Is it Ram Leela part 2? Is it Devdas on a dope of Ram Leela? Curiosity loomed large before walking inside the auditorium to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani. The promos kept one wondering whether the Peshwas ever owned those palatial spaces.
Did they have the luxury of creating Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo kind of Sheesh Mahal called Aaina Mahal? (Thankfully, this one isn’t perched on a waterfall and doesn’t have Bruce Lee’s Big Boss kind of mirrors installed as the Barjatyas would like it to be). Or did the Peshwas organize elaborate Deewani ho gayi performances, ‘victory dance’ mouthing contemporary slangs like ‘vaat laavli’, or perform an encore of ‘Dola re’.
Well, actual incidents are for history lectures and facts for documentary films. We’re talking commercial cinema here and mind you, this one’s a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, which is a genre in itself. So as an audience one tends to generously grant the director creative freedom he deserves to create a whole new world of elegance, exuberance, and as accused by many, self-indulgence. Yet, it’s all worth every rupee and minute you invest in this film.
Based on the book, Raau by Nagnath S. Inamdar, Bajirao Mastani demonstrates SLB’s mastery in creating lavish ambience for song sequences is imbued across every frame of Bajirao Mastani and often surprises you with its simplicity. For instance, just when you expect a yet another Holi song, you get to watch something as simple as a classical dance set against the backdrop of hills and open skies. Cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee and editor Rajesh G. Pandey deserve a mention for making each frame look like a painting.
Ranveer Singh is indeed an actor to watch out for. The actor lives and breathes Bajirao Peshwa. It’s like he was born to play Bajirao Peshwa, just like Prithviraj Kapoor to play Emperor Akbar or Amjad Khan to play Gabbar. If the press interviews are to be believed, the actor insisted upon being called Bajirao on the set. The ADs were reprimanded if they dared to call him Ranveer. Well, Bajirao Peshwa will always remain Ranveer Singh and Ranveer Singh will always remain Bajirao Peshwa for us. The actor has nailed it. Period.
Deepika Padukone as Mastani baai is grace personified. Be it the battlefield or court performance, this doe-eyed actor exudes charm like never before. The way she uses her eyes is stuff classics are made of, right from expressing lament and yearning while performing ‘Mastani ho gayee’ (Let’s not compare her with Madhubala in Mughal-E-Azam as it would be blasphemous to do so), to the effervescence in the ‘Pinga’ song, Deepika lures you with her charms. Sadly, that’s what works against her in this film.
One can’t blame the actor here because the role of Mastani Baai doesn’t have the much-needed depth in it and the writer wants her to be everything. In one instance you witness the fighter in her and the next she’s a coy girl being put up in a dancers’ kholi. At this juncture, you expect her to reveal an unknown layer of her personality, but all you get to watch is a tackily choreographed sword practice, ending on a limp Ninjastic note.
This lacuna in the writing of Mastani’s character proves to be a boon for Priyanka Chopra to explore her Kashi baai’s character further – and how! In Kashi baai, you discover varied shades of emotions ranging from jovial, insecure, compassionate and enraged wife to a shattered and helpless woman.
The ease with which Priyanka Chopra maneuvers through these labyrinthine lanes of emotions is precisely what puts her on a different pedestal. So much so that you’re tempted to call this film ‘Bajirao Kashi’ instead of Bajirao Mastani, blame it on the nuanced writing and chemistry that Ranveer and Priyanka share on screen. Actors like Tanvi Azmi, Mahesh Manjrekar and Milind Soman rise above the mundane supporting roles and make their presence felt across the film.
The overall theme of Bajirao Mastani, though dated, feels relevant in our times. Writer Prakash Kapadia articulates the Darga-Durga divide with well-penned dialogues that pack enough punch to elicit taalis from the audience, and equal depth with analogy of Krishna-Rukhmini-Radha. The riveting screenplay takes you inside the mind of a warrior and repercussions of ‘intolerance’, politics and war. To sum it up, Bajirao Mastani is an epic that deserves to be celebrated on the big screen. Go book your ticket, pronto.