Why the last scene of Padmaavat is (IMO) not ‘glorification’

Posted on January 30, 2018

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Just wanted to put down a few thoughts about this, and I’ll begin with a disclaimer.

This is just my opinion, and I’m not saying this is the only way to look at this scene. Also, this is not a rebuttal (as such) to the Swara Bhaskar post, which I disagreed with (in terms of content, and put out a tweet to that effect). But any kind of intense, passionate discussion around art and society is good/vital/necessary, and had that post not been written, I may not have wanted to write this either.

My point is just this. I do not get the sense of “celebration” or “glorification” at all. A lot of people have pointed to the staging of the scene — i.e. the visuals — and said that this pomp is unwarranted. But for me, this is how it was with royals. They did everything with a sense of ceremony, with ritualistic rigour. Consider the Holi scene from earlier in the film as well. It’s hardly the “fun” Holi scene from, say, Sholay. There’s a sense of ceremony/ritual between the king and queen playing Holi. And here, too.

Now, consider that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial style, his vision, the way he sees things is also ceremonial/ritualistic. So the scene is doubly shrouded in a sense of grand theatre — one, from what it is (the content), and the other from how it’s been mounted (the style).

Is this ‘glorification’? I’d say no.

No more than the last scene of Devdas ‘glorified’ doomed love (which a more “practical” mind might define as “acting like a loser, unable to get on with life because you lost your girl”).

No more than the last scene of Bajirao Mastani ‘glorified’ — again — doomed love (which a more “practical” mind might define as “spurning a loyal wife who loves you in favour of a reckless liaison”).

No more than the last scene of Guzaarish ‘glorified’ euthanasia by surrounding the act with much happiness. This particular man chose this particular end, and this particular director infused it with this particular mood. It’s depiction, not endorsement. Now, love it, hate it — that’s the effect of the scene, of Bhansali’s style. But it’s not a ‘glorification’ of euthanasia. Yes, there are many terminally ill patients in India. Yes, this could be a disturbing message to send to them. But that is the author/creator’s freedom. And I do believe that a filmmaker should not be shackled by society. There are filmmakers who are socially/politically inclined. There are those who aren’t. We should judge creators on the basis of the work they do, and not on the basis of whether that work conforms to our ideas/principles.

Here’s the other thing.

There’s never a sense of true ‘celebration’ in a Bhansali movie. His films are built on inner torment, the writhing of the soul. And his endings are conflagrations (in Padmaavat, literally so) that say “at least in the hereafter, maybe there’s happiness, for there’s certainly none to be found on this earth.”

And we know this from the very beginning of Bhansali’s films, because that’s what his theme music (whether composed by him or someone else) sets us up for. With this filmmaker, people seem to notice only the visual cues, but his aural cues are equally important.

Consider the ta nom tara dhere na theme music of Devdas and Rani sa track of Padmaavat, both of which play over the opening credits of the respective films.

This is the mood we are entering the movie with — melancholy, a sense of incompleteness, longing. Is it “grand”? Sure. But that’s the pitch the films operate in. And when we hear Rani sa over the closing ‘jauhar’ scene, this is the mood the audio evokes. At least for me, this isn’t a celebratory mood, a mood that glorifies something. It suggests loss. With the Devdas theme, you can practically smell the incense rising off the burning souls. In Padmaavatthis particular queen chose this particular end, and this particular director infused it with this particular mood.

Again, this isn’t the last word — just some thoughts, because I happen to be a huge Bhansali fan. Not so much of this particular film though (as I wrote in my review here). There’s no telling how much of Padmaavat‘s problems are a result of post-controversy reshaping. But we can only form an opinion from whatever ends up on screen, and I so wish Bhansali had made the film he’d wanted to make.

Do chip in with your thoughts, and thanks for reading.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi