Film Review: 'Bajirao Mastani'
Opened: 18 December 2015
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Tanvi Azmi, Milind Soman, Aditya Pancholi, Mahesh Manjrekar, Raza Murad.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Producer: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
"Mohabbat ka toh koi dharam nahi hota, woh khud apne aap mein ek dharam hai…”
Ostentatious. Excessive. Ambitious. Grand. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's revered project is here and although not without its flaws, it's something of an epic masterstroke that only he could have executed on such a magnificent scale. Sure, it's probably not historically accurate but who really cares when the end product is so vibrant. So heartbreaking. So opulent. So bursting with colour. So engaging. And at the same time in contrast: So subtle. So nuanced. So detailed. So articulate. So careful. So graceful. And so so passionate. Yes. Bajirao Mastani is that film which you need to see on a big screen. No wait. Rather, you need to witness how cautiously every frame, every candle, every ornate piece of jewellery and every set piece has been fitted together to create that near-perfect jigsaw, the end result of which would make any filmmaker beam with pride.
Make no mistake though. It’s by no means a solo effort. Together with his expert craftsmen, Bhansali has his relatively inexperienced, yet oh so arresting lead in Ranveer Singh to thank. Sure. He’s a little raw around the edges. But when Bajirao's moist eyes weep for his forbidden love for Mastani, or when they bow down with heavy hearted guilt when he can’t fulfil his commitment to his hopelessly in love first wife Kashi, you want to believe him. You want to console him, and credit to Singh for completely committing to the character and literally going to hell and back and giving us one of the best performances of the year.
Of course he’s ably supported by his gorgeous leading ladies too both of whom effortlessly play off of him. Whether it’s Deepika Padukone as the subtle, yet fierce Mastani who unabashedly fights for the longings of her heart, however forbidden they may be. Such grace. Such fluidity. Such versatility. Deepika nails it again this year and how. Or Priyanka Chopra. Who displays vulnerability, jealousy, guilt, pain, confusion and a naiveté with a flair that I have yet to see in any of her performances thus far. And that’s saying something if you’ve seen her body of work. When some of the scenes reach dramatic crescendo (in true Bhansali style), Priyanka doesn’t knock it out the park. She knocks it out of the stadium – that’s how good she is in this film.
Bajirao Mastani — essentially a period drama, recounts the doomed love story of Bajirao (Singh), a noted Maratha general who served as a Peshwa (Prime Minister) to the fourth Maratha Chhatrapati (Emperor), who jilts his wife Kashi (Chopra), to pursue a warrior princess whom he encounters on the battlefield, Mastani (Padukone), the daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal of Panna by a Muslim wife. Their marriage is met with little favour from both the Peshwa’s kingdom and family, but their union continues to flourish against all odds, leading to a finale that you’ll probably see coming a mile off, and yet will keep you glued to your seats just to watch the spectacle unravel in all its glory.
With Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali returns to familiar territory. Larger than life drama – be it the film’s set-up, the cinematography, the sledgehammer dialogues, the costumes and the performances they’re all nothing short of dazzling.
Making a film like as grand as this requires confidence. It’s a war epic. A historical drama whereby you potentially may lose a tiny chunk of your audience, but trust Bhansali to not give in to what churns profit, but rather, follow the dictates of his heart. And give us a template for what Bollywood is essentially known for. Drama and extravagance.
Some of it is undeniably excessive, and despite their sizzling chemistry, the love story between Bajirao and Mastani isn’t fully explored. Their equation needed a little more depth – at times it feels like their fascination for each other is based purely on lust, and that soul connection needed to be fleshed out a little more. But then you can understand why Bhansali may have avoided that, probably to reduce the bloatedness of his end product. In fact you heart goes out more to the Bajirao-Kashibai story purely because Ranveer and Priyanka’s story has more gravitas and more depth at times than the central love story. That and the somewhat not so impactful climax, is where the film stumbles a little.
Beyond that though there’s little to fault here. Yes there’s an over extended battle scene, which feels a little forced but somehow needed to be in the narrative, but otherwise whether it’s Bhansali’s music. His poetic dialogue. The epic scale and setting. The knockout dramatic sequences, and above all, the performances be they from the film’s principal cast or the supporting players. Milind Soman as Bajirao’s esteemed aide or Tanvi Azmi, as the disgruntled mother who’s dead against his union with Mastani, it's all pretty darned stellar, and has to be seen to be believed.
To sum up Bajirao Mastani is the film it was touted to be. It’s essentially celluloid spectacle, where together, Bhansali, Singh, Padukone and Chopra cast a spell on you. And the end result is sheer magic.