I’ve been collecting my thoughts about the previous post on Padmaavat – every time I see a comment, I want to reply, but the comments have been so quick in coming that just approving them is taking up all my time. So instead of answering them one by one, I thought I’d put up a post addressing them all – mainly to continue the point about the jauhar, and why it isn’t empty glorification.
To continue with the points in the earlier post, let’s consider Padmavati, who’s introduced as a warrior (hunter). Now, that’s the key to her character. Because the screenplay doesn’t build on this the way it should have, it’s not immediately apparent (I admit I had to reflect on the film a bit) – but there are enough scenes that offer clues to the reasoning behind the jauhar scene.
Let’s begin with the scene where the peeping-Tom priest is brought before Ratan Singh. Padmavati advocates a more severe punishment (banishment) than Ratan Singh does, and she does this after he has pronounced his punishment. Essentially, she’s saying, “No, Ratan Singh, that isn’t enough. This man needs to be punished more severely.” This is no meek woman, following orders. She’s someone who countermands the king’s orders.
After Alauddin camps outside Chittor, the senior queen is worried. But Padmavati calls him a mere chowkidar, someone who just lies in wait. She proves she’s the braver queen, mentally tougher.
When Alauddin says he wants to meet Ratan Singh and enjoy Rajput hospitality, Padmavati is the only one who sees through it – that it’s a strategy.
When Alauddin says he wants to see Padmavati, she decides to agree for the sake of her kingdom – else there will be no peace. And when Ratan Singh opposes this, she says “Then why didn’t you cut his head off when you had the chance?” Look at her subsequent line: “Nibhane dijiye hamein Mewar ki rani hone ka kartavya.” Again, she’s no simpering queen, agreeing to everything Ratan Singh says. She thinks like a warrior. (Which raises the question: Why did she have to ask him “permission” for jauhar later? But that’s a different kind of screenwriting problem.)
When Alauddin invites Ratan Singh, again it’s Padmavati who sees through this. Ratan Singh says, “Sena jaa chuki hai.” She tells him, “Vapas bhi aa sakti hai.” Again, thinking like a warrior.
When Ratan Singh is kidnapped, Padmavati smears mud on her mirrors. She’s already begun to see that it’s her beauty that’s causing all this, even if she tells the senior queen otherwise. This is a tangential point, but it tells me that she’s already weary of the troubles to this kingdom — her kingdom — her beauty is causing.
When Gora opposes her going to Khilji, Padmavati’s warrior hat is on again. She defies him, says she will go, that this has to be done with careful planning. (Later, Gora admits her “strategy” worked.)
Padmavati is bloodthirsty enough to demand the priest’s head – something the “usool”-bound Ratan Singh would never do. And in Khilji’s kingdom, she smears gulaal on Khilji’s map, hinting at the bloodshed ahead, which she has planned and put into motion. We don’t see a single such strategy in the film from Ratan Singh. (Which raises the question: What did she see in that wimpy Rajput? But again, that’s a different kind of screenwriting problem.)
After saving Ratan Singh, Padmavati isn’t happy. Men have died. Worse, Alauddin is back with “dugni sena,” twice the army. She knows there’s no happy end in store. Once again, Ratan Singh has failed her. (See Point 4.) He didn’t kill Khilji when he had the chance.
Which is why it makes sense that the arrow with Khilji’s missive lands at her feet. She reads it and sets it afire – a mini-jauhar hinting at the bigger one to come. We see resolve on her face, and this look stays till the last scene.
When Ratan Singh is fighting Allaudin outside, Padmavati gathers the women and (warrior hat again!) gives a rousing speech, like a commander would give to his army. She talks about jauhar and frames it in terms of “defeat” – she says this will be Alauddin’s “sabse badi haar.” It sounds less like something a helpless woman would do than another military strategy – her final one.
Maybe not – for she has orchestrated another strategy. As she heads to the jauhar, she has stationed (women) troops at the doors of the fort, to delay Khilji with torches and burning coals.
Padmavati heads to the jauhar. Her face is grim-resolve all through, eyes filled with tears. (After all, when Ratan Singh told her, “Jaane ka waqt aa gaya hai,” they both knew it was the final goodbye. I loved the touch that we meet Ratan Singh as his front is pierced by an arrow. And we leave him after his back is pierced with arrows.) And only just before entering the fire do we get a small smile on Padmavati’s face. (I think this is the only time she smiles in the entire second half.) Given the preceding points, I chose to read this as a smile of victory. She managed to do what Ratan Singh could not do. She “defeated” Khilji. And methinks that small smile wasn’t unwarranted.
The problem with Padmaavat is that all these scenes on paper don’t translate entirely (and convincingly) on screen. Did linking scenes get chopped off? (Like how Alauddin becomes such a softie, sentencing his traitorous wife to prison instead of chopping her head off.) And the silliness of parts of the story – did no one guess that Padmavati’s retinue was filled with men, not women? How did this Singhal princess get so quickly accustomed to Rajput values? – doesn’t help. All of this should have been fleshed out better.
So, again, Padmaavat isn’t without problems. But the jauhar scene isn’t one of them. No one’s saying that the custom isn’t a terrible patriarchal imposition – but in this film, it isn’t just that, but also something that became this woman-warrior’s final war strategy. Had Ratan Singh jumped into the fire, we would have said “he’s upholding custom unquestioningly” and so forth (he seems to do everything unquestioningly), but when Padmavati does it, we get (okay, at least I got) the sense that it was a brave woman choosing a lesser evil and also executing a final strategy to defeat the enemy.
Over and out.