Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Padmaavat—Of Pride and Desires

After almost a year of waiting, I was able to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat. The film, initially titled Padmavati, is based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi's poem Padmavat, which narrates the story of Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), the Rajput queen and the wife of Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), the ruler of Mewar. The ruler of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), who wants to own every precious thing on earth gets to hear about Padmavati's unparalleled beauty from Raghav Chetan (Aayam Mehta), a priest who is expelled from the Rajput kingdom by Ratan. Khilji becomes obsessed with Padmavati and attacks Mewar. The Rajput forces are eventually defeated as no other Rajput kingdoms come to their help. Instead of surrendering to Khilji, Padmavati committed jauhar (self-immolation) and prevents Khilji from getting his desire to own every naayab cheez fulfilled. 
Literary scholars have archived an allegorical gloss attached to a manuscript of Malik Muhammad Jayasi's poem Padmavat. This gloss, found in 1696, is interpreted as an important document that helped understand the underlying symbolism in Jayasi's poem. It elucidates that all the characters of Padmavat have a kind of subtext. It states, 
"The fourteen worlds, above and below, 
Are all within the human body. 
The body of Chitaur, the spirit its King, 
The heart is Singhala, the mind is Padmini. 
The parrot is the guru who shows the way. 
Without the guru, who in the world 
Can find his way to the formless absolute? 
Nagmati is the world and its affairs. 
Whoever ties his mind to her cannot be saved. 
Raghava, the messenger, is Satan, 
And Sultan Alauddin is an illusion.
Reflect on the love-story like this, 
And learn from it whatever you can."
Padmavati is the human mind. Ratan Singh is the human soul. Khilji is an illusion. The poem is, thus, believed to be an allegorical story talking about the challenges that the human soul faces in order to be together with the human mind. This interpretation has been known for centuries and scholars have written extensively on the same. Some of these elements are shown in Padmaavat as well. Padmavati is the mind here as well. She is shown to possess an extremely sharp mind. She is the one who understands Khilji's intentions better than Ratan. She always warned Ratan from trusting Khilji. She knew that a man who waited outside their fort for months would not hesitate to accept an invitation from Ratan. She, again, alerted Ratan to take his sword when he was going as Khilji's guest. She is the one who devises the Rajput strategy of bringing back Ratan, proving Gora Singh wrong who had doubts about her plans. These parts of the story are not mentioned in the poem, but Padmaavat adapts the character of Padmavati making her the most intelligent person in the film. Likewise, Ratan is representing the pure human soul. He will do nothing that is wrong. He never gives up his usool (principles) even if sticking to them landed him in danger. It could even be called his foolishness that he stuck to the rules, even though Khilji had told him that there are no rules in love or war. Khilji mocks Ratan's nobility by telling him, "Kitne acchhe ho tum aur kitne acche hai tumhare usool." How good are you and how good are your principles. In some ways, I felt Ratan was the closest to Vanraj (also a Rajput) from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Like Ratan, Vanraj is innately so good (perhaps, foolish) that he takes his wife to meet her lover. Vanraj's father initially admonishes him when he gets to know about his plans. But Vanraj cannot bear to live with any kind of a lie. His father, then, tells him that Vanraj might be a terrible lawyer but he is a great human. Kitne achhe ho tum could well be applied to Vanraj as well. Even Nandini tells him to stop being a god.
The first time when Padmavati meets Ratan in the forests of Singhal, she shoots an arrow near his heart, as she mistook him for a deer. A bloodied Ratan tells her that she wounded him first with an arrow, and then, with her eyes. "Pehle teer se ghayal aur phir tewar se." When Ratan is planning to go back, Padmavati again scars him and says his wounds have not healed yet. These wounds are a representation of the love that scars the lovers for eternity. At a later stage, Khilji also remarks about having a wounded heart when he is waiting to meet Padmavati. He tells Malik Kafur, "Ghayal dil ke alava hamare aur koi ghaav toh nahi dikh rahe?" Can you see any wound other than my bleeding heart? This theme of woundedness was also seen in Bajirao Mastani where the first time that Mastani met Bajirao, she scars him with her sword. Later, Bajirao wounds her in the war with his sword. Mastani said, "Aap ne to sirf apne vaar ka nishaan dekha hai, ghaav to kahi aur hai." You have only seen the scar, but the wound is somewhere else (in her heart). They are literally and metaphorically scarred for life by love. In Devdas, Dev takes a pearl necklace and hits Paro on her head, giving her a scar. She starts bleeding, and Dev uses her blood as vermilion and spreads it over the mid-part of her head, symbolically marrying her in the process. She is given a life-long scar on her forehead with the scar being Dev. As the lyrics of Hamesha Tumko Chaaha say, "Jo daag tumne mujhko diya us daag se mera chehra khila, rakhungi isko nishaani banakar maathe pey isko hamesha sajakar.The scar that you gave me has made my face blossom. I will keep this as a memento on my head, always decorated.
Wounds
If there is one word that explains the philosophy of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it is guroorpride, vanity, arrogance. In Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen had written, "Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us." I think this could well apply to Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the characters in his films. They have immense pride in them, which can make others think them as vain. It is not a surprise that the only bird that keeps appearing again and again in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a peacock, who is known for its immense pride and beauty. Even the logo of his production company is a peacock.
This particular word guroor perfectly epitomizes the sense of pride. There are far too many mentions of guroor in his films that can be ascribed only to chance. In Padmaavat, there are at least four mentions of guroor. When the princess of Deogiri stubbornly refuses to submit to Khilji's demands, he tells her, "Hamare itne zulm karne ke bavjood bhi itna guroor." Such arrogance in spite of all these atrocities. Later, Ratan is captured by Khilji when he visits him in his tent. Ratan tells him, "Tu Chittor se humein chheen sakta hai, par hamare guroor ko nahi.You can take me away from Chittor, but not my pride. After Ratan is released from the prison by Padmavati, he goes and tells Khilji, "Ja rahe hain, apna guroor, apni Rani Sa, ko saath lekar, tere he gaddh se, teri hi aankon ke saamne.I am leaving with my pride, my Queen, from your fort and right in front of your eyes. The last mention of the word in the film occurs when Ratan is preparing to fight Khilji. Padmavati holds his sword and says, "Yeh talwar hi toh kshatraniyon ka sabse keemti gehna hai. Hamara guroor hai.The sword is the most precious jewel of warriors. It is our pride. Ratan asks her that if it is our pride, then why are her eyes moist.
