out for coffee as an aside to their cross-examination, it is obvious the makers have left no stone unturned in playing to the gallery. And while it does draw cheap laughs from the spectators in the courtroom and the theater-going audience alike, it blatantly undermines the very message it so grandiosely wants to convey to the aam janta, thereby diluting the narrative of the movie further down.

Despite a weak script flagging off in places, the lead actors and the supporting cast do an earnest job in portraying their respective roles. Shahid as SK plays every bit the arrogant, witty, wicked chap in the first half quite effectively. From his deliberate swagger right in the opening scene, and his surefooted moves as he attempts to woo Nauti, to his greyer-than-grey shades with the friendship going haywire, he hits the right notes with each emotion. It is however, the ‘good boy SK with a change of heart’ version of Sushil the audience is bound to love, as he combines equal parts shrewdness, aggressiveness, empathy and a sense of justice to fight the villains. The collective cause Sushil goes on to represent makes him the hero, almost akin to David fighting Goliath, and will likely strike a chord with the masses. Special mention to his grasp over the pahaadi dialect (however infuriating the utterance of ‘bal’ and ‘thehra’ might be), his ability to shift gears and convey a different persona in the latter half, despite his basic character staying consistent.

Divyendu Sharma as Sundar plays the gentle, meek ordinary guy with much needed restraint, and manages to hold his own, despite Kapoor’s boisterous performance taking up a huge chunk of the screen time. Shraddha Kapoor is relatable as Nauti, but is relegated to the background post-interval and does no more than huff and puff in the guise of playing part-time social activist.

The most regrettable bit about BGMC though, is that it fails to utilize veteran talents such as Farida Jalal and Supriya Pilgaonkar, who are completely wasted in this venture. So is Sushmita Mukherjee, whose character as the judge has been dealt with quite irresponsibly in this venture – from discussing cricket amidst court proceedings to merely pursing her lips at SK’s outrageous conduct – she is made out to be a mere caricature. It is evidently intended for some easy laughs; unfortunately, Mukherjee is no Saurabh Shukla, who famously carried his role as the seemingly laidback but principled judge in both the instalments of Jolly LLB – with just the right degrees of sobriety and panache.

Yami Gautam’s performance as Advocate Gulnaar Rizwi? Well. Silence.

The cinematography is blotchy, and impresses in bits and pieces, and so is the music. With the exception of Atif Aslam’s Dekhte Dekhte, the composition is nothing to write home about. Add to these flaws, the movie clocks in 161 minutes of run time, which makes Batti Gul Meter Chalu look like a hapless bulb blinking on for dear life, testing reserves of your patience.

As you walk out of the theater, you feel neither indignant nor concerned about the common man’s plight. In short, meh.

Rating: 3/5

(purely for a brave attempt at dealing with the crucial issue of power shortage, the lead actors’ performances and the occasional bouts of laughter)

Padmaavat (i): Ranveer Singh’s Khilji steals the show even as you can’t quite take your eyes off Deepika

Hands down, Bhansali’s period drama is a testament to the raw acting prowess of Ranveer Singh.

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You would have to be living under a rock if you still haven’t heard/read/debated the billion controversies surrounding Padmavati, right up to the point of its release where it was reduced to Padmaavat (minus the scintillating ‘i’) with as many as 300 cuts. 

And if your curiosity has not yet been stoked, despite the unasked-for-constant-stream-of-assault-on-the-senses via scathing movie reviews, think-pieces and just plain rants on the magnum opus flooding the internet, know that I envy your aloofness and determination to stay away from this muck, but also know, that you might possibly be missing out on one of the fiercest performances of a Bollywood hero in recent times, minus the excessive praise showered on Rajput valour.

Does Padmaavat cater to the bombastic, upscaled grandeur of Bhansali’s vision and overwhelm you with its largeness? Yes.

Is it an accurate account of historical events? No.

So what can we take away from this semi-historical, sometimes borderline annoying cine fest? Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of the quirky, psychopathic Alauddin Khilji, arguably his career’s best till date.

From the moment Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) steps into the pallid dark grey frame of the betrayal-infested darbar of his crook of an uncle, Jalaluddin Khilji (Raza Murad), with a CGI-constructed humongous ostrich by his side instead of just its hair as asked for, his intent eyes set on the breathtakingly beautiful Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari, playing Jalaluddin’s daughter) and the tantalizing pull of the Khilji throne simultaneously, you get a sneak peek into the evil residing in this man, lurking in every inflection of the words spoken, every twitch of the lips, every gaze lingering a second too long.

