Padmaavat crosses Rs 300 cr at box office; Ranveer Singh says artistes must stand by their vision

Ranveer Singh is overwhelmed that with Padmaavat, he has entered the club of actors whose movies have minted over Rs 300 crore at the box office. He says it’s a “historic” project that will “glow” in his career.

Ranveer Singh in a still from Padmaavat. Twitter@Film_Padmaavat

The actor essayed Alauddin Khilji in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial, which also stars Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor in pivotal roles.

Ranveer said in a statement: “Padmaavat is a historic film for our country. I’m overwhelmed and extremely happy that the film has received this much love from audiences not just in India, but also the world over.

“It is a film that is and will always be extremely close to my heart and with it becoming my first ever Rs 300 crore film, the memory of Padmaavat will be that much more special.”

He thanked Bhansali for his vision, and for giving him a character like Khilji that “will forever glow in my body of work”.

“This success is for all of us to cherish and remember that as artistes, we need to stand by our vision, our craft,” said Ranveer of the movie, which was released on 25 January after much controversy.

Just earlier this week, the movie crossed 50 days since hitting the screens, and it’s still counting at the box office.

With Hichki, I’d like to tell the world about the kind of brave films India is churning out, says Rani Mukerji

(This is part one of an extensive, candid and absorbing interview with Rani Mukerji. There’s lots to catch up on with the talented actor, who returns to the big screen after a short sabbatical with YRF’s Hichki on 23 March. Stay tuned for part two, out on 20 March)

After a hectic day, Rani Mukerji is scrambling for a quiet corner to sit in peace and have lunch, which has gotten delayed by couple of hours. Finally, she picks a make-up room at Yashraj studios and opens her tiny tiffin box. Rani seems to have found that perfect work-home balance and she seems to enjoy motherhood as well. Nothing gives her more happiness than spending time with her two-year-old daughter, Adira.

“I just want to finish work and rush home. Adira is waiting. I usually take advantage of the afternoon slot because she sleeps at that time but today I’m a bit late. I used to go for my shoot early morning and get back home around lunch so that she didn’t miss me much. Now I have started telling her that I am going for shooting,” says Rani, who’s busy promoting her upcoming film, Hichki.

Rani Mukerji in a still from Hichki. YouTube

She continues, “Yesterday when I returned home, Adira asked me, ‘Mama aap shooting par gaye the? Makeup nikaal diya? (Did you go for your shoot? Have you removed your makeup?) Both, Adira and her father are happy to see me without make-up. The first thing Aditya (Chopra) says when I reach home is, ‘go remove your make up’. But it is wonderful to see Adira grow,” she smiles warmly.

Rani has done 43 films in her 21-year-old illustrious career, and is undoubtedly one of those rare actors who has adapted well to the sensibilities of changing times; she’s an inventive actor, and it shows. Known as one of the earliest in contemporary times to transform into a superstar, Rani returns to the big screen after a hiatus of three-years. She was last seen in Mardaani (2014).

“What’s most important for an actor is to innovate. The day innovation dies, the actor dies. If you don’t come up with new ideas for your audience, your fans, you will lose them. It is important for me at each stage to understand how I should be portraying this role, how can I make it look contemporary,” she says, adding, “Also, my husband is a producer-director so even if I don’t want to, I am in touch with current styles and my work as an actor keeps on evolving,” she says.

So naturally, we have to ask her. Will one now see her on the silver screen more often? “I am actually hopeful that I won’t be taking such a long break any time soon because I have no other reason to take a break,” she says. But who among the younger lot could take her legacy forward? Rani, without batting an eye-lid, says with a laugh, “No one, because I would like to believe that there should be no one like me.”

Rani Mukerji in a still from Hichki. YouTube

However, Rani admits that she was extremely nervous on the first day of her shoot for Hichki. “I was very scared because I was leaving Adira for the first time, she had not spent even one day without me. Also, I was wondering whether I would be able to act or not as I was facing the camera after two years. I wondered if I still have it in me. But on sets, it came naturally to me and I realised that I am meant to be here,” she says.

After Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997), a social drama which marked her Hindi film debut, Rani’s career took a giant leap with Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam (1998) opposite Aamir Khan followed by Karan Johar’s directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. KKHH cemented her stardom and the rest as they say, is history. Rani stood apart from the rest with box office hits and critical acclaim, with films like Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram, Shaad Ali’s Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli, Aziz Mirza’s Chalte Chalte, Mani Ratnam’s Yuva, Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum, Yash Chopra’s Veer Zaara, and of course, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s much acclaimed, Black.

And even as these films brought her accolades and awards, Rani continued to woo her audience with her performance the in biographical thriller, No One Killed Jessica (2011), Talaash (2012) and crime thriller Mardaani (2014) in the recent past. Hichki is inspired by the real-life success story of Brad Cohen, an American motivational speaker, teacher and author who has severe Tourette syndrome. Hichki is an adaptation of Cohen’s Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film portrays Rani as Naina Mathur, an aspiring teacher suffering from Tourette.

Looking back at her career, she says, “I started when I was 16 and next month I will turn 40. I have grown in this industry. It has taught me a lot with many ups and downs. Also, my choice of films changed with each phase whether it was my early teen days, or early 20s, late 20s, early 30s and late 30s. Each time I chose a role, it has always connected me at that point in my life. Hichki is a very special film that connected with my soul, and [through it] I would like to tell the world [of] the kind of brave films India is churning. It’s a very special film about overcoming one’s weakness and turning them into strength. It also talks about the education system in our country and the discrimination that people face from society.”

When asked which film was more challenging for her as an actor — Black (she played a visually and hearing-impaired woman) or Hichki, Rani says, “Both were challenging. When you play a sensitive character you have to keep in mind the sensitivity of people who have the syndrome. My whole concern with my character in Hichki is that it can become comical. Lot of people laugh and make fun of those suffering from Tourette. It has to be done in a sensitive and real way. When people see Naina, even if they begin by laughing wondering what noise is that, they will change and feel empathetic towards her. There is a lot of complexities that come with playing a role like that.”

Motherhood has made her more sensitive to her surroundings, says Rani. “There is a different kind of passion, different kind of love you feel after being a mother, which you can translate into your work,” she says.

Behind-the-scenes of a song shoot for Hichki. Photo by: Firstpost/Sachin Gokhale

Post Hichki, Rani will be seen in a cameo in Aanand L Rai’s, Zero starring Shah Rukh Khan. When asked if Aditya Chopra will ever direct her, and she shoots back, “Tell Aditya to direct me. Actually I would love to ask this question to him personally. But I’m sure he is the kind of director who chooses his actors according to the script. Whenever he feels that a script or character would be suitable to me, I am sure he will ask me but probably that day might not happen because we are too close and connected to be able to work together.”

While Rani will not be celebrating her 40th birthday (21 March) this year because of “too many loses” — referring to the demise of her father and veteran actress, Sridevi, she feels that it’s an amazing age to step into. “When we were young we used to feel that life is over at 40 but today life starts at 40 especially for me because I have just given birth to my daughter. My life has just begun. Also, my new career has begun and I feel like a newcomer. I am raring to go,” she says and gets back to enjoying her favourite macher jhol.

Rizwan Siddiquee has been made scapegoat to protect Nawazuddin and his brother, claims lawyer

It was earlier reported that the Crime Branch of Thane police arrested Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s lawyer Rizwan Siddiquee for illegally obtaining call detail records (CDR) from private detectives.

After the arrest, Rizwan Siddiquee was produced in a Thane court on Saturday, 17 March. The lawyer is suspected of having illegally obtained Call Detail Records (CDR) of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s wife through private detectives.

Now, according to a report in MiD DAY, there is a suspicion that he may have got CDRs of more people.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui/image from Twitter.

Rizwan Siddiquee was arrested on Friday (16 March) in the CDR racket case. The case was unearthed in January by the Thane crime branch. The police has seized the laptop and mobile phone belonging to Rizwan Siddiquee and has claimed that the lawyer had deleted all data from both devices.

Rizwan Siddiquee’s advocate, Rizwan Merchant, said that his client was illegally detained by the police.

“Rizwan Siddiquee has been made a scapegoat to protect Nawazuddin and his brother,” said Merchant. He also said that a big officer was trying to protect the actor and that the officer’s name would be revealed very soon.

In the meantime, the court has sent Rizwan Siddiqui to police custody till 23 March.

Diljit Dosanjh on picking projects in Hindi films: ‘Unlike in Punjab, I’m not in a position to choose roles in Bollywood’

A few years ago people would wonder whether a turbaned sikh guy could be a mainstream Bollywood hero but Diljit Dosanjh has put those doubts to rest. Not only is the singer-actor having back to back releases in Bollywood but is also being cast opposite A-list heroines. After making a promising debut and an earnest performance in Udta Punjab opposite Kareena Kapoor, he was seen with Anushka Sharma in Phillauri. In his upcoming release, Welcome To New York, he will be seen with Sonakshi Sinha and then with Taapsee Pannu in Soorma, a biopic on hockey player Sandeep Singh, which will hit the theatres in June. He is currently shooting with Kriti Sanon for Arjun Patiala.

Diljit Dosanjh. Image from Twitter/@diljitdosanjh

Naturally, Diljit’s confidence has taken a boost. In his initial days, he would have probably wondered in self doubt when asked if there was a limitation to the kind of roles offered to him, but today he confidently states in a mix of Hindi and Punjabi, “Isn’t there a turbanator in every field? Sikhs are there in Navy, Army, the police force…there is no profession left where there is no sikh. So how can I have any such limitations?”

He further adds, “In the beginning when I started with music in Punjab and was keen on acting as well, people would dismiss me saying it wasn’t possible as no sikh had ever been seen as a Punjabi film hero and that I should be restricted to music. My first Punjabi film didn’t but I slowly started delivering hits, some of which even became top grossers. (Diljit has been appreciated for his versatile performances in Punjabi films like the Jatt & Juliet series, Punjab 1984 and Ambarsariya). Later, people said that I won’t be successful in Bollywood because I wear a turban, but my turban helped me get films here.”

Not easily accessible and also considered media-shy, Firstpost tracks him down on the sets of the singing reality show, Rising Star, where the jovial and happy go lucky jatt is the centre of attention. He is in the midst of young singers and some big names from the music industry – Shankar Mahadevan and Monali Thakur. Sporting a shiny yellow jacket and black turban, Diljit seems to be enjoying every bit of it. “I am enjoying both, acting as well as singing, I just wanted to do some good work which I am doing, let’s see where my life takes me. I enjoy each day of my life. Sometimes I have my mood swings but I still try to maintain a balance,” says the singing star, who candidly talks about his upcoming stage-show reality film, Welcome To New York which is based on an award show. “There are so many actors in it, and I, too, have a small part. But if you ask me the experience of doing the film, I really didn’t understand anything. I don’t know how they shot the film in so much chaos. I have no idea. It was difficult to shoot but I kept taking orders from the director and went on doing what I was told,” he laughs.

Known for his rustic charm and simplicity, Diljit might have a lot in the pipeline, but he isn’t someone who would succumb to stereotypes. He wants to do roles that are integral to the story. “I won’t do as many films now. It is just that I had lesser commitments and hence I can be seen in so many films. Last year I refused three to four films. If I don’t like anything I say no to it. Even in Punjab, I did just one film a year and I will follow the same in Bollywood provided I am offered one. I am in no hurry, no greed, as I am getting more than what I am capable of. I would like to use the remaining time on my singing and churn out more Punjabi films for my fans. I also have fans in the US, UK, Canada and I would like to continue doing stage shows for them. Whatever I have to say from my heart, I do it through Punjabi music,” he says without displaying an ounce of stardom.

“I enjoy making music more because there are no limitations as compared to movies. You have a team with who you gel and make music. But the film is not under your control. You listen to the story and script but what finally comes on the canvas could be different, whereas in music you can reject your own composition if you don’t like it and try something different. But films are huge projects; a lot of money is invested and directors have their own point of view,” he adds.

Secondly, Diljit says, he finds more freedom in the choice of movies back home. “I am not in a position to choose roles right now in Bollywood but in Punjabi films I have that choice. Producers are friends there but in Bollywood whatever is being offered I am taking up. My upcoming Punjabi film, Rangroot is on World War I which was something I was passionate about,” he says.

Considering the fact that Diljit never played any sport earlier in his life, one would expect the Shaad Ali-directed Soorma to be one of his most challenging roles of that of a hockey champion. Diljit says jokingly, “When I was a kid, I didn’t get the opportunity to play much sports as my parents would tell me to study. And now when I am getting paid to play so why not? (laughs) But I didn’t face any difficulty while shooting for Soorma. I didn’t have to do much training in the sport, I just had to play the game. I am very happy that in the second year of my acting career in Bollywood I got to do a biopic. Actually, I don’t find my work difficult. Just that when I am acting, I try to feel for the character I’m portraying but every take of mine tends to be different. I don’t treat myself as an actor who has a process, I perform with instinct.”

And even as Bollywood is showering love on him, Diljit prefers to meet people only for work as he doesn’t like “bothering people unnecessarily”. “I don’t stay in touch with industry folks much. I am here only to work. I never got work because of networking or meeting producers in parties. I don’t believe in PR,” signs off the endearing star.

Kangana Ranaut, Bipasha Basu accuse Mehul Choksi’s Gitanjali Gems of non-payment of dues, breach of contract

Kangana Ranaut and Bipasha Basu have accused Gitanjali Gems, founded by Mehul Choksi (Nirav Modi’s — recently accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam — relative), of breach of contract and non-payment of dues.

Kangana Ranaut-Bipasha Basu. Images from Twitter.

Padmaavat: Delhi High Court rejects plea alleging glorification of Sati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film

The Delhi High Court today rejected a plea seeking penal action against the producers and director of Bollywood movie Padmaavat for alleged glorification of the practice of ‘sati (immolation)’. A bench of acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar dismissed the plea saying the petitioner should have approached the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) at an appropriate time.

Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat poster. Facebook

“The film stands released without any complaints and it is already in the public domain. If the petitioner was having any complaint with regard to the issue raised in his writ petition, he should have made complaint before the CBFC at an appropriate time. We find no merit in the petition. The same is dismissed (sic).” the court said.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by social activist Swami Agnivesh had sought deletion of the scenes that depict the practice of ‘sati‘. ‘Sati‘ is an obsolete funeral custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre and the law prohibits it.

The court had earlier observed that according to one of the disclaimers in the film, it is a work of fiction and therefore, it does not show any intention or animus on the part of the producers or director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, to propagate the practice.

The petition, filed through advocate Mehmood Pracha, had sought directions to the Delhi Police to lodge an FIR against Ajit Andhare, one of the producers, and Bhansali. Central government standing counsel Manish Mohan, who appeared for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the censor board, had opposed the plea, saying the movie was certified for public viewing after considering all the aspects.

The court had said that in the present day and age, it was “hesitant to accept” the petitioner’s claim that someone would follow such a practice just by seeing the movie. The high court on 25 January had rejected a Rajasthan-based group’s plea seeking quashing of the certification granted to the film, saying the Supreme Court had permitted its release.

The film, which hit the theatres on 25 January, is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and has Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles. It is based on the saga of a historic battle of 13th century between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi.

The impending release of the movie had led to several incidents of vandalism, including an attack on a school bus in Gurugram and torching of a Haryana Roadways bus on 24 January. The set of the movie was vandalised twice — in Jaipur and Kolhapur, while its director Bhansali was roughed up by members of the Karni Sena last year. The apex court had paved the way for nationwide release of the movie by staying the ban on its screening in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It had also restrained other states from issuing any such notification or order banning the screening of the film.

Suriya’s Thaanaa Serndha Kootam reflects Tamil cinema’s fear of letting purely negative characters lead a film

One Mr MK Gandhi once said, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

Fear stops us from being who we could be and more importantly fear constitutes who we are. As Kamal Haasan elaborated in Thenali, fear can take a multitude of forms and probably the most common but with the most impact is the fear of failure. To further delve on this particular form of fear, let us start with the recent Suriya release, Thaanaa Serndha Kootam.

suriya 825

In most of the promotional interviews ahead of this Pongal release, Suriya kept on repeating this particular line that exhibited a sense of trepidation in the actor: “Idhu en career la oru miga mukkiyamaana padam (This is a very important movie in my career).”

Let’s roll back a few years to the time when he acted in the Bala-directed 2001 movie, Nandha. This ‘bold’ attempt at playing a henchman working for a kind-hearted gangster in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan refugee crisis gave his career a new lease of life. Since then, Suriya tried to reinvent himself as an actor and dabbled in genres unexpected of him. The audience accepted his roles ranging from a motormouth conman in Pithamagan to a hunchback in the comic caper Perazhagan. They even idolised the principled student politician in Aaidha Ezhuthu. They made him a star.

However, it could be the law of averages or just sheer bad luck that he met with one of the biggest pitfalls of an actor’s career — getting typecast. Being typecast might not just be in being relegated to a particular role but also being relegated to a particular style of and a specific level of comfort with a genre. Suriya’s movies since 2009, saw him sticking to either being an international/national thief, gangster and or someone in the international/national police. In between, there were a couple of movies where he saved India and even the world from the clutches of evil scientists.

It is not to say that these movies were not entertaining or commercially successful, but it was a case of Suriya just trying too hard to hold on to his audience who seemed to be slipping from his grasp, especially with the advent of other stars in the business. Then, the Vignesh Shivan directed TSK, an official remake of Hindi film Special 26 happened.

Both Special 26 and TSK deal with a bogus CBI gang helmed by the protagonist who swindles money from the haves and uses it for purposes he deems right. There were a lot of logical loopholes in the original and curiously enough, there are a lot more in the remake. The only major difference between both these movies is the fact that unlike in the Tamil version where the swindling and conning happens for a greater good (Mandatory Shankar and Murugadoss nods) instead of the Hindi version’s simplistic reasoning — he wants to. This brings us back to the topic of fear.

Why are Tamil film stars and directors afraid of letting go of the moral high ground?

They seem to have no such qualms when the hero plays a rowdy/gangster who goes on a killing spree to avenge his friend/mentor/family’s death. Suriya himself has acted in at least half a dozen films where he kills for no politically correct reason. When such digressions are not even remotely questioned, what stopped the makers of TSK from sticking to the original plot line. This could have done away with the illogical and more importantly nonsensical climax of the remake.

Even the other Pongal release, Vikram’s Sketch, shows no remorse in portraying gratuitous violence but slides in a message towards the end about how violence is bad. It was as effective as the no smoking disclaimers that pop up frequently. Basically, why can’t Tamil cinema’s superstars play a character with grey shades with purely negative intent? Is it to crack the famed MGR formula which every Tamil actor tries to emulate in order to stoke their chances of entering politics one fine day?

It’s not that Tamil cinema hasn’t successfully tried its hand at movies with remorseless leads who don’t harp on morality and righteousness. The most shining example is that of the 2011 Ajith-starrer Mankatha that stuck to a story of a bad person doing bad things without any sob story to justify the means to this end.

The 2014 sleeper hit, Sadhuranga Vettai and the 2015 film Rajathandhiram, were successful despite their protagonists stealing money for their own needs that didn’t involve any greater good. However, it is imperative to note that except Mankatha, other such movies were helmed by first-time directors and the star cast was led by relatively non-established stars.

In the neighbouring state of Kerala, the 2017 critically acclaimed Malayalam film, Thondimuthalum Drikshakshikalum — a feel-good movie about a doe-eyed thief and his loot — was a commercial success. But then, there is that constant reference to the size of the audience and how Tamil cinema caters to a larger market than Malayalam cinema and why such experimentation with the roles isn’t advised. But Hindi Cinema, which caters to a much wider market and audience, constantly does such movies.

The entire Dhoom series except the highly farcical and pretentious Dhoom 3, dealt with robbery and thieves stealing for the need for money and not to open a hospital for the needy. Hollywood regularly churns out enjoyable heist movies and has seen its biggest stars play negative characters without much consideration to their ‘image’. Whereas Tamil cinema’s major stars, who avoid playing characters that don’t adhere to the so-called social construct, don’t once flinch before making movies that continue to accommodate their machismo, comedy and love tracks?

Even the idea of accepting a bad guy’s role in a movie seems to be blasphemous to the actors who think they carry the humongous weight of shaping the future of the nation’s youth. The recent toast of Tamil cinema, Sivakarthikeyan, when asked in an interview if he’d do movies where he’d play a character with grey shades or a negative role, categorically refused it citing his ever-growing children audience. Despite being perched on that imaginary branch of the moral high ground, many of these stars have no problem in acting movies filled with bloodshed and violence. They find no excuses to not do roles that clearly handles the issue of stalking as an “art imitates life” scenario. These morally rich stars also feature in movies where humour in the name of body shaming or racism or ageism or even rape easily pass under the radar. This ambiguity is puzzling and more importantly, troubling.

Now let’s get back to the ‘morally upright’ heist movie, TSK. This is a movie that borrows the plot from Special 26 and appropriates the sensibilities of movies like Gentleman and Ramana. In Gentleman, the conman has a solid backstory to his nefarious ways but bears the brunt of his decisions by going to jail for his crimes. In Ramana, the teacher/executioner has a solid backstory to his society-cleansing ways but bears the brunt of his decisions by accepting the death penalty enforced by the judiciary of our country.

In TSK, if they actually wanted to propagate the right ideas and not wrongly influence the youth of our country, the conman should have accepted the legal justice he richly deserved. Since that doesn’t happen, we need to keep our peace with the fact that the only karmic payback for the conman is that he will have to spend his life with the character played by Keerthy Suresh.

Padmaavat box office collection: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus nears Rs 200 cr mark

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat is perhaps his most controversial and also his most successful film ever. At least the box-office figures suggest so; the film is all set to steer through the Rs 200 crore benchmark at the box office after nine days of its theatrical release.

Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in Padmaavat. Images via YouTube screengrabs

According to film trade analyst Taran Adarsh, the film may cross the mark after today’s collections come into picture. He took to Twitter and posted:

He also suggests that the period drama  marks Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor’s biggest box-office coup till date. While Deepika Padukone’s Chennai Express remains her highest grossing film ever, the way Padmaavat‘s collections are surging it may shatter those records soon.

Padmaavat, based on the epic ballad Padmavat written by the 16th century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi chronicles the life and times of the 13th century Rajput queen Padmavati (played by Padukone) of Chittorgarh who chose self-immolation over falling prey to the hands of invader and ruler of Delhi Sultanate Alauddin Khilji (played by Singh) after her husband Maharawal Ratan Singh (played by Kapoor) is killed in the battle.

Padmaavat released on 25 January after being at the epicentre of nation-wide protests, violence and agitation captained by the fringe group Shri Rajput Karni Sena who claims that the film shows the Rajput queen and the Rajput traditions in a bad light.