In other instances of guroor, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Pandit Durbar announces in front of all his family members that Nandini is his pride. He rebukes a relative, who makes an uncharitable comment on Nandini's character, by saying, "Nandini mera vishwaas hai, mera guroor hai woh." In Devdas, Paro does not show her face to Dev after he returns from London. Dev tells her, "Itna guroor toh chaand ko bhi nahi hai." Even the moon does not have as much pride as her. Paro replies that's because the moon has spots, and she is flawless. Dev hits Paro with a necklace before her wedding ceremony, he repeats these same lines of guroor. At a later instance, Paro describes Dev to her husband by saying, "Jaise woh shareer, aur hum parchhai. Woh hamara pyaar bhi hai, aur guroor bhi." He was the body, I was the soul. He is my love, and he is my pride.
In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, the chief of the Rajadi clan screams that they might not have the money to defeat their rival Dhankor but they have the strength to defeat her, and this is their guroor. Ram replies, "Guroor me doobe samundar ko bhi kahan pata tha ki woh ek din banjar rann ban jayega.A proud ocean never thought that one day it could also turn into a parched desert. At a later point, Dhankor cuts Leela's finger and tells her, "Tu mera guroor hai, tu mera maan hai." You are my pride, you are my respect. Rasila tells Leela that Ram is only interested in badla, guroor, goli, bandook (revenge, pride, bullets, and guns). The film ends with another version of the quote on the guroor of the ocean that Ram had spoken about earlier. After Ram and Leela die, the narrator says, "Badla aur guroor agar samundar ko banjar rann bana sakte hai, toh aashiq is banjar mitti mein bhi phool khila sakte hai.If revenge and pride can turn a sea into a desert, then lovers can also grow flowers in this barren land.
In Bajirao Mastani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's fascination for the word guroor continues. When Bajirao is going back to Shaniwar Wada, Jhumri tells Mastani, "Itna guroor accha nahi hai," when she sees Mastani did not come to say goodbye to Bajirao. Mastani says, "Ise guroor nahi, mohabbat kehte hain." It is not arrogance, but love. At some other stage, Maa Saheb visits Mastani, gives her ghungroo, and tells her that a dancer can be pretty, but she can never reach the stature of a queen. Mastani replies that all through her life, people complimented her on her beauty, but she is proud that a woman of her standing also feels threatened by her beauty. "Aap jaisi aurat bhi iss roop se darti hai, yeh jankar khud pe guroor." And, then, in one of the film's most iconic scenes, the word guroor makes a reappearance. A hurt Kashibai narrates the story of Rukmini and Krishna to Bajirao, and then, tells him, "Aap humse humari zindagi maang lete, hum aapko khushi khushi de dete. Par aapne to hum se humara guroor hi cheen liya." If you would have asked for my life, I would have given that happily but you snatched my pride from me.
In Saawariya, there is no explicit mention of the word guroor, but the word Pride is seen written in the streets and the boards of Khwaabon Ka Sheher. This pride was again the theme of Guzaarish in which a quadriplegic Ethan files a petition for euthanasia—the right to die. The argument that he presented to the court was that he wanted to live a life of dignity. He would rather die than live a life where he feels trapped and suffocated. I know that it is futile to compare the two situations as the context and the past atrocities on women make them different but still, there is a similarity in Ethan's and Padmavati's decisions to kill themselves. They have too much pride in them to live a life in which they are trapped. Ethan demonstrated a magical trick in which he asks a man to live in a box for a few minutes, but the man could not even manage that. That is what Ethan's life has been and he wants to escape. The people rally the court to give him dignity. Padmavati also chooses to die rather than live her life as someone else's slave. We saw earlier in the film the way Khijli treated the queen of Deogiri. Even after being captured, she also does not lose her sense of pride. Both are different choices that women made, and they are proud of them. But my larger point is that it is guroorpridethat is the driving factor in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films.
Cinema evokes the purest form of emotional response from the person who watches it. Different people react differently to cinematic art forms. As someone who is too emotional and finds solace in the movies, I won't be honest with myself if I did not elucidate the emotions that the last scene of Padmaavat made me feel. I was immensely moved by the last twenty minutes of the movie, perhaps, less by the whole tragedy of it, which was kind of expected even before I watched the movie because I knew that jauhar is going to be shown. I was more affected by the whole beauty of the tragedy. How can death be made to look so gorgeous? The entire climax is just stunning. The chants of Jai Bhavani; the background music of Rani Sa; the women, dressed in red sarees, fighting armed men with nothing but fire; the visuals of the raging flames; the religiosity of it all; and Padmavati walking with the handprints of her dead husband with a smile on her face—I don't think I have seen something this powerful and this visually stunning in years. I have watched the sequence many times, and each time, I have felt so moved, and also so small by my own mediocrity, that how can anyone have this much beauty in their creation. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an auteur in the true sense for me. 
In Bajirao Mastani, we had seen a faint glimpse of the jauhar scene when Mastani's mother Ruhani Begum was preparing the funeral pyre when they were under attack. She told Raja Chhatrasal that even if one man from Mohammad Bangash's army enters their fort, all the women in the zanana will commit jauhar. There are also elements of Devdas in the last scene of Padmaavat. In Devdas, Paro runs to meet Devdas when she gets to know that he is lying outside the gates of her house. However, as soon as she is about to exit her house, the gates of her house are closed on the orders of her husband, and she is unable to meet her Dev. In a similar way, the doors of the fort are closed at the exact moment when Khilji is about to enter it, and he is unable to catch even a glimpse of Padmavati. His desire to see Padmavati remained unfulfilled. Khilji might have won the battle, but Padmavati won the war.

