Indian films benefit from their access to centuries of stories from a variety of cultures in a variety of languages.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's latest film, Padmaavat, draws on a 16th-century epic poem written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Written in 1540, it was the first tale to be authored in Awadhi, the common man's language.
Part fantasy, part history and beautifully filmed, Padmaavat offers filmgoers a magnificent tribute to this powerful story of love, honor, and sacrifice in a time of war.
While seeking to obtain pearls for his queen, Rajput King Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) travels to the kingdom of Sinhala (modern day Sri Lanka) where he discovers the beautiful and intelligent Padmavati (Deepika Padukone). The two fall in love and she returns with him to Chittoor to become his second wife and the love of his life. When the royal priest is caught spying on the young couple in their private quarters, he is banished from the kingdom.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the barbaric Alauddin Khilji has used unscrupulous tactics to become sultan of the Khilji dynasty. He covets anything deemed precious and sees it as his right to own whatever he desires. When he learns of the beauty of Queen Padmavati, he determines to possess her as well. He lays siege to Chittoor, eventually leading to all-out war with the kingdom.
As Maharawal Ratan Singh goes to face Alauddin Khilji on the battlefield, both he and Padmavati understand they are outnumbered and their kingdom is certain to fall. Padmavati asks her husband for the right to Jauhar-- the act of self-immolation -- to avoid capture, enslavement or rape by Chittoor'sconquerers.
While inspired by historic events, Jayasi wove together a variety of stories and traditions to create his magnum opus.According to The Quint,
Jayasi made use of Sufi traditions by employing state, politics and society in his works. Whatever might be his intent in his work, Malik Muhammad Jayasi is said to have ended Padmaavat with the line - “I have made up the story and related it”, and that’s spirit with which it should be understood.
Historians confirm that Alauddin Khilji laid siege to Chittoor beginning 28 January 1303. Eight months later, Khilji storms the castle and captures the fort. According to Cultural India:
This conquest is associated with massacre and bloodshed as many believe that Alauddin Khilji ordered the execution of more than 30,000 Hindus after capturing the fort. Another famous legend states that the fort was captured by Khilji in an attempt to force Padmini, the queen of Ratnasimha, into an extra marital relationship. This motive of Khiljiis said to have resulted in the mass self-immolation (jauhar) of Chittorgarh women, led by Queen Padmini.
Built on the banks of the Gambhir River, the Chittorgarh fort continues to be regarded as the "Pride of the Rajasthan State" and a symbol of Rajput chivalry, resistance and bravery., The massive 700-acre still stands like a giant sentry perched atop a 180-meter high hillock. The winding road leading up to the entrance is a mile long with seven massive gates featuring iron-spiked doors and watchtowers. The inner fort features several historical palaces, gates, temples and two prominent commemorative towers. With a number of ponds, wells, and stepwells, the fort's reservoirs could store enough water to maintain an army of 50,000 for four years without fear of thirst.
A cast of seasoned actors was needed to bring Sanjay Leela Bhansali's vision to life.
The King. Shahid Kapoor brought sophistication and stoicism to the role of Maharawal Ratan Singh, the last ruler of Chittor. As Alauddin lays siege to Chittor, the Rajput king tells a messenger, "Please inform your Sultan: We have more steel in our nerves than in his entire armory."
Portraying the Rawal king of the great Guhila dynasty added gravitas Shahid Kapoor's performance and he was keenly aware of the importance of his character. His character had to embody the belief that, "One who masters any situation, is a Rajput. One who accepts all challenges and emerges victorious is a Rajput. The one who never gives up and fights the enemy till his very last breath is a Rajput."
However, history tells us little about this king whose short rule ended in tragedy. In a Radio City India interview, Shahid Kapoor described the challenges of this role:
"I had to draw from my instinct and from what Sanjay sir had conceived in the script and once I discovered my Maharwal Ratan Singh I realized I'm actually was representing the entire fraternity of Chittor. And that is one of the greatest dynasties India has ever seen. It represents their culture. It represents their valour. It represents their grit. They were warriors. They were most of the times pitted against rivals who were much bigger than them. And that fort is still standing tall. It shows how smart and how experienced they were."
The Villain. As the ambitious and narcissistic Sultan Alauddin Khilji, Ranveer Singh brings to life a character who is repulsive and intriguing at the same time. The actions of his character are dark, detestable, and dishonorable - the complete opposite of the Rajput king. While Maharawal Ratan Singh is a bastion of strength and tradition, Alauddin is portrayed as a near anarchist.
Ranveer Singh had been warned against taking on this role of a man with moral boundaries. In an interview with Rajeev Masand, Singh explained:
"They said, 'Our country is a very emotional country, you know. The filmgoing audience, when they show love for a character that love spills on to the actor who played that character. And it's the same math for you. It might be that you're supposed to make them hate you and if you're successful at it that hate gets spilled on to you.' "
But the actor saw more to Alauddin Khilji, and this understanding ultimately led Ranveer Singh to literally shed blood, sweat, and tears to bring the character to life.
"I saw him as a savage. As a conquerer. As a barbarian. I actually saw him as quite a brilliant man because I'd also done the research, I'd also done my homework, on what kind of man he really was. He was an amazing strategist, an amazing statesman, and I had to somewhere or the other build that respect for the character as well. Even the bad guy is never wrong from his point of view. He believed he was the second Alexander [the Great] who would take over the world. He was convinced."
His performance is made all the more creepy with the unprincipled but loyal sidekick Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), who is willing to give both his life and love to Alauddin. This relationship is particularly on display in the song, "Binte Dil".
It should be noted that historic records indicate that Sultan Alauddin Khilji was, in fact, less of a barbaric anarchist and more of a cultured military statesman.
The Hero. The true hero of the story is Padmavati herself. She is devoted to her husband, and demonstrates, embraces leadership as queen of Chittor, and willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice, saying, "The Rajput women are as much a warrior as Rajput men."
Padmavati, also known as Rani Padmini, is well-known in India. While scholars continue to debate whether she was a figure of fact or fiction, many Rajputs see her as an important symbol of courage and sacrifice.
For Deepika Padukone, the challenge in portraying this well-known character was in showing her strength in standing up for the tradition, culture, heritage, passion, and love for her king and her people. In a Filmfare interview, Deepika Padukone explained:
The challenge was to play someone, who has such inner strength. She’s not someone who physically goes out to the battlefield to fight a war. But it’s about her power, the resilience and strength with which she deals with situations. As a woman you feel these powerful emotions of strength, courage, defeat, victory... How do you emote all of these without any tools, without any weapons? Just from the eyes! That was extremely challenging.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's dialogues also helped deliver a powerful performance. As she prepares the women of Chittor for Jauhar, Padmavati explains, "Chittor will witness another war, one that is unseen and unheard of. We women will have to lead it from the very front. And that war shall be the biggest defeat of Alauddin's life."
The following playlist features the trailer and dialogue promos for the film.
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