(This was first published in Firstpost.com)
The twirl of Mastani’s (Deepika Padukone) long, layered, utterly gorgeous beige gold kalidar kurta, the rhythmic swirl of her tall lissome figure, the fiery defiant adoration for her lover, Bajirao (Ranveer Singh), in her deep, flashing eyes, her beautifully choreographed dance reflected in the mirrors of the most enchanting palace; the soulful song, 'Deewani Mastani' will and should go down in the history of cinema as the perfect amalgamation of all that the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, stands for.
The song may be an ode to the classic Mughal-e-Azam’s 'Pyaar kiya to darna kiya,' but it is also the classic Bhansali signature.
The elements are all the there: pain, angst, art, unattainable love, rebellion, melodrama, perfect beauty in the detailing — right from the actresses’ strand of hair near the ears, to the flick of her long fingers, to the matching colours of the magnum opus sets reflective of the mood; and above all the inevitable, eternal triangle.
In fact, Bajirao Mastani may as well be the third in the trilogy of triangle love stories after Devdas and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Each has it’s memorable touch: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam had the best music with Albela Sajan still haunting the ears; Devdas, in its tragic melodrama and the ultimate star cast, with Madhuri Dixit’s best dances at display.
The hysterics, the drama, the ultra ornate look; all magnified and mounted with a brilliant background score which is like the Opera during the climax; come together in Bajirao Mastani.
The subject itself is classic - a slice of 17th -18th century history. The regime of Peshwas and Maratha warriors, when the most successful warrior, Bajirao, a Brahmin who fell in love with Mastani, a dancer and a warrior princess with half Muslim blood. To add to the conflict, Bajirao was already married to Kashi (Priyanka Chopra). Facing opposition from all fronts, Bajirao made a separate palace for his second wife, Mastani, called Mastani Mahal. But did the two live happily ever after? History and folklore tell the rest.
Bhansali, of course, tells it mega Bollywood style, complete with delightful dialoguebaazi like. “Jo mehboob ko dekhe to khuda ko bhool jaaye who ishq”.
Adapted from a Marathi novel, Rau, by NS Inamdar, the film takes on its own dimension with a cast that is an absolute ill-fit for anything remotely Maratha. Ranveer Singh as a Peshwa with the bald head with a single choti and tilak, Priyanka Chopra as his Maratha wife with her silk navvaris, half moon bindi, nose ring and constant usage of the Marathi word “chaala”, and Deepika Padukone in her regal refinery or heavy armour complete with her sword, may all look the part thanks to the costume and styling team.
However, all three are too model-like, too manufactured with their toned abs. Deepika looks ravishing but her contact lenses don’t let you see the historical, strong figure of Mastani. Priyanka's performance touches the most with her moist-eyed dialogue delivery, even though this is not Kashibai’s story. However, her authoritative ‘chaala’ is just not enough to bring real authenticity.While Ranveer adopts the Marathi accent like fish to water, and outdoes himself in the tragic moments, (again the memorable ones are with Kashi, especially their last meeting, when they should be with Mastani) and dances with the expression of a Bollywood hero to the tunes of 'Malhari'.
This is not to say that all three don’t shine in their moments. They do. So does Sonia Gandhi in her cotton sarees and cultivated Hindi.
We see a couple of wars in the film, unfortunately, they are too brief. Used as mere backdrops to the central love story, they could have added more depth to the story the way Mughal-e-Azam did for Salim and Anarkali. Expectedly, Sudeep Chaterjee’s camera captures it all in majestic, stunning shots. The score takes it to another level with the clang of the swords, the thunderous hooves of the horses and the cries of the warriors that resonate with passion.
If it was the father and son conflict explored then, it has the mother and son conflict now between Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi) and Bajirao. The scenes between the two are few and far between. There is more emotion between Radhabai and Kashibai in their shared moments of helplessness.
The climax peaks like the Opera, which is very reminiscent of Devdas, takes over with complete, awe inspiring, cinematic brilliance in 'bewaqt ki baarish'. The film leaves you with Kashi’s pain instead of Bajirao and Mastani’s, which is the real tragedy in storytelling here.
Bhansali’s Mughal-e-Azam may not be perfect but is a memorable, mesmerizing and dazzling piece of cinematic vision.