Tuesday, January 30, 2018


It's been a while since I've seen a Bollywood film, but a new movie from the director and stars of Ram-Leela, in 3D to boot? Sign me the heck right up, even if it does actually come out on a weekend where I'm going to New York for a draining Hong Kong movie marathon. But, I'm actually feeling pretty alert Sunday morning, so I figure I'll go down to Fenway, see the 12:05pm show at matinee prices, and maybe catch something else in the afternoon.

Sold out. All day. Which, admittedly, would be a bit more impressive if theaters like Fenway still packed 100+ people in and 164-minute movie didn't mean blocking the theater out for four hours per showtime, but, still, that's a lot of seats sold for a subtitled movie at 3D ticket prices that's got some controversy attached to it. Good for you, I said, and then went a little further down the Green Line and saw Phantom Thread in 70mm, figuring an all-film weekend was kind of virtuous anyway. I opted to try again Monday, even sucking up the $1.50 service charge on Fandango rather than chance getting there and finding it sold out again.

Some other folks weren't quite so lucky on that; I had seat B6 and the person sitting in seat B7 next to me asked if I'd mind switching with her cousin, since seats B8-11 had sold to a group between her buying her ticket and her cousin buying hers (kind of the only thing that I really dislike about assigned seating; it requires a little more organization when going to the movies could always be loosely planned before). Said cousin's seat was in the front row and a bit off-center, and in retrospect I suppose I could have said, hey, why don't you sit up there, since there was an empty set, but they didn't know the others hadn't been sold and the middle-aged white guy with that response wouldn't have been a good look. Besides, they're recliners and I like sitting close more than most people.

It wasn't ideal, although I kind of suspect that if it were a 4K DCP, it would have been better (presuming this was shot at greater-than-2K resolution, which I would hope was the case if they were targeting giant screens). It mostly looked pretty good, although some of the later scenes showed one of the weaknesses of the polarized 3D that is the industry standard these days, in that really bright white lights - like, say, fires and torches - seem like they'll just blast their way through the polarization, resulting in blurry blobs in the middle distance rather than these fires having distinct depths. It is, however, a pretty neat 3D movie for those of us that like 3D - so many of the relatively few musicals that have used that format traditionally just create a stage space, but the director is moving the camera here, getting the audience into those dance scenes in a way I don't think I've really seen before. I suspect The Great Gatsby had a similar energy, but it's not quite the same.


I'm a lot less comfortable with the actual content of the film; I danced around it a bit in the EFC review, again kind of not wanting to be the outsider scolding someone else's culture, though I must admit that I found a lot of the ways the culture influenced the story somewhat unsatisfying: Though it is built in such a way that Alauddin wants far more than just to glance Padmavati, it still treats seeing another man's woman (especially the king's) as a crime, and while the film speaks of her as having a sharp military mind, those looking for the story to lead toward her taking sharp action will likely be disappointed, though some of that is because of another woman taking her own initiative. Still, it's tough for the end not to leave an uncomfortable taste in my mouth; if it is a victory for Padmavati (as would be implied for describing it as a defeat for Alauddin), it is pyrrhic at best.

In some ways, that makes what writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali accomplishes in the moment more impressive - that scene feels stirring and heroic even though everything about it seems horrifying to me when I give it a moment's thought. I don't know that I necessarily like being impressed that way.



* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 29 January 2018 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Padmaavat is the first Imax 3D film from India, or so I've read, which seems like kind of a late arrival to the party, although I don't know how many other epics of this sort have been made on such a scale in Bollywood lately. It is, if nothing else, a feast for the eyes, with expansive desert landscapes, beautiful palace sets, and some dance numbers that suggest that the rest of us really haven't been using this technology properly. Whether it's enough more than great-looking to be worth a trip in spots where it won't necessarily be getting the big, deluxe presentation is a trickier question.

Based upon an epic poem that a disclaimer at the start carefully notes is "regarded as fictional", the film opens in 13th-Century Afghanistan, where Khilji warrior Alauddin (Ranveer Singh) has brought Sultan Jalaluddin (Raza Murad) and his daughter Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari) an ostrich when asked for a feather, an obviously cynical courtship that has the obvious aim of Alauddin becoming Sultan of Delhi himself. Meanwhile, the king of Mewar, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) has come to Singhal to obtain some of its legendary pearls only to be shot in a hunting accident by Princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone). They fall in love, and soon Padmavati returns to the fortress city of Chittor as queen. Her beauty enraptures even the royal guru Raghav Chetan, who winds up banished and vowing revenge - which he plots to achieve by convincing Alauddin that with the lovely Padmavati at his side, he could rule not just India but the world.

It's a shame that for all the epic, mythic scale of this story, it winds up being kind of a bore. It's not necessarily dull or listless - there's always something happening, and the movie seldom gets distracted or pads time with side quests - but crucial turning points are often as much a reflection of formalities as motivated decisions, declarations of honor and tradition as much as individual cunning. Like a western biblical epic, the film is often built around the statement of and adherence to virtues that while seldom presented in a sanctimonious way, can sound a bit like rote recitations at times. Padmavati's story can often come off as passive in a way that can't exactly be worked around without making this another story entirely, especially considering how active the title character is at the start, when she is her own princess rather than someone else's queen.

Full review at EFC

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