Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Milind Soman, and Tanvi Azmi
There’s an elaborate disclaimer at the start of the movie that the makers of ‘Bajirao Mastani’ have taken cinematic liberties in regards to portrayal of lead characters and events. This disclaimer prepares you to suspend the sense of disbelief and condone historical inaccuracies.
‘Bajirao Mastani’ narrates the story of 18th-century Maratha Warrior Bajirao Ballal Bhat (Ranveer Singh), his valour, and his love interest Mastani (Deepika Padukone). The movie starts on a pulsating note swiftly establishing the contours of Bajirao’s character. He is the newly-appointed ‘Peshwa’ of Marathas and is consumed by the desire of establishing Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) ruled by the Hindus. Glisteningly gallant and witheringly witty, he is amazingly adept in realpolitik and has astounding military acumen.
He comes to the rescue of Kingdom of Bundelkhand, on entreaty of Mastani who is the daughter of Bundelkhand’s King, when it is under the threat of attack from an enemy. Bajirao and Mastani (who is the girl child of Muslim concubine of Bundelkhand’s King) get deeply enamoured by each other. But Bajirao is already married to Kashi Bai (Priyanka Chopra) and is a devoted husband. The rest of the story is about how Bajirao combats his own family and clan for Mastani while demolishing his opponents on the battlefield (He won 40 battles on the trot) to keep the Maratha flag flying high.
The first half is refulgently riveting and is richly peppered with tub thumping zingers and poetic rejoinders. Sample a couple of ‘gems’: ‘Cheete ki Chaal, Baazi ki Nazar aur Baajirao ki Talvar pe kabhi sandeh nahi karte’ (Never doubt Gait of Tiger, Eyesight of Hawk, and Sword of Bajirao); ’Tujhe yaad kar liya Aayat ki Tarah, Tera Zikr hoga Ibaadat ki Tarah (I’ve internalized you like a Prayer and would worship you like a Divine Ritual). The war sequences are adroitly shot on a grand scale and leave a monumental impact. Each frame exudes grandeur and gravitas. The dialogues between Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone are languidly lyrical and at times alluringly acidic.
Director Sanjay Bhansali uses iridescent hues to depict a string of sonorous symbolisms. The scene in which Deepika Padukone lucently and limpidly put the significance of ‘Saffron’ and ‘Green’ colours in syncretic perspective is one of the high points of the film.
But the film begins to dawdle in the second half. It just does not measure up to the intensity and scale of the first half despite earnest efforts of film’s lead actors. Dialogues in the second half are mostly trite and overtly soupy. The screenplay loses it zing and bite. The last 20 minutes of the film leaves a lot to be desired and does not connect with the audience at an emotional and intellectual level. The ending of the film seems contrived and prosaic. The upscale sets, intricately-etched & splendid costumes, and terrific performances by all actors are the crumbs of comfort in an otherwise stretched and hackneyed second half.
Ranveer Singh portrays the character of Bajirao with volcanic vigour and fetching felicity. Expectedly, he gets to mouth the best lines in the film. This is his finest performance to date. Deepika Padukone looks stunningly shimmering and exhibits his rapacious range as an actor. She handles the multi-layered character with arresting aplomb and effortless ease; though her character could have been more fleshed out. Priyanka Chopra is the dark horse of the movie and delivers an understated performance with admirable grace and gleam. Tanvi Azmi as the remorselessly cold and scheming mother of Bajirao is first-rate and raises hackles.
Despite being trifle overwrought and over-indulgent, Sanjay Bhansali excels as a storyteller as well as a director. One can’t help but marvel at his unflinching passion, exemplary precision, and irrefragable finesse. ‘Bajirao Mastani’ is arguably his finest work after ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’.
The music of the film is comme ci comme ca. ‘Pinga’ and ‘Deewani Mastani’ clearly stand out from the rest. Background score is bonzer and adds substantial sinews to the narrative.
On the whole, ‘Bajirao Mastani’ is an ethereal and exquisite extravaganza with frisson and fissures in equal measure.