The jauhar sequence is quite illuminating in some aspects as well. Before walking into the fire, Padmavati and Nagmati are seen to be eating some green leaves. I had, initially, thought that those were the tulsi leaves, but actually, they were bhaang leaves, which makes sense. Also, there is a scene where there are scores of handprints that can be seen on the walls of the fort. These were the handprints of the women who committed jauhar and these can be seen even today in the forts of the Rajputs. In Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort, there are fifteen handprints left by the wives of the king before they immolated themselves.

Jauhar Handprints from Mehrangarh Fort and as shown in Padmaavat
I remember reading an old interview of Sanjay Leela Bhansali where he had talked about his favorite films. He had selected five films—Pakeezah, Mirch Masala, Mughal-E-Azam, Do Ankhen Barah Haath, and 36 Chowringhee Lane. He always takes elements from these and puts them in his own films. In Devdas, Chandramukhi had some scenes similar to Sahibjaan's from Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah. In Saawariya, Gulabji and her friends sing Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum. The song is originally from the film Do Ankhen Barah Haath, directed by V. Shantaram (who Sanjay Leela Bhansali calls as his most influential favorite filmmaker). At some other point in Saawariya, Imaan, Sakina, and Badi Ammi watch Mughal-E-Azam. Bajirao Mastani was also a tribute to Mughal-E-Azam, especially, the songs Deewani Mastani and Mohe Rang Do Laal, which were heavily influenced by Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya and Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal from K. Asif's magnum opus. In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, influences from Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala can be observed. In Padmaavat, Sanjay Leela Bhansali again pays a tribute to Mirch Masala. In the climax, when Khilji enters the fort, the women hurl pieces of burning coal on him, like the women in Mirch Masala put red chili powder on the subedaarwho was obsessed with Sonbai. 
Padmaavat and Mirch Masala
The one song from the movie that stands out for me is Ghoomar, which I must have watched it more than a hundred times. Ghoomar is, usually, performed when a newly married bride comes to her new marital home. In the film, it is mentioned that the only man who can see this dance is the bride's husband. Padmavati performs Ghoomar for Ratan when she comes to Chittor as a bride, and the film makes sure that only man who watches her is Ratan. The soldiers who guard Ratan have their face turned away so that they cannot watch her dancing.
The setting of the song is sublime. The initial lyrics of the song invite Padmavati to perform Ghoomar. Then, Padmavati begins her part by singing, "Dhanak preet ki sar pe odh kar." The word dhanak means a rainbow. She means that she covers her head with the rainbow (colors) of her beloved. Padmavati's lehenga is almost made of rainbow colors. Her lehenga is a mélange of red, orange, yellow, and green. It even has violet. The only colors that are missing are the shades of blue. Moments after this song, Ratan tells Padmavati that he can give her everything except he cannot give her the ocean in this desert. She replies that his eyes are no less than the ocean for her. Then, it all fits as to why there is no blue in her dress. The song is given a look of the desert, and the walls of the palace are sand-colored. The blue is in the eyes of Ratan. In the song, Padmavati also says, "Mann mahal ki saari deewaarein, thaare rang rangwa li," which again points to colors of Ratan. She has colored all the walls of the palace of her heart in his color. At first, I felt that the lyrics of these lines, "Soonepan mein neela karke," are also about filling the lack of blue. But on close hearing, it is actually, "Soonepan mein mela karke," meaning he turns her loneliness into a fair. I am not sure if the above passage really makes sense, but I felt there is something really interesting about the colors of Ghoomar. The structure and the ethos of Ghoomar are quite similar to Deewani Mastani from Bajirao Mastani. In that song, too, the opening lines welcome Mastani. She comes dressed in a golden lehenga, wearing a golden Peshwa topi and a golden nose ring, holding an intricately-carved golden mandolin. The golden color matches the walls of the palace signifying the characteristics she shares with the palace. She sang, "Kehte hain ye deewani mastani ho gayi." She has become crazy in love. Here, Padmavati sings, "O ralak reet sab jag ki chhod kar, ghoomar ghoomar ghoome." Forgetting all the customs and rituals of the world, she dances for her lover. The dance form seems to be tailor-made for a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Padmavati spreads red color over the map of the Khilji fort, making clear her intentions of the attack. Har yuddha kewal talvar se nahi jeeta jaata; iss baar yuddha neeti se jeetana hoga. Not every war is fought using swords; this war will be fought using strategy. Unlike Mastani who became a deewani in Bajirao's love after getting married to him, Padmavati is shown to retain and use her warrior skills in the art of war. She is shown to be someone with an extremely sharp mind. The film also compares her stature to that of a goddess. There is a point in the film after Ratan is captured by Khilji, Rani Nagmati calls for a gathering of all women and demands that Padmavati should be sent to Khilji's fort. In the particular scene, she literally bows down in front of Padmavati as if she is pleading to a goddess. Padmavati, then, tells everyone she will go to the Khilji fort. She adds that even their Goddess had to descend from her abode to slay the demons, thus, she will also go to Delhi. Asuron ka vinaash karne Devi ko bhi garh se utarna pada tha. The imagery and dialogue in the scene symbolize that Padmavati is also a Devi. 

People bow down in front of Devi
The film also talks about Goddess Bhavani. Religious texts have mentioned that Goddess Bhavani is an avatar of Goddess Parvati and she is a form of Durga. It is also mentioned that Goddess Bhavani killed the demon Mahishasura. Goddess Bhavani is portrayed with eight arms holding weapons and the head of the slain demon Mahishasura. In Padmaavat, the temple that Padmavati is seen in that of Eklingji (Shiva), the husband of Parvati. During the jauhar sequence, the women invoke Goddess Bhavani using the chants of Jai Bhavani and throw color on her before she walks towards the fire. Padmavati is again hailed as a goddess. Like Durga cut Mahishasura's head, Padmavati demands the head of Raghav Chetan from Khilji. In the end, the narrator says that Rani Padmavati is worshipped as the Goddess Queen, the destroyer of evil. Rani Padmavati ko aaj bhi log us Devi ki tarah poojte hain jo buraai ka sanhaar karti hai.
The film likens Padmavati to other religious and mythological figures as well. When Padmavati is getting ready to show her face to Khilji, Kunwar Baisa tells her Lord Shiva drank poison to save the world. In a similar fashion, Padmavati is drinking the poison to save Mewar by agreeing to show her reflection to Khilji. Thus, she is an avatar of not only Parvati but Shiva as well. Like Shiva, Padmavati is also often seen with tridents, such as the scene in the temple or the scene where she puts color over the map of the Khilji map. Lord Shiva is known as the destroyer of evil; Padmavati is also the destroyer of evil. 

