Bajirao Mastani starring Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh is all about controlled hysteria. That is what Sanjay Leela Bhansali wanted to whip up and that is exactly what he whipped up in his first-ever historical epic, Bajirao Mastani – and that too with panache.
The director, with his sweeping narrative touches, blurs the line between fact and fiction in his quest for the grand dramatic moments.
Bajirao Mastani has no dearth of sequences designed to dazzle the eye and move the heart.
However, the pace of the film, especially in the first half, is somewhat sluggish.
But thanks to the strong central performances by Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, the impressive sets and costumes, and the power of the visuals rustled up by cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee, Bajirao Mastani is never less than watchable.
The film gathers momentum in the second half and Priyanka Chopra, playing Bajirao Peshwa’s first wife Kashibai, gets her due in the drama.
The CGI-enhanced battlefield action is impressive – Bajirao Mastani is after all the tale of an 18th century warrior who never lost a battle in a short but eventful life.
It is, however, the love story of the Peshwa and the half-Muslim Bundelkhandi princess Mastani that takes centrestage for the most part.
The principal conflict point in the film hinges on the stiff opposition that that the married Peshwa faces from Pune’s Hindu clergy and his own deeply offended family when Mastani arrives and lays claim on the man she believes she is betrothed to, having received his personal dagger as a gift.
The two women in Bajirao’s life – his wife Kashibai and his true love Mastani – are at odds with each other, but in Bhansali’s universe, neither is allowed to lose her feminine calm and composure in the face of the severest of provocations.
Bajirao Mastani has another very strong female character – Bajirao’s widowed mother Radhabai. Tanvi Azmi invests the figure with great force.
Even when she plots brazenly to humiliate and hound Mastani, Radhabai does not turn into a heartless manipulator.
She is seen only as somebody who is compelled by her conditioning to uphold tradition.
Music is supposed to play a key role in Bajirao Mastani in enhancing the dramatic impact of the tale, but the songs do not appear to be organically linked to the narrative.
A restrained but laboured confrontation scene between Kashibai and Mastani sets the stage for the Pinga number in which the two women come together in an unlikely dance routine.
Bajirao Mastani is riddled with several such flights of fancy and Bhansali admits as much in a long disclaimer at the film’s outset.
Bajirao Mastani might not be reliable history, but it certainly is pure entertainment of the kind that only Bhansali can deliver.
So, notwithstanding its flaws and avoidable detours, this is a film that stays on course right down to the bitter end.
Bajirao Mastani is an exquisitely, if not accurately, crafted epic designed for those for whom history might not be a big draw.
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