'Padmaavat': Film Review

A spectacular tragedy enhanced by gorgeous visuals and exhilarating music.

Director-composer Sanjay Leela Bhansali has overcome intimidation by Indian religious fundamentalists to bring his stunning historical epic to the big screen in Imax 3D, the first Indian film to be released in the format.

Deepika Padukone (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh bring welcome grandeur — and irresistible sensual appeal — to the film, setting the stage for a robust showing at the box office.

Padmavaat, based on a poem written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540, describes how Rajput king Maharawal Ratan Singh (Kapoor) and his beautiful and politically savvy queen Padmavati (Padukone) attempt to save their centuries-old kingdom from a savage madman named Alauddin Khilji (Singh), the ambitious Sultan of Delhi bent on possessing Padmavati and dominating India. When Khilji triumphs, Padmavati chooses self-immolation over subjugation — an act deemed heroic in its time. Today’s women see it differently.

Bhansali draws out the sizzling onscreen chemistry between Kapoor and Padukone, and finds eroticism even when the characters are wrapped in yards of gold-embroidered silks and draped in pearls and precious gems. Singh’s flamboyant, broadly sketched performance is right at the edge of believability — he’s all kohl-rimmed eyes and leonine growls — but in counterpoint to Kapoor's noble heroism it somehow works.

Padmaavat’s sumptuous palace interiors and classically inspired music lend elegance to the film without overpowering it — a welcome shift in tone from the director of the lavish but uneven Devdas and Saawariya — and would doubtless be impressive in 3D or 3D Imax (this review is based on a 2D screening).

Hindu fundamentalists threatened to destroy cinema halls and issued death threats against Padukone when they heard that the film might contain a dream sequence that showed a love scene between Padmavati, a Hindu, and Khilji, a Muslim. Although the filmmakers insisted no such scene was ever shot and India’s censor board found nothing objectionable about the film, the threats were enough to prompt Indian distributor Viacom 18 to delay its release. (Paramount, which had earlier announced it was distributing the film in the U.S., later amended that to state it would handle the film in the U.K. and other overseas territories, while Viva Entertainment took over its U.S. distribution.)

Whether viewers show up for the controversy or for the Bollywood star power of its charismatic leads, they should emerge impressed by its dazzling visuals and Bhansali’s masterfully composed and executed musical numbers — even if Padmaavat's ultimate message of female devotion taken to deadly extremes places its gender politics squarely in the 16th century.

Production companies: Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Bhansali Productions
Distributor: Viva Entertainment
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Screenwriters: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Prakash Kapadia
Executive producers: Arvinder Gill, Raghav Khanna, Pratik Rawal
Director of photography: Sudeep Chatterjee
Production designers: Amit Ray, Subrata Chakraborty
Stunt director: Shyam Kaushal
Costume designers:Ajay, Maxima Basu, Harpreet Rimple, Chandrakant Sonawane
Editor: Rajesh Pandey
Music: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Choreographer: Kruti Mahesh

In Hindi
164 minutes