Padmavati is Shiva
In another comparison, Padmavati leads the attack on the Khilji fort in Delhi and manages to bring back Ratan from captivity. The Rajput women find a resonance of this daring act of hers in the legend of Savitri, who fought Yama (Lord of Death) and brought back her husband to life from the jaws of death. 
Peacocks play a special role in the filmography of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Almost all his films have a peacock connection. His fascination with the peacocks reached its zenith in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela where all the songs of the film had something or the other related to a peacock. The lead characters in that film were also compared to peacocks. The logo of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's company is a peacock. Like other films, Padmaavat also has imagery associated with peacocks. Peacocks are present in the lamps, the paintings, and the costumes. Many of Padmavati's sarees have peacocks. There is this giant peacock carved on the walls of the palace of Chittor, which is visible when Padmavati comes to Chittor for the first time. The sound of the peacocks can also be heard in the film. One such instance is the time when Khilji visits Ratan, peacocks can be heard screaming in the background. Peacocks represent pride and beauty, therefore, it does not come as a surprise that these birds repeatedly make their presence felt in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films.

Peacock
In addition to the peacocks, Padmaavat is teeming with other animal imagery as well. Ratan and the Rajputs are often seen around imagery associated with elephants and lions. Ratan's throne has its legs resting on lions. Padmavati calls him a lion as well. The fort is full of elephant sculptures. The forest in Singhal also had elephant structures. Padmavati's saree in Ghoomar has peacocks and elephants. Even the piece that Ratan moves while playing chess with Khilji is the haathi (rook). These three creatures—elephants, lions, and peacocks—represent characteristics, such as pride, strength, and wisdom. By associating these with the Rajputs, the film is conveying that these same characteristics are present in the Rajputs as well.
In contrast, Khilji's lair is also swarming with animal imagery but of a different type. He is associated with animals that are ferocious, untamable, and savage. In fact, there is hardly a scene where some kind of wild animal imagery is not shown near him. Khilji's throne, the chairs, the bed, the artifacts, and the pillar-like structures in his camp are somewhere these can be easily seen. When Malik Kafur makes an entry, Sultan Jalaluddin comments that he has the guile of a wolf and the agility of a cheetah. "Lomdi ki khaal me chhupa hua ek cheetah hai yeh." At some other stage, Nagmati calls Khilji a snake. In their last battle, Khilji wears a costume that has scales which makes him look even more menacing, like a wild animal. The animal imagery related to Khilji points to his animal-like instincts and his savagery.
Animal imagery was also seen prominently in Bajirao Mastani as well. Bajirao used to say, "Cheeteh ki chaal, baaz ki nazar aur Bajirao ki talvar par sandeh nahi karte, kabhi bhi maat de sakti hai." Therefore, everywhere we see the images and the statues of the cheetah and the baaz (the eagle). There are bronze carvings of the eagle and the cheetah in Bajirao's camp. The map and the flag of the kingdom have the eagle and the cheetah in it. In Shaniwar Wada, his room had similar images and statues. Even Bajirao's dagger, the one that he gives to Mastani, had a cheetah on its end. Bajirao also said that Mastani was a lioness in the jungle as Bajirao. A tiger was also seen in Nizam's lair when Bajirao visits him.
One of my other favorite scenes in the film is the one where Padmavati is tested by Raghav Chetan. The philosophical questions in the sequence reminded me of the Mahabharata where Yudhishthira is questioned by Yaksha. Raghav Chetan asks her to describe jeevan (life) in three words. Padmavati replies, "Amrit. Prem. Tyaag." Elixir. Love. Sacrifice. I think these three words perfectly describe the themes in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Raghav also asks Padmavati as to what is more important in life, beauty or skill? Padmavati tells him that it is the skill that is more important as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Kisi ko patthar me Shivling dikhta hai, aur kisi ko Shivling me bhi patthar. Some can see God in a stone, while some can only see a stone in God. Later, Nagmati blames Padmavati's beauty for their misfortune. Padmavati questions her back and asks her is not the one who sees beauty in her more at fault? Aur dekhne vale ki is buri nazar ka nahi? Uski neeyat ka nahi? The other women support Padmavati and disagree vehemently with Nagmati. Kunwar Baisa says how can they punish Padmavati for something that is not her fault. They all could have easily blamed Padmavati, but they do not. To save the kingdom, Ratan could have given up Padmavati to Khilji, but they do not. Even in this present day world, it is extremely common to shame women for evoking male desire. Thus, the focus on beauty in the eyes of the beholder was one of the most noteworthy scenes in Padmaavat, given that the discourse around the film has primarily focused on its regressiveness.

