Expectations of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ had been rocketing for some time for the average cine-goer, with many disappointed at the unrest the film was causing right from the time it was being shot. With Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone cast in their third Bhansali film and Shahid Kapoor’s debut with the filmmaker, it seemed that the project was already a winner somewhat with this casting coup. The trailers and songs added intrigue and upped excitement further, as did the film’s encounters of a very interesting kind with the CBFC. Now that the film is about to release, BizAsiaLive.com brings you an advanced review of the film that’s been hot topic of conversation for so many months. Does it live up to the hype? Well, there’s just one way to find out.

The film is based on a poem titled ‘Padmavat’ written by Malik Muhammed Jayasi in the 1500s. The story within the poem is about Rani Padmini (called Rani Padmavati in ‘Padmaavat’), who many dispute as being a fictional character. In the film, this role is played by Padukone, who is an epitome of beauty as the character requires her to be. She comes across Rawal Ratan Singh, played by Kapoor, by chance one day when she is out hunting. The two fall in love and Ratan Singh asks the Singhal queen to marry him and move to Chittor, where he is king. It is believed that Alauddin Khilji – played by Singh – raged war on Chittor, as head of the Delhi Sulanate, in order to kidnap Padmavati.

‘Padmaavat’ is a true Bhansali film from start to finish. He manages to leave audiences in awe with the beauty and colours he uses in every frame to set each scene. With this particular story, Bhansali has taken the dark and delirious to a whole new level and he’s matched the hues of such a feeling in all the influences and instances throughout the film giving it a wow factor that many might have thought he wasn’t quite capable of. Bhansali has shown that he too can outdo himself in this respect, bringing not only some interesting characters to the forefront but also successfully engaging the audiences with his attention to detail even when grandeur is not necessary.

The performances of the entire cast, including and aside from the three main characters, are absolutely the strength and stability that was needed. With a story which at times does tend to get a little complicated to understand and identify with, it is the characters which hold it together over and over again. Padukone as Padmavati is simply mesmerising. She looks gorgeous in every frame, maintaining a warrior-like feel to her character which any Rajput would and should be proud of. Her chemistry with Kapoor is something which brings a unique feeling to the overall story. When two actors of such stature come together for the first time, there’s always a fear that they might not translate as wanted on the screen. In this instance, however, Padukone and Kapoor’s love story quotient is touching, endearing and believable – not to mention an absolute perfection to watch. Kapoor’s first time in a Bhansali film has put him in a space that it could have been difficult to otherwise see him in. The royal look suits him, as does the Rajput valour which is the attitude that takes the film’s story forward. He demands respect and will not go beyond his values no matter the situation and Kapoor gets this right in every shot. He’s changed his entire look for the film and it very much pays off in making him look the part and give a maturity to an otherwise chocolate-boy hero which he’s often referred to as. Kapoor’s scenes with Singh are definitely a feast for the eyes. With Singh in his Alauddin Khilji get-up and Kapoor’s rich and stern exterior, the two are like chalk and cheese. When they come together, fireworks definitely go off. It can be argued that their scenes are the film’s most effective and come at very important parts of the overall narrative. Singh’s performance as Khilji absolutely hits it out of the park. Here is an actor who has been seen as a casanova, as a loverboy, and even as a rich kid but he’s decided to take on this leading role in which he’s an out-and-out villain. Not just that, he’s a maniacal, stubborn, difficult to fathom, cruel, unforgiving and downright crazy villain. There’s no other actor that you can put in Singh’s place and when watching the film, you’re glad that Bhansali chose Singh for this role which shows off his versatility and leaves you hating him but wanting more both at the same time. He also changed his look for the character and it is actually impossible to put into words how greatly effective this is within the film. It’s something audiences simply have to witness themselves. The ensemble cast including Raza Murad, Jim Sarbh and Aditi Rao Hydari do splendid jobs in their characters too and their casting in the film is pretty much perfect.

There are instances which let down ‘Padmaavat’ as a film overall. There are parts of the story which move on very slowly and this becomes a little frustrating as it appears that Bhansali is giving too much time to setting the scene with his characters than with the story itself. In all these instances, the visual richness doesn’t seem to keep the audience engaged. In fact, it is the performances which hold the film on their shoulders. This is a little disappointing for a Bhansali production and directorial but should be expected from a filmmaker which has given audiences such a film in the first place. The climax is particularly harrowing but, again, shows Padmavati’s sacrifice against evil and only Bhansali could’ve made it as effective and drum-roll worthy as he has.

‘Padmaavat’ is definitely a must-watch despite its shortcomings, of which there are very few. However, it is not for the faint-hearted or for those looking for a beautiful love story like Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ (2015). Instead, what ‘Padmaavat’ gives you is a film which shows the daring of Bhansali. He’s brought to Indian cinema a film where the villain is one of the main characters who is played by a leading actor. Singh’s strength lies in the craziness of Khilji and his passion for Padmavati and although one can’t promise that you’ll identify with all of his actions, he is absolutely an actor you will respect all the more after this film. Bhansali has also given Kapoor and Padukone roles of a lifetime, with both of their characters showing the valour of the Rajput community, as has been said so many times from the film’s team in the past weeks. It is an ultimate show of courage, fearlessness and heroism that is the foundation of the story of ‘Padmaavat’ which is something that both the Rajput and wider communities should stand proud about. The film may not be everyone’s cup of tea but audiences will definitely respect and salute the Rajput spirit when they walk out of the cinema halls.

BizAsiaLive.com rating: 4/5