Sanjay Leela Bhansali has waded into the battlefield of history with his upcoming movie Padmavati. Based on the fictitious passion of Allauddin Khilji for the mythical Rajput queen Padmavati, the period romance has been assailed by Rajput organisations despite assurances from Bhansali that he means no malice or slander. The trigger for the Rajput Karni Sena’s assault on Bhansali on January 27 was the unfounded rumour of a dream sequence between Khilji, played by Ranveer Singh, and Padmavati, played by Deepika Padukone.
Rather than googling for non-existent confirmation of Padmavati’s existence, the protesters likely searched for “Ranveer Singh song” and came up with such unabashed proof of lustiness as Nashe Si Chad Gayi Re from Befikire (2016) and the ultimate proof of Singh’s highly sexualised screen persona, Tattad Tattad.
The rambunctious opening track of Bhansali’s Kutch-set Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela (2013) sets the tone for the lasciviousness and abandon of Singh’s character, Ram. Ramleela is a bawdy take on Romeo and Juliet, set against the age-old blood feud of two criminal families. The opening sequence establishes the rivalry before introducing Ram, whose love for Leela will end in flames, but not before burning up the sheets.
Ram enters to screeching trumpets and drums on a motorcycle that magically rides itself. When he hops off his steed, the town arranges itself in perfectly symmetrical formations. Ram divests himself of his bothersome unbuttoned purple shirt to reveal a chest glistened by all the oils in Asia, tight jeans and a low-slung belt, above which handloom briefs peek. The movie’s forward-looking fashion maintains gender parity in kohl-laden eyes, tattoos, jewellery and gorgous costumes.
The lusting-thrusting moves, by ace choreographer Ganesh Acharya, have two standout moments. One is the so-called dandruff move, in which Singh and the background dancers turn their backs to the camera and ruffle their hair in tune with the chorus. Acharya is one of Bollywood’s best choreographers, and this move ranks as one of his most inventive.
The other is when Ram, who has a reputation for sexual prowess, takes off his shirt and wriggles his hips suggestively, causing the women in the balconies to faint.
The multi-coloured kitschy set has murals of the god Ram and a cutout of Hanuman, but only one chiselled and lubricated deity is in evidence here. Referring to himself in the third person, Ram sings, look at his walk, his bold gaze, look at the havoc he is causing. If Ram’s preening self-regard seems to be borderline camp, his popularity among the womenfolk soon proves otherwise. What would a dream sequence between Khilji and Padmavati have entailed? No wonder the protesters are spooked.