Beauty in the eyes of the beholder
I have mentioned earlier that all the elements of nature play a role in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films. Water has its special significance in his oeuvre. He often shows water related to some beginning or ending. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Sameer falls in water when he reaches Nandini's place for the first time. In Black, Michelle McNelly's first words are not mother or father, but water. It was a new birth representing the beginning of her life. In Devdas, Dev walks into the water to perform his own sharad (ritual for people who have died) as he feels dead from inside. In Guzaarish, Ethan falls into the water and loses all sensation that makes him human. In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Ram and Leela fall into the water after they kill themselves. In Bajirao Mastani, Mastani and Kashibai inform Bajirao about a new life in them (their pregnancy) when they are standing in water. Death comes to Bajirao in water. In Padmaavat, we again see that Khilji's obsession with Padmavati starts when he is resting in a water pond. Raghav Chetan pulls out a lotus (padma) and gives it to Khilji while describing the ethereal beauty of Padmavati. 
And, then, there is always the role of other elements of nature. In Bajirao Mastani, Bajirao was going on his last battle, he tells Mastani that they will meet the next time when the sky will have the setting sun, and the rising moon; that day, the sky will change its colors; the winds of desire will be blowing; the clouds will be thundering; the dry leaves will be swishing; and, there will be an untimely rain. It is nature and its elements that provide the conditions for their eternal union, just like the time when they got married. In Padmaavat, Sanjay Leela Bhansali uses sand to represent Khilji's strength. He can run into a sandstorm and emerge out victorious. And, if Khilji can walk into the sand, Padmavati walks into the fire and gets her own victory. Then, there is also the talk about the moon and the sun. In another brilliant touch, as Ratan falls into the battlefield, the sun rises above his face and shines brightly. It is a stunningly beautiful scene.
Khilji and Sand; Padmavati and Fire
Ratan and Sun
The film establishes the contrast in the personalities of Ratan and Khilji in some other ways as well. The Rajput flag has the sun, while the Khlji flag has the crescent. Khilji says that the Rajput Sun will be eclipsed by the Khiji Crescent. The Rajput palaces are full of light, while the Khilji forts are shown extremely dark. This varying light serves as the indication of the darkness of their souls. Ratan eats a fairly simple vegetarian diet served on a plate, while Khilji devours red meat with his hands. Ratan always followed his principles in life, but Khijli believed there are no principles of love or war. All the three people he kills in the filmShareef Pasha, Jalaluddin Khilji, and Itaat Khan—are attacked with deception from behind. Even Ratan is shot from behind by his army. Ratan uses the festivals to keep his constituents happy, while Khilji uses the garb of nationalism to keep his people motivated. There is the mention of Ram (Ratan) and Ravan (Khilji) from the Ramayana, and the Pandavas (Rajput) and the Kauravas (Khiljis) from the Mahabharata. And, in another resemblance to the Mahabharata, when Ratan dies, he falls with arrows on his back, just like Bheeshma (who also never budged from his vow) had died on a bed of arrows. 
The Rajput Sun and the Khilji Crescent
Like Bheeshma, Ratan falls to death on a bed of arrows
The painting seen behind Padmavati is the one that is shown in the opening credits of Padmaavat
In another contrast, Ratan and Khilji have different ways of looking at history. They keep talking about how itihaas (history) will judge them. When Khilji kills Jalaluddin and makes himself the King, he asks Amir Khusrau as to how his act will be looked upon in history. Khusrau tells him that history will call it the need of the hour. Later, Khilji burns all the historical documents that do not glorify him. He wants history to remember him and only him. He will write his own version of history. Ratan, however, will not change history. At one stage, Padmavati advises Ratan to kill Khilji when he visits them. She tells him that he has the opportunity to change history. Ratan replies that history can turn its page, but Rajputs don't budge from their principals. Moments