When I first saw the trailer for this film, I lost my sanity with excitement for a decent ten minutes or so. I have been such a huge fan of the Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, for a long time now. Her skills are brilliant and I was disappointed with how underrated she had been in the industry. However, with her consecutive successes in the last two Bhansali movies (Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani), I don’t believe this is an issue any longer. Another very special reason behind my fangirlisms had to do with the exquisitely dashing and talented Ranveer Singh. He has been exceptionally versatile in the partaken roles, which to this day is an extremely difficult feat to accomplish. These two folks have been at the top of my favorites actors list for a good year or so.
As with most Bollywood films, my attention to the film had been piqued after I heard one of the main promotional songs from it, titled “Deewani Mastani.” I distinctly remember sitting at my desk, drafting up an outline for an upcoming book review when this melody began to play. A subtle chill trailed up my spine making me shiver as soon as I heard Shreya Ghoshal’s voice. As the music for the sitar began to pick up, I found myself utterly lost with the lyrics and atmosphere of the entire thing. It was absolutely breathtaking. “What is this from?” “What movie is this?” “Where can I see this?” Those are examples of a few of the questions that began to plague my mind with school-girl fascination.
Ever since then, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this film so I could get my kitty-cat paws on it. Finally, ladies and gents, I have finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch the film, Bajirao Mastani in its entirety. The experience was wholeheartedly feverish and enthralling, making this Sanjay Leela Bhansali blockbuster a very special addition to my top list of Bollywood films to watch, period.
So, what exactly is Bajirao Mastani? Who’s responsible for creating this film? Is it an original work, a work of non-fiction, who are the celebrities that make up the plot? All of these basics will be answered in this section before we get into the meaty core of all the reasons why this movie is good, and maybe not so much.
The picture was written by Prakash R. Kapadia and directed by the genius Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who produced other riveting titles such as Devdas (2002) and Goliyon Ke Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013). With the assistance of Shreyas Puranik, Mr. Bhansali also composed the songs for the title. The stars consist of Ranveer Singh (Bajirao), Deepika Padukone (Mastani), and Priyanka Chopra (Kashibai), with narration from Irrfan Khan. The story is based off of a Marathi novel called Raau written by Nagnath S. Inamdar about a peshwa of India’s Maratha Empire named Bajirao I.
Bajirao Mastani is an epic historical romance about the Hindu Peshwa (General) Bajirao and his second wife, Mastani. Bajirao was the son of a Brahmin and an immensely talented strategist and warrior. Mastani was the daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal, (noble equivalent to a King) and also an exceptionally skilled warrior herself. Since her mother was a Muslim, she was raised of the same faith. After meeting on the battlefield, through plot development Bajirao offers Mastani his precious dagger, which during this era was equal to that of a marriage proposal, to which she accepts. Since Bajirao was already married to Kashibai, Mastani was viewed to be his mistress. When she arrived to Bajirao’s palace, her presence was viewed to be unforgivingly taboo. Familial and political strife began to brew and our film blossoms into a masterpiece.
Things to Love
At this point, you’re probably wondering: “Well, this sounds like any other film or drama about a king and his inability to be loyal to one woman.” When I came across that synopsis, I also had similar thoughts, however. Bajirao Mastani at its heart is a period piece first, and a tale about love so deeply profound, so astonishingly loyal, it’s moving. If you go into this movie expecting a typical story about royals who can’t keep it in their pants, then you’ll be quite disappointed. Plot elements aside, let’s take a look at the technical parts of the flick.
The very first thing that I fell in love with: the cinematography. Bajirao Mastani is breathtaking with its presentation, equal parts culturally vibrant and emotionally provoking. The use of the long shot, bird’s eye view, high angle, and low angle are implemented with fluid precision to stir the appropriate reaction and capture every expression that’s relevant to what’s unfolding on screen. There is a masterful attention to detail with subtle queues to symbolism that provides the film with flourishing amount of depth.
