Film Review: ‘Bajirao Mastani’
As is required of films based on historical subjects, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has provided a disclaimer at the beginning of Bajirao Mastani, which states that events have been altered for cinematic appeal and dramatic effect. Treat this as his excuse for a three-hour onslaught of colour, over-the-top costume design, over-choreographed songs, and overwrought dialogues. Only the set design, which depicts a prospering Maratha empire inhabited by folks with a keen sense of interior decoration, is pardonably extravagant.
Bajirao Mastani has been adapted from N. S. Inamdar’s Marathi novel Rau, which dwells on the relationship between Mastani, the half-Hindu, half-Muslim Rajput heiress to the province of Bundelkhand, and Peshwa Bajirao (Ranveer Singh), a revered Brahmin general and prime minister in the court of Shahuji Raje Bhosale, the fourth Maratha emperor. Despite being married to Kashibai, Bajirao fell in love with Mastani during a military mission to rescue Bundelkhand from the Mughals.
The movie marks Bhansali’s return to one of his favourite themes, romantic triangles, after 1999’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and 2002’s Devdas. To this end, he gives us a fast-forwarded view of Bajirao’s ascent to fame in the Maratha kingdom. Bhansali is, as proved by his preceding period dramas, incapable of subtlety. As such, Bajirao’s adversaries, the Mughals, are lampooned. The director portrays them as inept combatants, who are swiftly crushed by Bajirao and his comparatively modest army. Singh’s smug, cocky and impetuous Bajirao is comical as is his laboured Maharashtrian accent. The audience is treated to frequent glimpses of his buff, hairless chest as he flounces around beautiful baroque palaces wearing angrakhas and a maniacal glint in his eye.
Bajirao’s plight is not so much the threat of war. His battlefield feats such as riding through and surviving a rain of arrows and practically flying from one opponent to the next give the impression he is an invincible as a superhero. His bigger struggle is the possessiveness of the women in his life: his widowed mother Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi), a strong upholder of their uppercaste Brahmin customs; his devoted wife Kashi (Priyanka Chopra); and Mastani, his paramour (Deepika Padukone). It is these clingy, territorial women that are ultimately his ruin.
Bhansali exploits the throbbing chemistry between Singh and Padukone, who also played the lovesick leads in his 2013 opus Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. While the palpable sparks between the two are enjoyable to watch, Mastani’s character is fairly one-dimensional as the feisty warrior princess condemned for being a Muslim. Thankfully Padukone is easy on the eyes as she alternates between dancing in a surprisingly high number of mehfils and defending herself from attacks by Bajirao’s disapproving family. Chopra is relatively more nuanced as Kashi, a doting spouse who gracefully endures her husband’s repeated indiscretions. But even the few riveting moments between the female leads – there’s a spirited exchange between Mastani and Kashi in which each defends her place in the libidinous general’s life – don’t make the melodrama a worthwhile watch.
The film has been released at cinemas across the city on Friday, December 18.