Bhansali ne Bajirao pe film banayi hai;
I want to start my review with those lines simply to act as a disclaimer (much like the movie) to confirm that my views are of this movie as a movie and not as a piece of historic documentation of a much loved and respected character or a review of how well the film recreates the details of an era, which even historians agree isn't well documented. So then..
Everyone has a weakness and mine is mainstream Bollywood.. Every time a big budget multi starrer is in the making, I'm busy following up on it and eagerly awaiting the release. Add to it an A-list cast, appetising promos and interesting music, and I can't wait any more. Obviously, I was looking forward to Bajirao Mastani - a magnum opus by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is arguably the most gifted visualiser of our times - love them or hate them, you can't ignore that with every movie Bhansali has made, he has created unforgettable images. And who doesn't like watching a beautiful frame. From Nandini's inflamed shawl to Paro chasing a closing gate to Michelle McNally predicting snow to The drops of water teasing an immobile Ethan Mascarenhas' pastal abode - these are Bollywoods gems in a treasure of rare visual treats.
So there I was queueing up to watch this movie and after the much elaborate disclaimer, the movie takes off with a brisk pace: But did it have more than visuals? Did it deliver beyond the Bhansali template? Did the actors create unforgettable characters? Mostly, yes.
So The film gets through the wars and political conflicts to set up the meeting between the titular characters. Both valiant Warriors are awestruck of one another, but Mastani is clearly more deeply in love than Bajirao - and she's also the more expressive and daring one. And then there is Bajirao's first wife Kashibai- the quintessential rajgharana bahu, peshwinbai, who between decorating rangolis, fluttering saffron flags and lighting lamps, is mostly waiting for her warrior husband to return home. Shy but playful, she is the films only "unflawed" character. We also meet maa saheb, who is an astute matriarch who neither approves frivolous liberties nor lets her guard down on the kingdom. Why, even a palki entering the Wada can't miss her eagle eyes. You can only imagine her fury when her son wants to bring home a Muslim second wife.
These prime characters form the crux of the material that transforms into 2 hour 45 minutes of entertaining drama on celluloid in signature Bhansali treatment. Yes, entertaining and yes, drama (not melodrama). Kudos must be given to SLB for not going overboard with heavy dialogues and keeping confrontations sharp and thought provoking. I especially liked all confrontations between maa saheb and mastani- both outwitting each other in a war of words.
The other win in the film is the visuals - sets that are raw yet opulent and graphics that are credible yet imaginative. It's a great big screen experience.
And then we come to performances. Ranveer is such a hardworker. And it is shows. In the recent past he has played seemingly simple characters with nuanced finesse but with Bajirao, he takes a difficult character head on. He succeeds in getting the mannerisms and body language mostly right and does let you read his love, pain, guilt and attempts even without words at times. If anyone ever had questions if he had arrived in the big league, this act is a resounding yes. That doesn't mean there isn't the occasional slip or drop in engagement. While we are on Bajirao let me say this: Personally, the one part I didn't like in the movie was the Malhari song, which for some reason seemed more Dabanng and less Bajirao. No, I don't care that he danced but I care that he did that dance. Not as Bajirao but as any King or warrior.
Priyanka excels in a small yet powerful role and gets the accent and body language of a Peshwin woman perfect. This movie will be for her what Shakespeare In Love was to Judie Dench - an 8 minute role that won her all awards. Speaking of doing more in less screen time, Tanvi Azmi builds an intimidating presence. Every time she is in the frame, a sense of authority lurks and her unyielding faith and astute beliefs are a nightmare for any outlier. Even as she momentarily laughs at her own helplessness, you know she's not broken yet. And never will be.
Which leaves us to talk of Mastani - the lady with a golden touch - Deepika. Since cocktail, I'm not sure she put one foot wrong ever. Mastani is a gutsy woman who wants to write her own Destiny - and yet constantly a teardrop is waiting to shed from those enigmatic eyes. The legends of mastani's beauty are aptly recreated in the movie and she is grace and valour personified. Deepika even gets her Kathak and Urdu right. And in the end she wins your heart for her yearning for love and acceptance of her love. Mastani asks but never begs, she questions but never commands, she longs but never gives up. Deepika makes Mastani unforgettable.
A word must be said about the songs and choreography. Other than Malhari I'm a fan of how the songs are shot. Deewani Mastani, is a new benchmark, even for Bhansali. Pinga, even with it questionable premise and true Bollywood execution is going to become a legend in itself for whatever reasons. I find it boisterous and cute and very very fun - and those gals dance their history off - Like there was no yesterday and no tomorrow.
Overall the film is an operatic entertainer and worth a watch for its visual achievements and performances. And although not underlined enough, there is a message that is relevant even today - that love is like a prayer, you don't need to seek permission to pray. Ibaadat ke liye Ijaazat ki zaroorat nahi. Watch it as just a movie, and you'll find it engaging, mesmerising and magical.
Remember: Bajirao ne mastani se mohobbat ki hai; ayyashi Nahi.. Aur Bhansali ne Bajirao pe film banayi hai; Documentary Nahi!