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Bajirao Mastani: Bhansali’s Dream, Just Short Of Brilliance [Movie Review]

Posted: December 24, 2015

Our movie reviewer Saumya Baijal says that Bajiroa Mastani is a must watch, if nothing, watch it for the world Sanjay Leela Bhansali delicately creates.

These two words, have allowed for years of speculation, anticipation, conversations and love. But when Bajirao Mastani, begins to unfurl on screen there is a sense of excitement, and willingness to get sucked into a world you will never know, one to life, that only a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film can bring.

It is imperative to mention this. The magic of Bajirao Mastani starts infecting you from the first scene and the imaginative & animated casting. A welcome change from films that bring the craftsmen of the film alive, in the most unimaginative manner. Fast intercuts, animation, interesting camera angles, swift turns make it worth a watch.

Bajirao Mastani builds authenticity with everything other than its story. The costumes, fabrics used, sets, detailing- even in the chaadar over the elephant bearing the Peshwa, is overwhelming. The war sequences are second only to Mughal-e-azam in the history of popular commercial cinema. Tasteful armor, well shot sequences and the sheer scale of each sequence makes you exclaim in awe. I want to call out a specific a top angle shot from between boulders of the Peshwa’s army advancing towards the enemy. To be watching the film, fourth row from the front, bang in the middle, I almost felt like an archer in the enemy’s army! Exceptional scale has always defined Bhansali’s films. And Bajirao mastani is his best in these terms, yet. Each frame, paused anywhere, is a painting. Earthy colors, building colors offset with the sky, fountains in darbars- the canvas on which Bhansali proceeds to paint with the film, is sheer poetry. The sets, design are as intrinsic to the film as any of the characters. They breathe a life of their own in the film, elevating it to being much more than a period love story.

The story. If you keep aside the glaring loopholes that are massive digressions from history, then a patchy semblance to a story is visible. The film does not pretend to be an authentic depiction of history, with a detailed descriptor in place. Neither does it pretend to about the life of a warrior. It is clearly the turbulent love story of Peshwa Bajirao and his second wife Mastani. The moment one accepts this, and the beauty of Bhansali’s frames, one tends to look over the monstrous errors.

The characters as Bhansali sees them, are etched out well. Kashibai’s strong willed character, her undying love for a man choosing one more partner, her slow shattering of the pride she had, is palpable in Priyanka. Bajirao has been drawn with depth- with different elements of his personality that come to life. Deepika’s Mastani is soft, sharp, beautiful and dignified with ease. He gives each of his characters the confusion and paradoxes to play with exhibiting layers in their personalities- taking away the notions of right and wrong.

Ranveer Singh sinks his teeth into his part like a starved actor. It is virtually impossible to imagine anyone else as Bajirao, from the very first frame in which he appears. He exhibits the power, the accent, the love, the angst, the guilt perfectly. His nuanced act is a delight. A controlled voice, impeccable expressions define his reading of Bajirao. The only misfit is the song Malhari, but more on music later.

Deepika Padukone’s Mastani is ethereal and real. Her anger and her love that gives her the strength to fight against all odds is all real. Her doe eyes show love and restraint. Draped in gorgeous Anju Modi costumes she is every bit the selfrespecting, warrior Mastani. Fearless, sharp yet soft, self respecting yet trapped by the power of her own love that gives her the strength to go through the ostracisation that is to follow.

Kashibai, is demure, strong, and all-consumed in love. She takes pride in being possessive, she loves with abandon. Her eyes talk. Priyanka Chopra brings depth, pain, gravitas, beauty and chulbulahat, to the role meted out to her. She renders Kashibai human, and therein lies the strength of her character.

Tanvi Azmi reminds you of her extremely underutilized capabilities as an actor. She is forceful, unashamed of her choices, and unwavering in her reasons. The film through her, makes sharp inferences to politics today, slamming the obsession with religion, their staunch boundaries and significance of color. Vaibhav Tattawadi is a delight. Unapologetic in hatred and stereotypes. And it is just phenomenal to see Milind Soman on screen.

The music. You miss the soulful strings of Ismail Darbar’s music. However, two songs ‘Moh rang do lal’- a kathak thumri by the great Pandit Birju Maharaj ji, and Aayat (which reminds you of Lal Ishq), save the album. The other songs are very easy to forget, and disappointing. What stands out, however is the background score. Crafted well, it accentuates the war sequences, the tensions and the poignancy.

But why does Bajirao Mastani, that had the potential of becoming a spectacle, falter? Are the reasons a patchy storyline and disappointing music? No. Not just. Scenes that had potential of becoming souls of the film, appear lift offs from previous successes. Glimpses of Mughal-e-azam, SLB’s own Devdas, Jodha Akbar in characters, and other commercially viable films, are sprinkled across the best moments of the film. The film when it begins elevates storytelling to new heights- where you start expecting much more than a Bollywood film. But the film falls into the traditional trappings very soon, and fails to recover despite several brave attempts.

But you are willing to overlook everything. For the cast, the sheer beauty of the sets, and the painstaking detail of every frame. The real kings of this film are the technicians and the designers. A huge salute to each designer, the karigars, the armor workers, the set creators. For sheer grandeur. And to Bhansali, for imagining it.

Cover image via Facebook

Saumya Baijal, is a budding writer, poet and co-founder of the activist theatre group Aatish. She has been writing on films for many years, and is particularly enamoured by the films of the 1950s and 1960s in Commercial Hindi Cinema. Her writings have been published in The Equator Line, Writer's Asylum and Jankipul amongst others. She can be read on www.saumyabaijal.blogspot.com . She has been working in advertising for 9 years.

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