later, when Ratan is visiting Khilji, Padmavati warns him to take his sword, and Ratana again replies, that if he does so, history will judge him for being a coward as he went armed to Khilji's place. Finally, when Ratan manages to escape from the Khilji fort, he goes to tell Khilji that history will judge his war as a blemish. Khilji shoots back that he will burn such pages of history. Ratan replies that history is not just written on paper which he can burn. There are other ways history is told. I found this discourse pretty thought-provoking. History is not just written by the victors. In a way, the legend of Padmavati is a testament to this. Despite no official historical documents proving her existence, the legend of Padmavati has continued to be told over generations.
One of the first few lines spoken in the film is about desire. Jalaluddin Khilji wants to attack the Delhi Sultanate because he desires to do so. He says, "Sara masla khwaahishon ka hai." It's all about desires. This line could well be another theme of the movie. Moments later, Alauddin Khilji walks in with an ostrich. Jalaluddin wants to reward him because he fulfilled his daughter's khwaahish (desire). Alauddin asks for his daughter's hand in marriage. He desires to own every naayaab cheez (precious thing) that is present in the world. Whether it the precious stone, the perfumes, the Khilji crown, or the man who plays flute beautifully, Khilji wants to possess every such precious thing. It is again his desire for Padmavati that he sits outside the Chittor for months. Ek jung husn ke naam. Queen Nagmati desires the pearls and makes Ratan travel to Singhal where he meets Padmavati. Raghav Chetan is allured by the beauty of Padmavati that he secretly watches Ratan and Padmavati in their close moments. After he is banished from the kingdom, he is so driven by a desire for revenge (apmaan ki aag) against Ratan that he plants more seeds of desire in Khilji. In her insightful piece, Madhavi Menon argues, "Bhansali is repeatedly fascinated by unlikely desires, desires that are not recognized or allowed in the world in which we live. Forbidden desires. Hidden loves. Strange fruit." Forbidden desires. Truly.
In another portrayal of forbidden desire, there is Malik Kafur who lusts for Khilji. There are clear signs of a homosexual relationship between the two of them. There is the scene where Khilji is in bed with Mehrunissa, and Malik secretly watches them. On being called inside, he asks Khilji if he needs any other service and hints at joining him in his bed. "Aur kor khidhmat." In another scene, we see that Malik eats something from Khilji's hand, giving another indication of oral sex between them. When Ratan and Khilji are getting dressed, Padmavati dresses Ratan, while Malik does the same for Khilji. In the sense, he is almost like his wife. At a later stage, Gora Singh even remarks that Malik Kafur is like Khilji's wife. The song Binte Dil (which begins so abruptly) is only representing Malik Kafur's desire for his Sikandar-E-Sani.
There is a sense of foreshadowing that we have, sometimes, seen in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In Devdas, during the song Bairi Piya, the film already told us the end by showing us that Paro will marry an old man and Dev will remain unmarried. In Bajirao Mastani, Bhanu tells Kashibai that someday she will also pine for her husband. In Padmaavat, I sensed two foreshadowing scenes. The first is the one when Raghav Chetan describes Padmavati to Khilji. He cballs her an illusion. He adds that a mere glimpse of her shadow would make Khilji desire her. He will not be able to think of anyone else but her. This is the what happens when Khilji comes to meet Ratan at his palace. Khilji only gets to see a glimpse of Padmavati's shadow. Her image is projected onto the mirror for a few seconds. Khilji becomes even more obsessed after this. I found similarity between this scene and the one in Bajirao Mastani where Bajirao's image was projected in Kashibai's room using a set of connected mirrors in the Aaina Mahal. I remember reading Uday Bhatia's review of the film who had called this scene a prelude to the invention of cinema. He says, "In other words, she [Kashibai] can see a film of her husband, an idea perfectly attuned to the historical reality of Maharashtrians being the originators of cinema in India." I always wonder how Sanjay Leela Bhansali depicts similar situations in different contexts in his films. 

