Producer- Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is noted for the opulence of his films and his latest, ” Bajirao Mastani” does not disappoint. Bajirao is the story of the Peshwa who commanded the Maratha forces and was undefeated in battle. The movie describes how he fell in love with Mastani, the half- Muslim daughter of the Raja of Bundelkhand and the tragic aftermath of their infatuation.
Indian history books, at least those in my time, focused mostly on the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. There was some description of the Maratha empire, but not much beyond the exploits of Shivaji. Little was written about the Peshwas and so I was unfamiliar with the story of this film.
As the movie begins, Bajirao ( Ranveer Snigh), who has made it his mission to bring down the Mughal Empire, is diverted from his purpose by a plea for help by Mastani( Deepika Padukone). She audaciously forces her way into his presence and asks his help in lifting the siege of Bundelkhand by a Muslim army. Initially reluctant, he accedes to her wishes and comes to Bundelkhand’s rescue. In the course of the fighting, he gives Mastani his dagger, which according to local custom means that he is now married to her. Against her parents wishes, she follows him to his palace in Pune. However, Bajirao’s mother , Radhabai, is aghast at the idea of such a liaison. Bajirao is married to the beauteous Kashibai ( Priyanka Chopra) and Mastani’s sudden appearance in Pune is very upsetting. Radhabai tries she can to nip the affair in the bud, and humiliates Mastani by treating her like a courtesan. However, Bajirao is infatuated with Mastani and their love blossoms despite fierce opposition from Radhabai, Bajirao’s brother Chimaji Appa, Bajirao’s older son Nana, and the royal priest. The rest of the movie deals with the interplay between Bajirao, Kashibai and Mastani and its tragic aftermath.
“Bajirao Mastani” is visually amazing, with lavish sets, colorful yet tasteful costumes, and riveting battle scenes. The three main actors all turn in great performances. Ranveer Singh is utterly convincing as Bajirao, projecting the right blend of hauteur, tenderness and stubbornness. A good friend remarked that when he watched the movie, he felt he was watching Bajirao himself, and not Ranveer Singh as Bajirao. True, but part of the reason, I think, is that we do not know what the real Bajirao looked like. This is not to take anything away from Ranveer’s standout performance. In addition to his acting, I was impressed with his muscular body and his six-pack abs. I really think that our Bollywood heroes are more buff than their Hollywood counterparts. The two female leads are a good match for Ranveer. Priyanka ,as the virtuous Kashibai, has the meatier role and she runs full gamut of emotions from love to anger to resignation. I hope she gets a Best Actress award to go with her triumph at the Golden Globes. Deepika, as Mastani, is almost as good. Both of them look stunning. BTW, I have to commend Deepika on the hard work she has put into her acting career. She improves from film to film and is unafraid to take on all sorts of roles, including unglamorous ones in which she dons very little make-up.
When the movie was about to be released, Bajirao’s descendants roundly criticized it as being inauthentic. While their objections are understandable, Bajirao was never intended to be a documentary. Without the dances and songs, the film would not appeal to the public and would flop at the box office. For instance, the idea of Kashibai and Mastani performing a dance duet is laughable but what can you do? This is what the public demands.
A more serious shortcoming is the depiction of Bajirao’s obsession with Mastani. It seems difficult to imagine that he would suddenly throw over his beloved wife and treat her so callously. Also unbelievable are some of the battle scenes, particularly when Bajirao charges a massed army, fending off a flight of arrows in mid-air with his flashing sword (much like Jet Lee in” Hero”). He then mows down dozens of his adversaries, like the blind Zatoichi did in dozens of samurai epics. In an earlier battle sequence, he scampers up the trunk of a war elephant and kills its rider( remember Legolas in Lord of the Rings). Is this a period drama or a fantasy epic?
Still, these minor flaws do not detract from what is an excellent film. In addition to the CGI enhanced settings and terrific acting, the movie has a superior soundtrack ( courtesy Sanjay Leela Bhansali , music director) , dances and good pacing. Though 2 hours 38 minutes long, it does not seem that long.
My rating: four and a half stars out of five.