The stunning Bajirao Mastani

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    Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film is a class apart

     

    Going to a film with several big names attached to it, there is always a fear of what you’ll see and whether or not it will be up to the standard the person in question has set in the past. This dread is even more pronounced if the big name is of someone known not only for their innovations but also for a reputation of delivering the highest quality entertainment. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is undoubtedly one of those names and his latest epic, Bajirao Mastani, does not disappoint.

    Bajirao Mastani tells the story of Peshawa Bajirao Ballal as played by Ranveer Singh and his torrid love affair with the witty, pretty and warrior second wife Mastani, as played by Deepika Padukone. This period drama weaves a narrative of a warrior falling in love, set against the background of the Maratha expansionism, the weakening of the Mughal Empire and the ramifications thereof. Bhansali, a masterful storyteller that he is, does not neglect the present and actually plays the story as a parable for the modern day rise of intolerance in India as well. This brilliant technique of interpreting modern events against the background of similar historical incidents while also staying true to the original historical characters, is a difficult task that Bhansali makes seem effortless.

    As far as the historical accuracy of the source material is concerned, it is largely a moot point. The movie has taken certain liberties with the historical characters and how they were portrayed, especially with the eponymous characters Bajirao and Mastani themselves, but that is the cost of an entertaining film. No one goes to the cinema looking for a history lesson and if someone actually does think that what is shown on the silver screen is exactly how everything happened is living in a fool’s paradise. The source material also happens to be the novel “Rau” by N S Inamdar and some creative license is to be granted here as well.

    The movie’s story follows all the traditional formulas, but does it well. The film has a strong opening with a short prologue where the titular Bajirao is introduced. Everything from the music to the dialogues screams power and attention to detail. With this strong an opening, the cynics might expect the quality of the movie to taper off, but it does nothing of that sort. The movie continues to amaze us and build more excitement until the denouement where you see some extensive symbolism, down to the delirious ramblings of Bajirao and the restlessness of Mastani. The entire story builds into a frantic crescendo, never slowing down enough for people to get bored.

    I have praised Deepika’s acting as a carefree manic pixie dream girl in Tamasha before, and I would like to compliment her again now as she has outdone herself as Mastani in this film. Her character is layered and so is her performance. Whether it is the warrior who would stop at nothing to deliver the message she was tasked to deliver or the gentle lover who can fall madly in love with the handsome young warrior that saved her life, Deepika embodies every bit of the character effortlessly. Her classical dance moves are as good as her fight choreography.

    Ranveer Singh portrays Peshwa Bajirao Ballal, the Prime Minister to the Maratha Emperor and a fearless, brilliant and witty warrior. Ranveer embodies his role as if he is Peshwa Bajirao; Bajirao himself would probably find it difficult to find fault in his performance. His dialogue delivery, timing and acting are all well done. Especially in the final scene where we see Bajirao in throes of delirium, fighting off the imaginary demons, Ranveer Singh’s performance was admirable.

    Priyanka Chopra’s acting needs no introduction and her performance in this movie is no exception. Even though her actual screen time and dialogues are less than what would be expected, she still dominates the scenes she is in. In the scene where her Kashibai and Deepika’s Mastani share their troubles and it seems that Kashibai is accepting, albeit reluctantly, of the new woman in her husband’s life, you can see Priyanka Chopra’s effortless portrayal of Kashibai’s internal struggles.

    All in all, the general tone and the visuals were oddly reminiscent of the Bollywood masterpiece Mughal-e-Azam. Both movies had a similar theme of forbidden love and the intermixing of politics and pragmatic approach, contrasting with the emotional attachments. Bajirao Mastani may very well become the Mughal-e-Azam of a new century.

    Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s sets are legendary and Bajirao Mastani is no exception. Every set, from the Bundelkhand palace to the Shaniwar Wada Palace and even the Aaina Mehal inside Shaniwar Wada were meticulously made and the painstaking attention to detail showed. The visuals of the movie otherwise were stunning and the art direction was superb. I don’t think I have enough adjectives to actually praise the art and style of the movie to the extent that it should be praised.

    The major underlying theme in the movie, intolerance, was well explored. This movie extensively talks about history and breaks apart the traditional jingoistic nationalistic narratives of the period. One of the major struggles was the acceptance of Mastani, a Muslim woman as Bajirao’s wife, a task that was ultimately futile. However, the process led to some very interesting conversations where the concept of secularism and freedom of religion itself was discussed. At one point, Bajirao clearly declares that his war is not with Islam or Muslims, but with the Mughal Empire, strongly implying that the two are not the same thing. This new narrative of tolerance was the need of the hour and Sanjay Leela Bhansali should be applauded for showcasing these historical events and bringing them to the forefront in light of the recent events.

    The theme was also reflected in extensive “colour-coding” of things, and in fact the whole scene where Mastani and Brahman argue about how the religions have colours but the colours themselves have no religion, heavily explores that. While the flag colours and symbols were both identifiers and important plot points in case of the green and orange flags, the best part was how the flags are black in the climactic anti-fight. In the final moments of Bajirao, he sees riders riding in and trying to destroy his empire and they are carrying black flags to symbolise how they are all alike in their extremism. The emphasis on how history may not be how we remember it and how terror and extremism itself is self serving is a great point.

    The music of the movie was entirely period-appropriate classical and once again was a Bhansali-masterpiece. It has been a while that Bollywood movies have used extensive classical music and Bhansali has pulled it off without a hitch. Same can be said about the choreography which was one of the few cases of proper classical dances done in the recent history of Bollywood. The music and dance were thoroughly enjoyable.

    In conclusion, Bajirao Mastani is a masterpiece and probably one of the best and well made movies to come out of Bollywood in recent memory. Bhansali has outdone himself once again and I hope he continues making more movies like this.

    Bajirao Mastani is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and stars Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. The 158-minute films opened on December 18, 2015.

     

    Rating: 5/5

    1 COMMENT

    1. Wow. What a review. Awesome detail and analysis. Just because of this review i will give the movie a chance and watch it. Otherwise i had given up on bollywood providing us any gems.
      Im indian but i like the way pakistani cinema is going especially with movies like manto.

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