Reflection in Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat
The other scene that heralded the future was when Ratan describes the characteristics of the Rajputs and he says, "Jiska sar kate, phir bhi dhar dushman se ladta rahe, woh Rajput." The warrior whose head is cut-off, but his body continues to fight is a Rajput. This particular line becomes true when Gora Singh's head is cut by the Khilji soldiers, but his body does not give up, and he continues to fight them. 
I watched this film three times, and it is only the second time that I truly appreciated the performance of Ranveer Singh. It is a brilliant performance, but one can see that it is an extremely difficult role as well. Three scenes stand out for me. First is when Khilji puts perfume on a lady and rubs his body on hers. Second, when Malik Kafur dresses up Khilji and warns him about Itaat Khan. Khilji slaps him and tells him every star wants to be the moon but never succeeds. Finally, the one where Khilji shows his palm to Malik Kafur and asks him if he has love written in his destiny. There was a line in Laal Ishq in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela that said, "Tujh sang bair lagaya aisa, raha na main phir apne jaisa." I have had such an enmity with you that I haven't remained like myself anymore. This menacing Khilji has changed into a love-stricken puppy. 
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a fascination to see Deepika Padukone with tears in her eyes. She is one of those actors who look more beautiful when they cry. In the last thirty minutes of the film, Deepika was exceptionally graceful. Also, I am on the list of five people who loved Shahid Kapoor's performance. He looks royal and exudes dignity. Aditi Rao Hyadri looked luminous and did her part well. I did not care much for Jim Sarbh. I was irritated by him (maybe it was his accent). And, I am glad I did not watch this film in 3D because I don't think this film is well-suited for that medium. The strength of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is its intricate detailing. In my opinion, 3D is not for his films. If I had the power, I would ban 3D for all films. However, this film would not be what it is without Sudeep Chatterjee's cinematography. Every scene in the film is shot exquisitely.
There is a beautiful couplet in the film spoken by Amir Khusrau, which is also often sung along with Khusrau's Chhaap Tilak Sab Chheeni. Based on my limited understanding, the couplet is talking about the enormous devotion one has to have in order to be united with their lover (God). One has to give up everything and be completely immersed in the act of loving, and then, one can reach the lover on the other side of the river. This is absolutely true for Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He has that junoon for his craft. Perhaps, that is why he has already crossed the river of love, while many of us are still standing at the edge of the riverbank, still wondering if jumping is worth it. 
Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar, 
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar. 