Not Padmaavat; Padmavati would have been the better title for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film

What’s in a name? Judging by the recurrent noise around the release of Padmaavat, tons of chest beating, arson, stone pelting and hooliganism.

Beyond the news, the renaming of Bhansali’s film was an exercise in futility. For his grand tale is a salute to the bravery and sacrifice of a Rajput queen — one who was gorgeous, free-spirited, smart and deft at statecraft. It’s an ode to the sum total of edited truths about Rajput glory (mostly myths rather than historical fact).  The best way to do justice to this elaborate tribute to (real and imagined) Rajput glory would have been to retain the name Padmavati, for the film caps Bhansali’s interpretation of the woman.

Of course, what I say is in hindsight. The makers had to give in to the Central Board of Film Certification’s directives — or lose out on showing Padmavati/Padmaavat at all. Sad, but true.

Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

Like some of Bhansali’s female protagonists of the past, Padmavati has all the makings of a true hero. She is a skilled archer who hunts in the lush, green jungles of Sinhala (modern day Sri Lanka), marries a besotted Rajput king, Rawal Ratan Singh, and moves to the desert kingdom of Chittor: a regal fort where at least 10,000 oil lamps are lit at all times, every piece of fabric is richly embroidered silk or satin, and well-crafted pots and pans are part of every frame. Here, Padmavati settles in to be the loved, worshipped queen — a homemaker to the hilt. When trouble comes knocking in the form of a lustful, conquest-crazy Alauddin Khilji, she advises her husband smartly on statecraft and war games. She also rescues him from Khilji’s dungeons, while inflicting damage on the enemy (with some help from the latter’s long suffering wife). In the end, haplessly bound by a code of male-dictated honour, she decides to jump into a blazing fire with all the women in the fort, to save themselves from the pillage of a victorious Khilji.

At every given moment in the story, Padmavati stands tall as the ideal queen. Her husband’s first wife, Nagmati, sadly is given little to say or do; at times, she is projected as petty — which is unfair, given the injustice meted out to her when Rawal Ratan replaces her with a newer, prettier model is not addressed at all. Of course, she merrily jumps into the fire too.

The filmmaker has focused on courage under fire by highlighting the quiet dignity of Mehrunissa, Alauddin Khilji’s wife. She is the voice of reason, always overruled but fearless.  Both Padmavati and Mehrunissa are intent on the guidance and persuasion of their headstrong husbands. In Padmaavat, the women are the pillars of strength for their men. Both queens here are able, rational people. Yet, both surrender to a premise of life dictated by men. In this aspect, of empowering his women yet falling short of making them active actors in determining their lives, Padmavati and Mehrunissa are a culmination of Bhansali’s interpretation of women.

Over time, SLB’s women have evolved, yet stayed passive during grand finale moments. Bhansali’s defiant, heartbroken female protagonist, Nandini, doesn’t give in to convention despite being forced to marry. Her battle is passive aggressive, never overt but the kind that wreaks havoc in a marriage. His women in Devdas were huge creative liberties: There is Paro’s cantankerous mother, deafening the audience with her tirade against Devdas’ mother, the haughty, over-jewelled zamindar’s wife. There is Paro, heart broken, humiliated and yet adjusted to a pragmatic marriage. There is Chandramukhi, the courtesan with a heart of gold. Each woman plays a crucial role in influencing Devdas’ life, an ineffectual, privileged, weak protagonist — but none of them has any say over his destiny. Women in Bhansali’s films have well-written dialogues, don’t give in easily — but finally, always surrender to the dictates of society.

When Bhansali chose to make women the center of his story, he made them noble with a capital N. He whitewashed the heroine with greatness in the films that followed. In Black, Michelle is determined, good and set on conquering her physical challenges. Sophia in Guzaarish is silently loving; aching but willing to make sacrifices.

