December 18 2015
Review of Bollywood epic that enjoys Christmas release…
GRAND, spectacular and visually opulent, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Bajirao Mastani” is a feast for the senses.
You have to be impressed by the sets, the costumes, the characters themselves and sheer scale of everything.
In fact, we doubt a Bollywood movie will surpass this level of grandeur, style and elegance in the near future. At one level, it is utterly seductive and entrancing.
But…you could tell this was coming, couldn’t you?
It is a good film in so much as everything works…well…not quite everything.
This is supposed to be like Romeo and Juliet, but magnified a million times.
It is not the fault of actors, Ranveer Singh, as ‘Bajirao’ or Deepika Padukone, as ‘Mastani’, are good and carry off their parts effectively and convincingly – but it’s Priyanka Chopra as ‘Kashibai’, Bajirao’s wife, who really steals the show and seals the deal.
The central relationship between Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and Mastani (Deepika Padukone) just falls a little short of what it should be.
Let’s explain: in the central love triangle, you end up feeling more for Kashibai (Chopra), than you do for Mastani (Padukone) and that is not the point of the film.
It is a magnificent love story and there is no surprise that a filmmaker such as Bhansali should be drawn to it. We cannot vouch for the historical veracity of his film, but it does make for a powerful plot in that respect.
Bajirao is a gifted prime minister, a sublime warrior and leader, who knows no equal and is the standard bearer against the Mughal powers of the time (18th century western India).
For that he is revered, and is seen as the defender of Hindus and their faith.
In the course of his conquests, he is forced to confront – and is later ‘gifted’ – Mastani, a fierce girl warrior who exudes an equal level of valour and power.
The two fall for each other like two tributaries that join to make a forceful, free-flowing river seeking their ocean.
Bajirao remains the Hindu PM par excellence and the powerful, supporting Brahmin priests, idolise him as such, but Mastani is of mixed heritage, having both Muslim and Hindu antecedents.
Predictably, the Brahmins and Bajirao’s family recoil when Mastani gives birth to a son by Bajirao.
He wants his second son to be treated exactly the same as his first, with Kashibai.
There is a tone of religiosity that informs this whole story and threatens to overspill into a sort of Saffron rant, especially at the beginning.
In one very telling but succinct line, he insists he is fighting The Mughals, not Islam and his determination to have his son by Mastani shown the same respect as his by Kashibai, suggests he does not care much for (religious) labels.
Indeed, he fights both the priests and his family about this and decides to antagonise them more by declaring that his son by Mastani will be brought up as a Muslim.
The priests and family are angered yet more and their attempts to oust Mastani become ever more determined and febrile.
The second half gathers force and momentum, propelled by these disputes, whereas the first half of scene setting, is not as engaging or absorbing, but the visuals sustain us.
The score is good but the set piece musical sequences aren’t as strong, and one wonders if Bhansali had given someone else the task (rather than arrange the scores and lyrics himself), it might have been better and more meaningful. Some tracks work better than others.
In the end, while Bajirao and Mastani’s glorious love affair has some meaning and effect, you’re still left thinking about Kashibai, and the regal majesty of Chopra’s beauty and poise.
Sure, she is the wronged woman, and she never gives in blithely to her husband or the other woman…and shows herself just as capable as Mastani in some respects.
Now, if Bhansali had centred the film around her…or made Chopra Mastani…or is that just being mischievous? (Sailesh Ram)
ACV rating: *** (out of five)
‘Bajirao Mastani’ is in cinemas worldwide from today (December 18)…