Padmaavat: A Retelling

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“Disclaimer – All characters, places and events mentioned in this retelling are fictitious and bear resemblance only to persons in the movie Padmaavat. The purpose of this piece is not to discourage or censor art of any form, but rather to remind the artist of the impact of their creation. The purpose of this piece is not to tarnish or malign the traditions, cultures or feelings of any community or Sena in the past, present or future; but condemns Jauhar, Sati and other acts of burning people or arson of any nature.”

Karni Sena District Headquarters, Bangalore –

The two men glowered down at the black purple website; ‘BookmyShow.com’ waiting for the seat selection screen to load. A giant orange symbol with curved crossed swords bent over them, orange flags insipid on either side, watching with them.

“Bhaiyya, 8’o clock show, housefull, 10pm housefull. Garuda, Lido, PVR all housefull. Rex is also filling fast. Ab kya?? Book karoon??”

Loki Singh sighed leaning back clicking his lips in irritation. His grey hair peeking out from under his brown turban, a merry moustache dancing across his face, he looked more like a genial, slightly overfed Chacha Choudhary rather than the leader of the feared Karni Sena.

“Saalon paisa bana rahe hai… Rani Padmini ke apmaan se… Book kar, book it, I want to see it and then burn the theatre down.”

“Two tickets booked, 545 rupees with one combo caramel popcorn and Coke”

A Liberal’s House, Bangalore

“Did you book it? Did you book it?”

“It’s all full yaar, no seats anywhere…only in Rex, that too only front row.”

“It’s ok, book it, I want to watch it. Ranveer looks good and Deepika is so hot. Book fast.”

“Ok Ok…”

“Done… Rex 9.30pm show, Happy?”

She strutted out with practised steps, leaving me sitting on the sofa unsure of how the night would go. On one hand Bhansali’s films were grand spectacles lofted on epic scales with actors pushing the boundaries; on the other first day shows ran the risk of Karni Sena protests and loud-mouthed idiots in the first rows. And lastly, even worse, it could turn out to be an overlong snooze fest like Saawariya.

No spoilers were in the offing, the Karni Sena, CBFC, even the Supreme Court had ruined it for all of us. Rajputs (Shahid Kapoor) were good, Khilji (Ranveer Singh) Bad, Padmini (Deepika Padukone) gorgeous, virtuous, chaste; dies in a fiery mass suicide in the end. The Supreme Court had watched it and spoiled it for the nation, that alone warranted a watch. Just to see what all the fuss was about.

Rex Theatre, 9.30 pm

“Please stand for the National Anthem…” the voice intoned monotonous, emotionless.

“Look how far we’ve come, 71 years and people still object to works of art, no hope for this country man…” I grumbled sitting down in the surprising plush first row of the Rex, prepping for the crick in my neck over the next 164 minutes.

“Relax, see no Karni Sena people atleast, calm down.”

“Loki, here, idhar, 9 and 10 B row.”

“Anthem miss kar di yaar.”

“Shhh, its starting…”

“Disclaimers are there, see… They had to bow down to our Rajput orders”

“Hah… forced to put so many disclaimers, culture, tradition, value, everything literally”

“Shhh…”

Padmaavat is precisely what one expects it to be. An overlong glamourous retelling of an epic we didn’t need. We begin with a CGI ostrich and Ranveer Singh introducing him as villainous nephew newly wed to Muted woman of the year – Aditi Rao. Moving swiftly forward we’re introduced to a warrior Deepika and a doe footed Shahid who manages to get himself shot by love’s arrow in the jungles of Sri Lanka. A rapid wedding and a teleportation later, we’re in Chittorgarh, an ill-defined dusty land in the middle of the desert, that just has Shahid, Deepika, a sullen ex-wife and multitudes of ghagra clad women and their spouses; moustachioed burly men. An evil priest, a conspiracy and an over-the-top Ranveer Singh later, we have Khilji at the threshold of Chittoorgarh bent on making Padmaavati his own.

The stalwart Rajputs, aware of the threat, feel the best defence and offence is a good festival and celebrate, Holi, Diwali and many more mind-numbingly boring festivals in the wake of the disturbingly slow danger. Ranveer having killed his uncle meanwhile is busy exploring his sexuality with the only slightly bright star in the film, Jim Sarbh, standing out as his slave/bedfellow/chaddhi buddy.

