Bajirao Mastani (2015) – A resplendent Bhansali magnum opus!
Some films are such – they warrant a couple of watches for the elements to sink in. Of course, I did enjoy Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani on first watch too. The second watch, however, made me sit down and write!
Let me begin with Priyanka Chopra’s intriguing Kashibai! She is this beautiful (I’d say HOT!), devoted housewife whose husband ends up in a lawless affair, offering no explanations. Quite reminiscent ofAbhishek Bachchan’s spirited Rishi in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna! But again, that was fiction and Bajirao’s tale is factual (despite cinematic liberties). Albeit inconsistent Marathi twang in her dialogue delivery, Priyanka Chopra is a picture of dignity and poise. Her glances, expressions and even the way she sighs… are more than enough to compensate everything else. Special mention to that killer of an interval point where she sits atop a golden lioness like Goddess Durga.
It’s been a while I enjoyed a Sanjay Leela Bhansali (alias SLB) flick to this magnitude. Of course, Guzaarish had a heart of gold, but zilch repeat value. I can confidently say the (sort of) low expectations helped me enjoy the film much more. Going by the archetypal SLB film standards, I was all set for lavish sets, colour coordinated outfits and frames, surreal camera techniques and lighting – especially the night sequences! What did the trick was the absence of too much of self-indulgence by the maker. We are spared of his usual la-la-land milieu as well.
So, Bajirao Mastani is full of vivid characters who do not necessarily demand colours to light up the screen. Case in point being, Tanvi Azmi’s cantankerous Radha Maa. She carries intentions and attire similar to that of Maham Anga (Ila Arun) in Jodhaa Akbar. The result is a magnetic, studied performance with a pitch-perfect diction and styling. No, she isn’t evil, but very aptly behaved one for that time and era.
Bajirao, on the other hand, is shockingly silent on his affair with Mastani. As he confesses to his wife, the tone is that of embarassment than that of pride. Completing the trio is Deepika Padukone’s Mastani, who comes out a bit brave (brazen, for naysayers). She shows no regret over sharing her lover with another woman. She is immune to torture. Love is what drives her from within. This very aspect make ‘Mastani’ my person character in the film. An adulteress – to put it lightly – hers is one character that demands no sympathy. A home-breaker, in urban lingo. But Deepika nails it and how! The way she has matured as an actor from her Om Shanti Om days is commendable! Ranveer Singh is apt as Peshwa Bajirao but wasn’t he more in the Bhansali hero mould than that of the Peshwa’s? The scene to be noted would be the one where he distributes sweets in the name of his son Shamsher Bahadur and the confrontation that follows with Chimnaji Appa (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi, who reminds me of a young Manoj Bajpai). Milind Soman, in a thankless role, does well in that one scene where he convinces Bajirao to wage the war against Nizams.
Although Bajirao Mastani is loosely based on a real star-crossed romance, Bhansali doesn’t forget to add his usual quirks. There are punchlines (“Mastani apni taqdeer khud likhti hai” among others) and moments that take us back to his previous works, particularly Devdas. He tries to re-create a dance face-off with ‘Pinga’ which is beautiful but a wee but confusing. Minutes after a bitter war of words, here goes Kashi and Mastani shimmying to an elaborate dance number. In yet another clichéd scene, we have Kashi’s childhood friend making a visit to curse, “Aaj main apni pati keliye tadap rahi hoon, ek din tum bhi tadpogi”. Well, major déjà vu where a hurt Kirron Kher curses Smita Jayakar. Having said that, there’s one scene that reminds us of Kal Ho Naa Ho(what?) when legitimate and illegitimate children greet their grandmom and she goes, “Rehne do” to one of them. Haha!
It always helps when a filmmaker has skills to compose his own songs, particularly when the film is an elaborate musical. Bhansali’s soundtrack is a notch above the film itself. This can be said because the songs breathe life into his protagonists, sets and the proceedings. ‘Albela Sajan’ spells grandeur in every way and that shot of Kashibai heralding the saffron Maratha flag is perhaps the best shot in the entire film. There is an unexplainable magic that transpires when Mastani graces the utsav belting out the shimmering ‘Deewani Mastani’. Blame it on Padukone’s angelic beauty or production designers Sujeet-Sriram’s exquisite ‘Aaina Mahal’, the song sends you on a romantic trance. Another song, ‘Mohe Rang Do Laal’, seems a bit underwhelming as Padukone doesn’t seem to be at home with Pandit Birju Maharaj’s moves. Nevertheless, the song paints a stunning visual on its own (full marks to Shreya Ghoshal’s vocals). Anyhow, the motive behind a princess of a Hindu state dancing to a Mujra-esque number is beyond my understanding. Does it have anything to do with Raja Chhatrasal ‘thanking’ Mastani for her ‘ehsaan’ in the initial reels? She even replies how it was her duty to bring Peshwa Bajirao for Bundelkhand’s security. Raja and his kin are not shown to have enquired about her well-being after she leaves for Poona either. Strange!
And let’s not forget the high voltage action sequences there! After all, Bajirao Mastani is the love story of a warrior. Bhansali has successfully kept his penchant for high-art within limits and the war sequences look fascinatingly real despite VFX. Reminds me of those in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar and Santosh Sivan’s Asoka. And what on earth was that song of victory where the Peshwa dances like Ranveer Singh from Rupa undie ad? No wonder, Malhari was a loo break for many! Though it isn’t too fair to say, the pace slackens soon after the interval point. Redundant scenes, over-dramatic dialogue – somewhere boredom sets in for a while. Even a rather well-executed naming ceremony sequence doesn’t make the cut.
According to historians, Mastani was 5 years elder to Bajirao. They met when Bajirao was 25. It is about a decade and a half later that they breathed their last. While Bajirao and Kashi got married as children and their first offspring (Nana Saheb) was born when the former was 14-15. Case in point is that the actors are hardly shown to age, although their children do.
Unlike many, I found the climax quite appropriate. For incidents which aren’t exactly recorded, the director closes the story in his trademark style! Reminiscent of Devdas’s climactic moment, there couldn’t have been a more effective closure. Also, it was indeed thoughtful to have the brilliantly composed ‘Aaj Ibaadat’ in the end credits. Though not directly, the song sort of sums up the essence of the tale. We leave the auditorium with a sense of having experienced an era, its people and the works but not exactly with a heavy lump in our throats – which is okay!. After all, we get to see the filmmaker’s labour of love – that was kept in the backburner for a decade. Perhaps the script waited for the right cast and this was it. Though Rani Mukerji as Kashibai wouldn’t have hurt at all 😉
P.S.: Noticed Vinod Khanna’s younger son Saakshi Khanna credited as an intern there! Now we hear SLB is going to launch the star kid in his new venture a la Sonam and Ranbir Kapoor. Wish non-industry aspirants could clinch such plum ‘internships’.
Images Courtesy: Eros Entertainment and Bhansali Productions