And when he mouths this famed line: “Kaynat ki har nayab cheez par bas Khilji ka haq hai”, you know you’re set to witness an extravaganza  of talent-meets-opportunity, in almost every frame Singh inhabits as the tyrant Afghan ruler. You are made aware of the lengths the monster Khilji can go to and the rules he is ready to break to obtain every ‘nayab cheez’ that comes his way. So if it means engaging in semi-adultery right on the night of his wedding, so be it. If it means betraying his uncle and having him assassinated by the very slave, Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh) gifted to him so he can finally declare himself Sultan, so be it. And in the same vein, if it means he has to endure mountains and deserts and some gauche humiliation for a man in his position, to invade the formidable Chittor so he can ‘have’ Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), so be it.

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This single line of thought defines Bhansali’s Khilji, a man so possessed by an all-consuming desire for a woman whose exquisite beauty he has only ever heard of, but never seen or experienced in person. Granted, this makes Alauddin Khilji look almost uni-dimensional and much like an incensed,  stalkerish lover-boy rather than the ruthless, strategic ruler he was; however, any regular cine-goer and Bhansali’s fan would realize this outright show of villainy and the smattering of barbarism in the character is only an old Bollywood trope of pandering to the good versus evil, Ram versus Raavan Hindu narrative.

In fact, this contrast is ever more apparent when paired against Shahid Kapoor’s Maharawal Ratan Singh’s sobriety and his unrelenting grip on Rajput aan, baan shaan, of which, of course, Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) is the center piece.

A couple brownie points for the story though: thankfully, the movie borrows only the romanticized account of Khilji’s conquest of Chittor as narrated in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat (the source 2018’s Padmaavat is inspired by). Had the director chosen instead to adapt the entire poem for the silver screen, we might just have come to know what a dickhead Chittors’s Ratansen was in the first place, given his seven-seas journey to capture Rani Padmini’s heart based on mere hearsay.

Doesn’t make for an epic tale of war and love, right and wrong,  does it, when you have two idiots with near-exact temperaments fighting for the same thing?

And so we stick to Padmaavat, where Raja Ratan Singh happens to be the lucky bloke coming back home with a stunning second wife from the distant land of Singhal, when he was only seemingly on a vacation hunting rare pearls for the first wife. And we have Padmavati who, by the show of it knows how to shoot arrows, knows her mind, and still falls for the douchebag Ratan Singh, making for a love story as cold as the ice in Siberia. From happily picnicking in the jungles of Singhal, the duo go on to get married before the audience could go “wtf!” and return hand-in-hand to the home turf in Chittor, sparking the general praja’s awe, royal priest Raghav Chetan’s (Aayam Mehta) lust, and the first wife’s jealousy.

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Matters move speedily, as the priest is caught snooping in on the king and queen’s intimate moments and is promptly thrown out of the kingdom. The fact that Raghav Chetan is let out alive instead of getting beheaded alludes to Rajput honour, as we first come to know, and, are repeatedly reminded around 145890 times over the course of the movie. This obvious lack of foresight on the part of the Rajputs also drives the rest of the story ahead, as Chetan, on his way out vows to bring Chittor to its ruins, which, as see see over the course of the movie, he succeeds at accomplishing.

Despite the rather quick introduction of the three main characters (Ratan Singh, Padmavati and Khilji), the story doesn’t quite progress as fast as one would have liked it to. Bhansali takes his own sweet time in building up the background and digging into the motives driving each of these three characters, while we are invited to soak in the palette of hues and colors, and the air of grace and ferocity simmering at both ends of the extremely diverse worlds forming the battleground of this epic love triangle.

I say ‘love triangle’ solely because of the almost romantic touch Singh brings to his character – the helplessness, desperation and the heart-brokenness is apparent in a scene in the film when Khilji ends up realizing his near-futile attempt of getting a glimpse of Padmavati after spending a whole night waiting outside his camp dangerously close to Chittor fort. Amidst the manic depravity, ruthlessness, even boisterousness, Ranveer manages to bring out a seemingly softer side of the cold-blooded ruler, which is a major coup in itself and as much of an artistic liberty a director can take when relying on a fictitious tale.

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Padmaavat, in no way is a straightforward saga of love, war and heartbreak though; its inherent turmoils deepened by Khilji’s marriage to Mehrunissa, and a simultaneous relationship shared with the slave-cum-companion Malik Kafur. Hydari enacts Mehrunissa with plenty of vulnerability and tenderness, but we see her largely relegated to the background until after the second half begins.

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With Kafur though, Bhansali seems to have taken a chance, choosing to subtly portray the undertones of a homosexual relationship between the slave and his master, rather than a blatant mention of the same. Jim Sarbh as Kafur is outstanding as Khilji’s homosexual aide, never loud or comical (as most Bollywood movies as wont to portray), with a queer accent and a gentleness characteristic of his position in the Sultan’s life. Sarbh continues to make an impact from the time he played a key role in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, and topped it off with a different shade in the rather disappointing Raabta. In Padmaavat though, he might have taken on his biggest challenge till date, playing a homosexual character without making it raunchy, exaggerated or an outlet for comic relief.