Weakened by Bhansali’s circular nauseous camera movement and the sandstorms of Rajasthan, Khilji feigns peace and sneaks a glimpse of Deepika’s Tanishq jewellery and handcrafted costumes spurring his infatuation further. He invites and tricks, the infallible Rajput ideals in the form of Shahid Kapoor into his tent and teleports him back to Delhi threatening decapitation if Padmaavati doesn’t travel to meet him. After some punchy lines about Rajput/Tanishq bangles Padmaavati decides to go against the wishes of her shocked, intra-palanquin residing companions. And somewhere, there, my memory fails me to recall the precise, non-cliff-hanger moment, the interval arrives.

Rex Theatre – Interval

As we stretched and yawned, our eyes caught the reaction of a 20 something man two seats to our left; he closed his eyes, burrowing his head between his knees, defeated, traumatised and fore lone.

“Man, worst war ever, dumbest rivals ever, no wonder Rajputs didn’t get Rajputana…”

“Shhh…”, Krithika silenced me with a voice of caution.

Two rows behind, unbeknownst Loki was furious, “What, how can they do this?”, he fumed, “How dare, Padmaavati agree to go to Delhi, Rani Padmini would never have gone…”

“Calm, bhaiyya, calm… I’ve called the Head office and they are bringing petrol cans and matches. Don’t worry, these liberal drohis will all burn.”

“Bhansali head, Deepika’s Nose, all shall fall, in the coming days. And as for Ranveer, we’ll make him roam naked for this.”

“Shhh… It’s starting…”

The second half droned on, without need and reason, Padmaavati succeeds in a half-assed escape, aided by Stifled Woman of the Year recipient; Aditi Rao. Khilji enraged that woman can think teleports back to Chittorgarh with elephants, catapults and army. Walls defeated by catapults and resolve defeated by the urgent need to let his women commit Jauhar, Shahid and Deepika spend their last night together posing in the moonlight. The usual “Main laut aaunga chaand ke saath” dialogues are spoken and chin kisses of the 90s are exchanged.

Deepika asks for permission to die, you know, like how any dutiful wife should; and Husband of the Year award winner, Shahid agrees.

“What the fuck…” I hissed to Krithika, my brains fried and boiling.

Shahid, never learning from his errors, engages in single combat with Khilji, resulting in the five most engaging minutes of the film. Bhansali finally puts his single shots to good use and choreographs a good sword fight, at the end of which Shahid disarms Khilji and moves in for the kill. Only for the loyal Jim Sarbh to shoot 5 arrows into his back, killing him Bhisma style. No gasps, no reaction broke the silence in the theatre, everyone could have been asleep.

A short battle later, Khilji gallops towards the fort, to claim his prize. Deepika in the interim is pitching Jauhar to her fellow women Rajputnis and prepping a massive pyre, with no information if all their husbands are dead or just her’s. Nonetheless Bhansali ensures he includes a couple of child brides in red ghagras and a pregnant woman to drive home the moral victory of the moment.

A crazed Khilji, apparently unable to find the entrance of the fort, runs from pillar to post searching for his prize as the Rajputni women much like a PT practice session at school march uniformly towards the burning pyre. Khilji finding the door finally is flummoxed by burning coals in a Mirch Masala-esque moment that has neither the mirch nor masala and watches in vain as hundred red ghagras led by Deepika, the young, the old, the spinsters, all alike dive into the flames in a moment of glory and salvation.

“What bullshit…” Krithika swore under her breath. She had finally had it, had it with the stifled women, the jauhar glorification, the chauvinism of it all. “The Karni Sena should bloody burn it, at least no one will see this crap.”

“Shh…” I cautioned. She was having none of it.

“What Shhh, what crap is this, and he has the audacity to say the purpose is not to glorify Sati”

“Jauhar, you mean”

“Yeah, same thing” she glared at me. (Mental note to self –  Shut it and don’t correct her.)

“Why do people even agree to make this stuff, there are so many other epics. So many other stories. Why choose one that glorifies the worst from our past? As though women don’t go through enough” She continued as we moved towards the Exit. We were the last to leave the theatre, it was half past twelve.

As we walked out into the cold night, we saw Loki Singh and his aides running into the theatre petrol cans ablaze, faces sweaty glowing in the light of Rajput pride.

“Burn it down, Bhansali, Deepika Hai Hai, Rajputana Zindabad.” The cries rang out as we sat on my bike and quickly moved across the road.

“Shit, shit” I said, beginning to accelerate.