Oh Khusrau, the river of love, runs in strange directions. 
One who jumps into it drowns, and one who drowns, gets across.

Movie Patterns
1. Lovers on trees in Padmaavat, Devdas, and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
2. Tying a turban in PadmaavatHum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
3. Diya in the water in Padmaavat, and Devdas
4. Lighting the chandelier in PadmaavatHum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and Bajirao Mastani
5. All the four queens have a weaving scene in Padmaavat
6. All films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali have a weaving scene
7. Burning the letter in PadmaavatSaawariya, and Bajirao Mastani
8. Mastani secretly enters the Shaniwar Wada in Bajirao Mastani; Padmavati secretly enters the Khilji Fort in Padmaavat
9. Mirror with flowers seen in Guzaarish, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat
10. Buddha in Saawariya, and Padmaavat
11. Ratan in chains in Padmaavat; Mastani in chains in Bajirao Mastani
11. In Padmaavat, Padmavati wards off evil when Ratan is injured; Malik Kafur wards off evil when Khilji is injured
12. Similar scenes in Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat
14. Pearls in Devdas, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat
15. Fire while dancing in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Padmaavat, and Devdas
16. Dhankor is shot while dancing in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela; Khilji is shot while dancing in Padmaavat
17. Jhoola scene in Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and Devdas
18. Touching the lover's feet in Padmaavat, Devdas, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Bajirao Mastani, and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
19. Raag Yaman in Padmaavat; this is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's favorite raag

20. Khilji's version of Lahu Munh Lag Gaya in Padmaavat
Other Reading:
1. On DevdasLink
2. On BlackLink
3. On Bajirao MastaniLink
4. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-LeelaLink
5. On the moon in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Rani Sa, tufaan samar ka,
Rani Sa, abhimaani sa,
Rani Sa, badal sa garja,
Rani Sa, mhari Rani Sa,
Rani Sa, Rajputi shaan hai,
Rani Sa, maahri aan baan hai."
Padmaavat

11 comments:

  1. Blown away by your attention to detail and observations. Except your’s, I don’t read any blog post which takes close to an hour to read and register. Keep them coming! :)

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  2. amazing analysis Pankaj,, Keep it up!

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  3. Just brave!
    I was very much waiting for your text about Padmaavat.
    Wonderful analysis! So great that you could connect it with the original text of the poem.

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    1. Thank you so much, Воронова. Greetings from here, too :) :)

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  4. Pankaj, i m reading it for 8th time. U wrote it with such dedication n passion. Loved it 😊

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  5. I absolutely loved this post! I have recently become a big fan of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's work. The three films Padmaavat, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela and Bajirao Mastani absolutely blew me away. I have never encountered films with such emotional splendour and magnificence. I'm going to be writing my final year essay on Padmaavat.
    If you can recommend any other films, please let me know!
    Absolutely amazing analysis! Greetings from South Africa.

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    1. Hi Margarete,
      Thank you for reading. I would recommend Lootera, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Jodhaa Akbar, and Devdas. I think you will love these films. Will share more.
      Greetings to you as well.
      Best,
      Pankaj

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