Padmaavat: With poorly rendered, video game-like VFX, Bhansali is let down by technology in his film
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat looks like a cheap video game in parts, despite being made on a mammoth budget of Rs 180 crore
There’s a scene in the long drawn-out climax of Padmaavat where Rani Padmini’s female entourage fight off the advances of Khilji by hurling hot coals at him. Except in the 3D version of the world created by Sanjay Leela Bhansali the flying embers look comically like black, fluffy cotton balls.
Regardless of sweeping wide-angle shots of forts, palaces, jungles and battle scenes, Padmaavat is not the visual spectacle one has come to expect from Bhansali. It’s technology that has let the director down. Poorly rendered computer-generated special effects and amber-hued Chittor fort looks like a cardboard cutout and carvings on the walls in the Singhala cave look hand-drawn. In the war scenes, it’s painfully obvious where the human extras are and where their computer-generated cousins have been added into the frame. Converting the visuals to 3D has further dulled and flattened cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee’s work.
Computerised effects are not always bad. But the trick is to use technology to accentuate and exaggerate physical reality rather than to substitute it entirely. In the Baahubali films, director SS Rajamouli used VFX to give depth and scale to Sabu Cyril’s magnificent sets and merged cinematographer KK Senthil Kumar’s work with digital vistas almost seamlessly. Rajamouli gave us fierce battle sequences, a stampede of bulls with their horns on fire and a couple flying around a waterfall. The blue butterflies on Tamannaah Bhatia’s back didn’t look real but they didn’t look tacky either.
For a film that has a budget of approximately Rs 180 crore, Padmaavat, in large parts, looks like a cheap video game.
Extravagant sets, exquisite detailing and vivid colours — decadent aesthetics have been a hallmark of Bhansali’s filmmaking. From Paro’s haveli in Devdas to Bajirao Mastani’s Aaina Mahal in Shaniwar Wada, every frame in his films is a visual treat. Saawariya was panned for its blue-toned visuals and a wafer-thin story; there was no denying that the film is a visual spectacle. Black, unlike Bhansali’s other films, wasn’t colourful but the pre-independence Simla the Helen Keller-esque story was set in was picture perfect.
In an interview with Open Magazine, production designers Sujeet Sawant and Sriram Iyengar share an anecdote from the sets of Bajirao Mastani that explains how exacting Bhansali is about details in every frame of his film. 'Pinga', the song featuring Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra was shot on an open-air set in the nights and used diyas and torches in the background. “Each time a diya snuffed out, we had to stop the shoot and light it. Sanjay sir is very particular and would refuse to use VFX (visual effects) in post production to cover up these things,” shared Sawant. “We had 12 people running around the set with candles and oil. By the end of it, we had used ridiculous amounts of oil and wicks. We kept sending people out to bring gunny bags of diyas,” added Iyengar.
So, why did a director known for making spectacular films slip up with what was meant to be a visual treat for viewers? This is a question only Bhansali can answer. But it’s painfully obvious that in the post-Baahubali cinemascape, a discerning audience is bound to compare.