“No, Wait, I want to watch”

“What…”

“Stop… I want to watch”

In front of us, the flames leapt into the sky in a moment of glorious irony. The Karni Sena victorious burnt down the theatre. The liberal victorious watched a film that needn’t have been made burn.

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Durrell Diaries – Chapter One

The small Tempo Traveller swerved to narrowly avoid the cyclist. Audible gasps filled the air reminding me of my foreign companions. New to Indian roads, traffic and the nonchalant reckless driving they Oohed and Aahed at every deft turn of the steering wheel. Shaking my head, I typed out on Google Maps – ‘Pygmy Hog Centre, Basishta’… No results found. Odd, I thought, Google that could find me and my obscure blog was unable to find the centre fighting to save the world’s rarest species of wild pig. Minutes later, we turned into a small clearing on the crammed road and shuddered to a halt on the slanted ground.

A rusting gate stood, green letters on a white board proclaiming proudly on it – ‘Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme’. Flagging this on the side were logos of the associated organisations one of them being the Dodo logo, I had flown to Guwahati for.

In front of me, Lee Durrell and the group from Durrell Conservation Trust walked on, into their programme to save a species most Indians didn’t know or care about. The pygmy hog for those of you who don’t know (most of you I suspect) is the world’s smallest species of pig and was once thought to be extinct. Interestingly they owe their rediscovery to the meat eaters of Assam.

Continue reading “Durrell Diaries – Chapter One”

Kabali – A Review

Kabali-movie-poster

Kabali fever has gripped the nation. Offices declared holidays, airlines paid for first day first show tickets, theatres opened before sunrise, torrent sites collapsed, bus strikes were declared in Karnataka, schools were closed, Kabali da the only explanation.

Swept away in the wave of fandom, not wanting to miss out on what was surely going to define dialogue, thought and catch phrases for the nation I too trooped off to a multiplex to be part of the phenomenon.

From the very beginning, I realised that this was going to be different. Rajinikanth’s films to me were loud, melodramatic and overtly stylish to a fault and pure entertainment. But this was different. The quiet introduction of Kabali in a cell reading My father Balaiah promises intelligence, subtlety and much more. The style quotient of Rajinikanth is there but drastically cut down; gone are the cigarette flicks and the shoulder towel stunts, here is a cooler, suaver Rajini. Dressed to the nines in every scene, credit to the fashion designer for creating suits that stood out, yet fit in; just the right amount of sass.

Rajini is comparatively subdued for most part of the film, his style reduced to sitting cross-legged on chairs and uttering ‘Magizhchi’ with pointed nods and gestures. Playing his own age has enabled the actor to sink his teeth into a role and he does justice to the part. A near-permanent scowl on his bearded face, that breaks into a smile without warning adds to the persona of the feared and revered don. No songs and exaggerated action sequences break his character and most fights are with guns or props that ensure physicality is not questioned (exceptions exist though).

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The Temple Within

I stared out of the window, fields shot by as the car bounced from narrow street onto ever narrowing lanes. I hated temples, always have. The only thing I liked about familial visits to temples is the feel of the stone floor. Cool, rugged in the shade, burnt, scalding under the sun; I often wondered if this amorphous yet persevering nature was why stones were worshiped.

Through high school and college, I’d always wormed, squirmed and fought my way out of temple trips.  Coming from a family that barely ever visited temples and actively encouraged me to abandon our sacred threads, my rebellion and agnosticism was welcomed into the fold.

But this trip was different, very different. I had to come, no questions asked. We were to go our ancestral temple in Mangudi ergo middle of fucking nowhere village. All the cajoling, blackmailing and begging had brought me to this nauseous seat in the back of the still bouncing Scorpio.

Cackling overstuffed relatives, mind-numbing familial puns and never ending stories of bumbling relatives flooded through my ears as I fervently hoped and prayed to be back in my calm, controlled Emergency Room.

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Is India an Independent Country??

Open Letter to All the powers that be in the Indian Education System

Respected Sir/Madam,

Strains of Rahman’s Maa tujhe Salaam blare out of speakers for the last time as India’s 68th Independence Day draws to a close. As I walk home I think to myself what a sham celebrating our Independence really is. I don’t mean that we are not free to do and live as we like, because we truly are and we owe a great debt to all the people who stood up and fought for us and our future.

It’s a sham because we don’t know and don’t care about what we’ve done with our Independence.

Continue reading “Is India an Independent Country??”