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Kudos to Bhansali as well for crushing ‘gay’ stereotypes and bringing out nuances in Kafur’s character, while lending a fatalistic touch to this behind-the-scenes relationship,  and while it is neither celebrated nor denounced, the mystery behind this amorous chapter adds an extra layer of complexity to Singh’s Khilji – we don’t see him trying to shake off his bisexuality, or deny its existence, even when he is busy raging wars in a bid to capture Padmavati.

As torch-bearers of Rajput pride and valour, Shahid and Deepika nearly fit in the template of grace, magnetism and restraint demanded of their respective characters. In the director’s world of excesses, it is a miracle how they manage to effectively portray their love more through subtle glances and tenderly spoken words, rather than outright expressions of passion. Kapoor however, mostly lets us down after starting off smoothly, as we watch him struggle under the weight of the laden Rajputana values – his stomach sucked in, his lips puckered in an ungainly pout, and his nostrils flaring, we see him reduced to a cardboard character where somehow being robot-like is a substitute for being taken seriously. Stacked against Khilji’s savagery, Ratan Singh’s self-righteous, stern demeanor is reduced to a puddle, blowing off unnecessary steam without causing any real damage to the opponent.

As a sensible viewer, you are appalled and annoyed by how Ratan Singh could pass up decent opportunities to capture the lunatic Khilji when those chances as good as fell into his lap, all because: Rajput pride and honour. You are equally stunned when the king makes a mention of ‘usool’ in the battleground, right before slumping to the ground. And so, you end up mocking Rajput stupidity, and lamenting their absolute lack of war strategy, rather than raising a toast to their pride and glory. The sole thing the movie set out to do, but ironically ends up subverting in these crucial moments. 

However, all is not lost and there is much to Padmaavat than fighting fair and losing. The director fluidly taken you on a journey where pivotal moments in the narration that make it all too clear who the real boss is: it is essentially Padmavati who succeeds in driving the maniacal Khilji mad, shredding his ego down to pieces, making a defeatist out of the invader.

Deepika is grace personified, as she moves about buoyantly, the pleats of her royal sarees/lehengas  tucked in neatly, and her pallu dancing in seductive waves. True to the director’s promise of at least one song the audience cant stop humming to, we are treated to a visual splendour in the form of ‘Ghoomar‘, quite a masterpiece within a masterpiece. It would be an understatement to say the actress has never looked as bewitching in any of her earlier movies.

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Full credit to the director for treating her character as  more than just a cog in the wheel of this epic tale of love and war, when there was a mighty chance of her presence being drowned against the sheer scale of this project, but more so, by the compelling depiction of Singh’s Khilji that seems to tower over the very premise of the film itself.

In fact, much of the second half bears testament to Padmavati’s political strategies meeting with success, in not only avenging Rajputana humiliation and distress caused by instigator Raghav Chetan by having him murdered by the faithless Khilji, but in also  sneaking her husband away from right under the nose of the Muslim ruler. Her decision to not surrender to Khilji’s wily schemes climaxes in the much-debated and (mostly) ridiculed mass Jauhar, a cinematic glorification that has been lambasted by commoners and a few celebrities alike.

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More on this in a different post, but for a cinematic spectacle carved by an artist of Bhansali’s stature, one can hardly expect a dowdy, miserable showdown depicting jauhar as a bawl-fest.
Anyone who has watched the director’s earlier movies – be it Bajirao Mastani, Ram Leela or even Guzaarish – would know the man chooses to portray passion and dignity even in death, and roots for his characters’ abilities to determine their own fates, irrespective of how nonsensical and foolish that might appear to the outside world. I dare say, he probably believes, if one were to be snuffed out, one should exit the mortal world with a bang AND on one’s own terms!
As someone who hates insipid love stories in real and reel lives, I don’t quite mind the dramatic endings. However, in Padmaavat’s case, I quite welcome it because I see it as a powerful show between a man who thinks he can conquer a woman’s body simply because he feels entitled to, and a woman who intends to stand by her choices and not surrender, even if it means losing to death. I see it as a battle of wills. Not the usual Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Raanjha sob-fest, for sure.
I see it as a choice exercised towards freedom rather than sexual slavery when faced with an army of thousands of savage men. This psychological game might not appeal to us 21st century human beings, specially modern feminists, but to ferret and tear apart the motives and ideals that drove people in the 13th century to do what they eventually did, would be a pointless exercise.

So if you wish to partake in the visual expansiveness of the mega project, can allow for a weak plot line and a historically flawed account to consume close to 3 hours of your time, and are content watching Ranveer Singh turn upside down the trajectory of the traditional Hindi film antagonist while Padukone plays to the gallery, albeit, with controlled finesse, go ahead and give this a chance…but make sure you soak in the opulence on the big screen, not on TV!!

 Also, tough luck Karni Sena. Try harder next time maybe? 

Rating: 4.5/5