As I mentioned above, the movie is a period drama. The era that we’re looking at here is (roughly) the mid-1700s, which brings me to the second element I adored: the culture. Religion was a gargantuan part of the culture and royal practices of the time-period. How you were to conduct yourself at court, the ways of hospitality and friendship, right down to the clothes you wore—it was all tied to religion on one level or another, especially in regards to color. Colors were an immeasurably important part of Indian values, which is exhibited in the picture with those subtle moments of symbolism. The practices and the influences that these religions had play a big part in the political intrigue of Bajirao Mastani. It really adds that level of tension to hold you at the edge of your seat.
Another big part of the culture were the outfits and weapons. While Bhansali does take some liberties with the female outfits to an extent, he still abides by the era and their attire. For example, the soldiers armor and dress were all exquisite. Bajirao wielded a whip sword, which is the weapon that would have been utilized in that era (a greatly difficult one to master, mind you).
The third part of culture, and quite frankly one of the biggest, is language. There is no bastardized usage of Hindi, or an atrocious mixing of Hindi and English; something that has unfortunately become an unpleasant norm in modern day Indian cinema. No, none of that trash takes place in Bajirao Mastani. What you have is a polished and authentic demonstration of proper, traditional Hindi language dispersed with Marathi (the language for the region that Bajirao ruled). The sentences and phrases, the magnificent flow of perfect pronunciations for words that are no longer (or rarely) used today creates an air of artistic validity. I felt on more than one occasion that I was sitting there with the characters as they interacted. It is truly an homage to classical Hindi cinema and beliefs.
The final element to love: the acting. It is sophisticatedly attuned to the era from the mannerisms to speech, and movements. There are quite a lot of emotions that are expressed in the film that could not be done so with mere words or talking. Each actor—Ranveer, Deepika, Priyanka—all have a masterful ability in bringing the true essence of their individual roles to life. You have a proud soldier who madly loves and refuses to lower his love for he feels he’s not wrong in his beliefs. You have a woman who willingly steps into a society where she will only be shunned and demeaned, but does so for the sake of respect she has for her love. Then you have a wife who, regardless of being humiliated in a terrible fashion, chooses to stand by her husband and do whatever is necessary for his strength and happiness. Three very different roles that require very different sets of skills to play, and all done immaculately.
There really are only three things that I noticed that could be construed as “flaws,” and they’re quite minor at that. The first has to do with the female outfits. They were stunningly gorgeous costumes, yet ladies of that era would not have dressed so lavishly, even if the woman was the wife of an undefeated war general. A prestigious position did not necessarily mean that they would fetter themselves in diamonds, gold, and other jewels. This isn’t to say that they wouldn’t wear them at all, because they most certainly would, just not in such a flamboyant means.
The second flaw, and one that actually caused quite a bit of controversy with the descendants of Kashibai and Mastani, was the dancing. Again, it was absolutely superb, but for the particular period, ladies of such high and respectable positions would not have danced in such a manner. I’m referring to the song, “Pinga,” where Kashibai and Mastani dance in celebration of a holiday. To do that so openly would be to “demean” themselves as such practices were held for women of much lower and disagreeable statuses.
The third and final flaw (more like nitpicking for me, honestly) are the parallels that Bajirao Mastani shares with Bhansali’s previous film Devdas. There are so many similarities in the way this film is put together that creates an unnerving sense of déjà vu. I can’t recall the number of times I looked over at my roommate (whom I shanghaied into watching this with me) and said, “Hey, he did this in Devdas too!” In total truthfulness, it detracted from the quality as a whole, sapping away a bit of that originality that greets you in the beginning of the film. A feeling of regurgitated plot elements started to eat at the corners of my overall pleasure. I may be alone with my thinking in this regard, but it’s there and I won’t lie about it.
The Bottom Line
Bajirao Mastani is a fantastic feat of filmmaking that is an elegant tribute to classical Indian cinema. It is a lovely, bittersweet story about love that is exquisitely brought to life with expert acting, brilliant directions, and emotionally ethereal music. The scenery and settings are visually mesmerizing and artistically operatic in their conception. There wasn’t a single wasted second of watching this film. I was riveted from the opening scene until the curtain’s call. So, the bottom line is simple: it’s a must-watch for any fan of a damn good movie. Even if you don’t particularly care for love, or political warfare, I still recommend that you watch it. It deserves appreciation for the masterpiece that it is; eight and a half paans out of ten.