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Did Sanjay Leela Bhansali take inspiration from Frida Kahlo for Deepika’s Padmavati look?


Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s visualization of the Rajput queen is slightly different from images that have emerged from folk literature and seems to play the symbolism of the unibrow.

Suparna Thombare

The first posters of Deepika Padukone as Padmavati are out and no doubt that the actress is looking lovely as a Rajput queen, adorned with jewellery and wearing the ghoonghat (veil). But one of the most distinct features of her look as the Rajput Queen, who first appeared in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem, is the unibrow. 

Considering there is no historical evidence that Padmini existed, how she looked is completely open to interpretation. While folk literature has portrayed her with perfectly done eyebrows, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has taken the liberty to add a unibrow to his imagination of what Padmavati would have looked like.

Bhansali seems to be heavily inspired by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who depicted herself with a thick unibrow in her self-portraits, which questioned identity, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Interestingly, the legend of Padmavati is a woman who has come to stand as a symbol of valour and sacrifice in Rajput history, with her suicide being termed as a heroic act against Allaudin Khilji. Kahlo's distinct unibrow also became a symbol of resistence and courage.

Another point to be noted here is that unlike Rani Padmavati's visual depiction in folk lore, where she is shown looking coy and often with her eyes to the ground, Bhansali's heroine looks a lot more fierce and is looking straight into your eyes in one poster and high up in another. 

Bhansali is known for creating visual feasts with his actors looking beautiful as they take on their roles with some spectacular sets as backdrops. But this first look also makes us wonder how the director has interpreted the character in the film, as Hindu activists have often characterized her as a chaste Hindu woman. 

In Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali had managed to interpret Kashibai as a loving, but strong woman who did stand up for herself. So expecting him to break a few perceptions with Padmavati's character wouldn't be asking for too much. The big challenge for Bhansali will be to portray jauhar (act of self-immolation by women to prevent being captured by the enemy) as an act of courage in today's times when it is considered regressive, and women are encouraged to fight for themselves.