Bajirao Mastani

MOVmastaniDirector: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra and Tanvi Azmi
“Duniya ka har dharm mohabbat sikhata hai, Mohabbat ka koi dharm nahi hota. Mohabbat khud hi dharm hai” (All religions teach love, love has no religion and it is a religion in itself) – that is what Sanjay Leela Bhansali aims to preach with Bajirao Mastani that hits theatres on Friday.

Bajirao Mastani explores the romantic side of 18th-century Maratha general Bajirao Ballal Bhat, who fought and won 40 battles against the Mughals with an aim to create a unified Hindu kingdom or Akhand Bharatvarsha (united Bharat).

With Mastani’s scarcely recorded history, Bhansali had a beautiful premise of a love story that has never been explored onscreen. However, he makes it a tiring affair: Laden with the burden of self-indulgence and dramatic “dialoguebaazi”, the film drags on at its own sweet and laid-back pace.

Bajirao Mastani is a lengthy film that moves at a snail’s pace, in signature Bhansali style. The lyrical dialogues and literary brilliance of the dialogues bog the story down with overindulgence instead of striking the audience in awe of the grandeur at show. For example, one of Ranveer Singh’s dialogues has doobta sooraj, khilta chand, bewaqt ki baarish, dharm ki zanjeer and mohabbat ki aag in one single sentence! The dialogues seem more like an ensemble of Hindi words than boasting of the lyricism the filmmaker seems to have aimed for.

Replete with references of Akhand Bharat, the film repeats time and again that religion should not become greater than human beings or love. That message could not have been timed better, given the current situation in the country. The dialogues, overladen with lyricism, are more likely to be mocked than paid heed to. Sample some of them:

1. When parting ways after meeting for the first time, Deepika tells Ranveer: “Tujhe yaad kar liya hai ayat ki tarah, ab zikra hoga tera ibadat ki tarah.”

2. Then, Deepika’s mom tries to convince her not to go to Ranveer, reminding her that he already has a wife.

Deepika: “Patni to Radha bhi nahi thi, lekin Krishna ke saath log yaad use hi karte hain.”

Mom: “Wo bhagwan the!”

Deepika: “Aur ishq ibadat. Ibadat ke liye ijazat nahi li jaati.”

3. When Priyanka visits Deepika in Peshwa’s kingdom, Deepika tells her: “Aapne yaha aa ke Bundelkhand ki is najayaz beti ko sindoor jitna jayaz bana diya.”

The actors offer relief in this period saga, especially Deepika as she enters the scene with sparkling brilliance, stepping up the tempo every time she is in the frame.

She makes a dashing entry as she attacks the Peshwa (Ranveer) in his own camp when his attendants do not allow her to meet him. Dressed like a soldier, she moves forward kicking and slashing Ranveer’s soldiers. He stands there awestruck.

Priyanka’s subtle performance adds grace to her character of Kashibai, the Peshwa’s first wife. Tanvi Azmi plays Ranveer’s mom with such power and elegance that she makes you fear her. Even the supporting cast of Mahesh Manjrekar as Chhatrasal Shahu, Vaibhav Tatwawdi as Bajirao’s brother Chimaji and Milind Soman as Bajirao’s friend and advisor add gravity to the story. They swiftly stepped into their characters.

Ranveer has much more potential than what is at display in Bajirao Mastani. He just seems to be having fun with the sets and his costumes. He is not too convincing as the warrior or even the passionate lover. He does have a few moments of brilliance, nonetheless. In a sequence, for example, Ranveer behaves as if he is intoxicated when his younger brother and chief adviser approach him. And Ranveer starts saying, “Nashe me to sab hain Chimaji, daulat ka nasha, dharm ka nasha. Hum bhi ishq ke nashe mein hain.” You almost expect him to break into Amitabh Bachchan lines “Nashe mein kon nahi hai mujhe batao zara, kise hai hosh mere saamne to lao zara” from the Sharabi song Log Kehte Hain Main Sharabi Hu.

Credit must be given to Anju Modi, Deepika’s designer, who adds to Mastani’s elegant and beautiful persona with her well-crafted dresses. The sets, quite predictably, are a sight to behold and add to the grandeur on display.

Though the story ends on a sad note and the ending is a bit too stretched, the entire sequence is one of few high points of Bajirao Mastani. Ranveer’s character is hallucinating under high fever and sees forces charging at him in a calm Narmada river. He rages his own battle, swinging his sword like a maniac. When Priyanka asks him about his opponent, he says: “Bhagwan … kismet”. This signifies his lost battle with his own family and custodians of religion. From Ranveer’s loss to Priyanka watching him go crazy, you can feel everyone’s pain, angst and grief.

If you appreciate Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulence and grandeur, this won’t disappoint. It can be a good one-time watch, for Deepika’s performance, if not anything else.