Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani

A lot has been written on the controversies surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani, so before I wade into that, a quick few words on the movie itself.

Bajirao Mastani is another beautifully executed masterpiece from someone who has already perfected the art of lavish sets, royal splendor, and riveting performances with glorious song and dance routines. The Sheesh Mahal, the intricate carvings, mirrors and tapestries reminded me of the beautiful Alahambra at Granada in Spain. The Shaniwar Wada, the King's palace in Satara, and the various battlefields are also very faithful renditions of what it must have been.

Ranveer Singh is cast absolutely spot on as the mighty warrior Bajirao I, with just the right streak of pomp and arrogance, as befits someone proud and fearless like him. Both Deepika and Priyanka also put in memorable performances - Deepika as the beautiful, courageous Mastani, and Priyanka as the loving, confident wife of the great warrior, who suddenly realizes she is no longer his favorite. While I am personally not a big fan of the Pinga and Malhari tracks, they have been wonderfully choreographed and shot. I absolutely loved Deewani Mastani - soulful and melodious, and stays with you for a long, long time.

However, coming after the epic Baahubali, I have to say Bajirao Maastani almost pales in comparison. The war sequences have the "been there done that" feel - we have seen this "keep it fast, keep it dark, keep it shaky, so you don't need to worry about the detailing" action so often in the past, unlike the absolutely crystal clear cinematography of Baahubali. The beautiful sets of Bajirao Mastani are just that - sets. You can see the artificial skies, the beautiful facades (minus the body behind) and keep reminiscing about the effort taken in the epic Baahubali to make everything so real and authentic. If not for the Baahubali comparison, SLB's Bajirao Mastani would have got top ratings in the art direction department.

And now to the question of authenticity. I am not a historian, and I am pretty tolerant of artistic and cinematic liberties. As someone who was only faintly aware of Bajirao Peshwa, the movie definitely aroused a keen interest in the life and achievements of this great Maratha warrior, as well as the immortal love story of Bajirao Mastani. In that, the movie definitely achieves it purpose.

It also made me aware of Kashibai and her trials and tribulations as the first wife of Bajirao, who has to see her husband go away from her into the arms of his new lover. However, unlike some of the reviews I have seen, I did not find Priyanka's character portraying strength. Instead, I see her almost helpless and forced to accept her husband's second wife, because she simply has no other choice.

Whether the Bajirao had time for song and dance, whether Kashibai and Mastani ever met, leave alone dance together - I think those are minor distortions, if at all, and can be ignored without hurting the image of the great Bajirao. However, did Bajirao give up his responsibilities as Peshwa for Mastani? Did she really die in prison? These are questions that remain unanswered.

The end definitely feels unreal. While there are many conflicting accounts of their deaths, the movie presents a very filmy version, which leaves a lingering doubt in my mind about the authenticity and robs the film of a powerful ending.

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