This is the story of Peshwa Bajirao. He’s an important historical figure in India, so much so that his tales are a part of school curriculum. But this film is not just about a man and his political conquests. Rather it’s about that man and his longing for love. On one of his famous battle missions Bajirao encounters the beautiful Mastani. She’s the daughter of a Rajput King, but her mother is Persian. They instantly fall in love. The problem is Bajirao is a married man, not to mention he’s the political leader of a Hindu sect. So when Mastani declares her love to the Peshwa’s family and kingdom it’s opposed vehemently. It strains political as well as personal relations in the war hero’s life. The focus here though is firm on the three central characters – Bajirao, Mastani and Bajirao’s wife Kashibai.
Historical inaccuracies are the main bone of contention in Bajirao Mastani. There is also song and dance regime which doesn’t lend itself to a Maratha warrior. The song Malhari in particular sticks out like a nail waiting to be hammered. But these are cinematic liberties, ones that add to the commercial allure of a film. They are jarring but they’re also seamlessly incorporated into the narrative. One of the biggest strengths Bajirao Mastani though is its dialogue. Some of the lines, especially those given to Deepika Padukone’s Mastani and Priyanka Chopra’s Kashibai are spellbinding.
In essence, the women in Bajirao Mastani are its pillars. Their characters are set in a feudal age in the 18th century when blind religious practices were rampant, yet the women display progressive thoughts and feelings. Even the main protagonist, Bajirao has been depicted as a pragmatic man. He’s shown willing to tweak societal rituals so as to honour the higher cause of compassion and love. He instructs Hindu religious leaders to accept and honour his half Muslim son. Upon their opposition, he even offers a logical hack to the system. Nonetheless, the stand out scene in the movie happens between Kashibai and Mastani. Their ice-breaking moment kicks off with unpleasant words and graceless digs. But it soon settles into an accord of respect and adulation. Two women are unhappy at the idea of sharing the same man, but they somehow reach an unspoken treaty where they accept the situation. It’s a fabulous piece of writing. One that really adds a spark to Bajirao Mastani.
Out of all antagonist characters in the film, the one that stands out is Bajirao’s mother Radhabai played by Tanvi Azmi. She’s the voice of the orthodox and the establishment. She refuses to accept Bajirao’s and Mastani’s relationship even when it’s become inevitable. She’s the chief troublemaker, but even her grey shades have a rooted meaning. There’s no black and white here. And that is the beauty of the characters designed by SLB.
Living up to every character are the actors. Ranveer Singh is the larger-than-life moustache twirling Maratha warrior. And he looks his part. On occasions he does take the chest thrusting, arm flailing and butt flexing swagger a bit too far, but the spot on Marathi accentuation and the energy he infuses into Bajirao are stellar. His stand-out scenes are in the court of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj (played by Mahesh Manjrekar) and his confrontations with younger brother Chimaji (Vaibhav Tatwawdi). Deepika Padukone as the tormented lover looking for solace is on Madhubala in Mughl-E-Azam levels of tragedy. Her portrayal of Mastani is the perfect balance of allure and misfortune. And a slew of superlatives will not be enough for Priyanka Chopra in the role of Kashibai. She’s the one with a broken heart and stoic demeanor. She’s phenomenal to say the least. Together, the trio fills the Bajirao Mastani screen with verve and subtlety. Their performances are top notch.
Bajirao Mastani will also be remembered for its production design and costumes. The level of detailing in the film’s visuals is awe-inspiring. The camerawork and SLB’s vision for grandeur create a mirage of excellence on screen. SLB’s music is not only influential it’s emotional and touching. Rarely do Hindi movies look like they belong on a world stage. Bajirao Mastani is definitely a strong contender for that spot. It’s definitely one of the year’s best.
Rating - 4/5