By Poulomi Das
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat is a semi-historical reminder of how bad the Rajputs’ track record in battle has been. No wonder the Rajput Karni Sena is so adamant that no one should ever watch the film.
Back in November, when the Padmaavat juggernaut began its inevitable run, the upholders of Rajput pride insisted that their anti-Padmaavat sentiment stemmed from the film’s disrespect to their community’s “valour, sacrifice, and strength”. This of course went on to lots of other nonsensical “midriff” issues but the prime contention remained this core disrespect. Turns out, they were right all along – just wholly un-intentionally.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali had set out to make a lavishly simple film. A blatant “good Hindus, bad Muslims” narrative, designed as a paean to the “courage, valour, and sacrifice” of the Rajputs. But somehow, at the end of its three-hour runtime, the whole thing goes belly up and ends up being an embarrassing tragi-comedy of how incompetent the Rajputs were at strategising, making decisions, seeing through trickery, or coming up with legit excuses. In fact, such is their dedication to all-round stupidity that it makes Padmaavat’s roguish villain, the very bad and almost beastly Alauddin Khilji, look like the hero. Khilji’s over-the-top portrayal by Ranveer Singh is easily the best thing about Padmaavat.
If you were of the opinion that the Karni Sena’s farcical U-turn in the past few weeks – from getting Rajput women to threaten jauhar to insisting Bhansali commit jauhar – wasn’t enough indication of why the Rajputs boast of a dismal record when it comes to winning battles, Padmaavat puts that doubt to rest. In the film, when he declares war against Chittor’s Maharaja Rawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) with the sole intention of staking claim over the ethereal Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), Ratan Singh suggests that the neighbouring kings join forces to defeat Khilji. In true Rajput fashion, all the kings refuse to put up a united front because they are scared of antagonising the dreaded Khilji. So much for the famed Rajput courage.
This sets in motion another embarrassingly terrible resolution of Ratan Singh. To declare war against Khilji and fight the battle all by himself. Turns out, Ratan Singh is even worse at taking tactical decisions. Take for instance, his “guroor” (only mentioned about 2784638 times in the film) in not killing Khilji when he stops by his fort without his soldiers in tow or any weapon. Instead, the Maharaja indulges him in a game of chess, some lines about Rajput valour, outrage over Khilji’s mention of Padmavati served with a table of lunch and laughs. Later, when Padmavati chides him for wasting the opportunity of killing Khilji, he educates her in the language of “Rajput ke usool”, also known as the fail-safe excuse for any mistake.
You know what happens when Ratan Singh goes unarmed and alone to Khilji’s den? He is captured and taken to Delhi. If that is silly enough, Ratan Singh also wholeheartedly believes Khilji when he lies to him about sending his soldiers back to Delhi. Imagine a king readily believing whatever nonsense his rivals tell him, without the slightest attempt at fact-checking. At this point, we should just be amazed that the Rajputs didn’t just self-combust.
Once Padmavati displays her potential as being the only Rajput (through marriage; she’s originally from Sri Lanka) who uses her brain and frees Ratan Singh from Khilji’s captivity, our beloved Maharaja decides he should go and meet his captor instead of fleeing as suggested by his Queen. Our bro also gets irrationally mad at Padmavati for coming all the way to Delhi to save him. Be prepared for a facepalm because this next bit gets even wilder. Ratan Singh goes up to Khilji, who is again unarmed, alone and injured at that point, and brags about being free instead of killing his rival right then. His excuse? You guessed it. “Usool” (only mentioned about 84837349 times in the film). Go figure!
Then there’s the climactic moment when Khilji returns to invade Chittor after Ratan Singh and Padmavati have run away scott-free. Ratan Singh, however, insists on a one-on-one duel, as their respective armies watch. When he somehow manages to overpower Khilji, and is about to deal the final blow, Malik Gafur (Jim Sarbh) from Khilji’s army, attacks him with arrows. Guess what the Rajput army does at this point? Sweet fuckall. What they do to attack Khilji, once again unarmed, alone and injured? Yep, sweet fuckall again. They just play statue.
There’s more. Ratan Singh’s dying speech to Khilji is to fight with “usool” – to which Khilji’s retort is: “Jung ka ek hi usool hai. Jeet.” Wish someone had told Ratan Singh this earlier.
No wonder the Rajput Karni Sena is so adamant that no one should ever watch Padmavaat. It is a semi-historical reminder of how bad the Rajputs’ track record in battle has been. That also explains why, even in 2018, Karni Sena and Padmaavat have to resort to justify the deplorable act of jauhar as “bravery”. Because there’s absolutely nothing in the film that redeems their reputation of being valiant warriors.
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