Only later did Bhansali give his heroines some teeth. In Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ramleela and Bajirao Mastani, his female protagonists oscillate between good and evil, and actively shape the story.  Supriya Pathak’s role of Dhankor, quietly menacing and deadly, is the strongest female character SLB has ever created. Her cold choices, and later, regret shape the film’s story. Leela’s journey — from innocence and free spiritedness, to defiance, and surrender to love — is captivating. Leela takes control of her destiny, in choosing to die along with her lover, Ram. She doesn’t give in to her natural destiny easily either.

Similarly, in Bajirao Mastani, with a single scene where Kashi Bai confronts Bajirao on his decision to make Mastani his kept woman, Bhansali underlines the injustice she suffers. Bajirao’s widowed mother in this film is head strong and dogmatic, just like Mastani is determined. Their mutual animosity turns to brinkmanship. Yet, in the climax, Mastani gives in and is willing to be imprisoned, rather than pick up her weapons again. Therein lies the contradiction of Sanjay Bhansali’s interpretation of women: the filmmaker empowers them only to take away their ability to battle male codes of conduct.

One can always argue that Bhansali’s films are based on historical incidents or myths, so altering a story line beyond a point isn’t feasible. However, that becomes contradictory, as SLB has always liberally played with history. From Khilji’s Mongolian inspired costume, to use of elephants in open warfare in a desert, to the magnificent wealth attributed to a small Rajput kingdom — he has interpreted history to fit his glitzy narrative. Towards its end, Padmaavat the poem indicates a lusty Rajput king too, willing to kill for the queen of Chittor. But Bhansali has erased that detail. He had similarly re-interpreted Bajirao Mastani as well.

In the climax of Padmaavat, when Rani Padmavati and the noble women of Chittor have locked themselves inside the fort as they set out to commit jauhar (self immolation), Khilji is held back by hot coals flung by the women. This scene could be SLB’s tribute to Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala. The 1980s classic’s supremely powerful climax showed the oppressed women flinging chilli powder by the kilo-loads on to a cruel employer.

One so wished Bhansali hadn’t stopped himself at just using the technique from this film, but actually gone a step forward and shown Padmavati and the women retaliate against Khilji. Sacrifice has its place, but there is glory in battle too.

Then again, this is a flight of fancy. For, in the days of Karni Sena and school buses being attacked, Sanjay Bhansali’s passive aggressive women seem to make better sense; if nothing else, then just to survive the toxic, vitiated political climate that runs the show today.

Hindi Medium sequel in the works as T-Series, Maddock Films sign multiple-movie deal

After working together on Hindi Medium, Bhushan Kumar (T-Series head) and Dinesh Vijan (founder of Maddock Films) are all set to collaborate again. Kumar and Vijan have signed a multiple-movie deal which will include a sequel to the critically acclaimed film Hindi Medium starring Irrfan Khan and Saba Qamar.

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The Kriti Sanon-Diljit Dosanjh starrer Arjun Patiala is also a part of the multi-movie deal.

“When two like minded people join hands, it is an easy team to work with. When the people working on a project are passionate about their work and give their best it’s an easy boat to sail and when the industry appreciates this association it’s a cherry on the cake. Dinesh and his team are always conceptualizing unique content. Working on Hindi Medium together was a fruitful association. This has enabled us to want to work more and more together,” said Kumar, according to a Deccan Chronicle report.

The duo’s previous collaboration (Hindi Medium) received a ton of praise from the audience and critics alike. As evidence of the success and acclaim of Saket Chaudhary’s directorial venture, Hindi Medium went on to win the Best Film award at the 2018 Jio Filmfare Awards.

“It’s so encouraging to get this (The Best Film award from Filmfare) because it reinforces our long standing belief at Maddock Films that taking risks will finally pay off. With Hindi Medium, it’s great to see that after the dust settles, good content has emerged a winner. Bhushan and I share a productive partnership, especially when it comes to music, and we respect each other’s capabilities. But what excites me most is Maddock’s lineup for 2018… it’s very exciting, promising and an exhilarating mix of diverse films,” said Vijan, according to a Cinestaan report.