Bajirao Ballal (Balaji) Bhat’s, also known as Bajirao Pesha (prime minister) life and times is perfectly captured in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest offering (right after the superhit Ram Leela). Set in the 1700s, Bajirao Pesha is known as one of the greatest warrior in India, having fought 41 battles and winning them all.
(A portrait of Bajirao I)
(A portrait of Mastani)
Bhansali’s movie is based on the book Rau, which is loosely based on the time in Rao’s life when he took on Mastani as his second wife. Bhansali has indeed painted an epic love story on a grandiose canvas filled with a myriad of characters set against the backdrop of a forbidden romance that ruffles everyone’s feathers.
I won’t get into the entire story, for it has to be seen to be appreciated, but we basically follow the time in Rao’s life when he’s become a prime minister, married to his beautiful wife Kashibai, until he encounters Mastani, a warrior princess. Mastani falls in love with Bajirao, and so fights for him to prove her love. The trouble is that Mastani is half-Muslim, and so Bajirao’s family and advisors aren’t too happy to have a Muslim woman in their Brahmin (the high priestly caste) set up.
You are immediately drawn into the movie, right from the credits sequence into the first battle, which is almost as good as a fight sequence from Lord of the Rings. You cannot help but be dazzled by the exquisite costumes and headgears, or the intricate jewelry worn by the lead characters. As an architect, the palaces and the luxurious, grand rooms fascinated me. It was extremely fascinating to witness how candles are lit and blown out, how curtains are drawn, the furniture pieces among other beautiful details. I fell in love with the Hall of Mirrors, and the whole concept behind it (which is where the song Deewani Mastani is shot). There is also an amazing story behind it, which I won’t share here! The sets are simply just gorgeous and sumptuous!
Attention is paid to little details in all aspects: from the type of sandals Bajirao wears, to the size of the nose ring Mastani wears, to the kind of flowers Kashibai wears in her hair. The research into the historical aspect of 1700s India is impeccable and top marks to the Bhansali. Every scene is like an artist’s painting, filled with details that just makes this movie a visual masterpiece.
Priyanka Chopra plays Kashibai, Bajirao’s first wife. She brings so much dignity to her character, as well as strength and poise. She is playful yet assertive, and brings out a certain level of warmth. We feel for her when she finds out her husband has taken a second wife. Priyanka’s acting skills are spot on, as she succeeds in allowing us to feel her pain.
Deepika Padukone plays Mastani, a warrior princess, who is also a dancer. She is also half Muslim. Coming from a rich family, she is an all rounder. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in love with Deepika. She is such a seasoned actress (gets better and better with each movie she does, Piku and Tamasha). She has such an amazing screen presence, and brings a lot of grace and finesse into Mastani’s character. She is also very believable as a warrior, making use of her fitness to wield swords in a battle. She is also a fine dancer (notably in Deewani Mastani and Mohe Rang Do Laal) to the point where she can seduce even the most defiant of men with her single gaze. Deepika is one actress who, without make up, can bring out so much gravitas to her character.
Which brings us to Ranveer Singh, who plays the lead role. You can tell how hard he’s worked for this role of a lifetime. The mannerisms and nuances are perfectly played to the T by Ranveer. Making use of his super fit body, he plays convincingly the part of a warrior, just about. For at times under the heavy headgears and costumes, he feels a little burdened and you can’t help but wish perhaps a more seasoned actor could’ve played the part better (someone like Hrithik Roshan, who did amazingly well in Jodhaa Akbar). At times, Ranveer brings out the “Ranveer” in Bajirao, and I was reminded of him in Dil Dhadakne Do or even Band Bajaa Baraat. Having said that, I give him massive credit for taking on such a character with much so much confidence. Full marks to him.
Along with the lead actors, the supporting actors also do a fine job, especially Tanvi Azmi, who plays Radhabai, the mother of Bajirao (she reminded me of the devil in The Passion of the Christ).
While we may be engaged in the movie, we are also exhausted as everything is theatrical. With opulent sets filled with details, the background music blasting out at every oppprtunity sort of drains us out. There are no quiet moments and in a typical Bhasali movie, every scene is filled with loud moments. A moment between Bajirao and Mastani needed a quiet moment, but it’s filled with loud sounds of thunder and raging seas. The songs, save for Deewani Mastani, are not outstanding like one would have thought. Some songs made sense in the movie, while others could have been avoided.
Another slight issue with the movie is the tone. You are never sure whether you are watching a historical period movie, or a Bollywood love story shrouded in history. At times you are deeply engaged in the entire Hindu-Muslim love angle, when suddenly you are thrown into song and dance moment. Bhansali could have made a true masterpiece with this movie had he kept the tone of the movie consistent. Bhansali has also gone on record to say that the movie is not “historically accurate” so we are prepared that whatever we see on the screen is somewhat fictional.
Despite these minor quips, I still think Bajirao Mastani is a wonderful movie, that transports us back to 1700s India, filled with lots of drama, love, mystery, intrigue, battles thrown in with a dollop of Bollywoodness. Get past the fact that this is not a historical period drama and you will be delightfully entertained.
4 out of 5