Film Hindi Review

Bajirao Mastani

The visual quotient is so high it makes the lack of depth in the script starker by contrast, if one tries to analyze the film. You do not need or miss a script at all in the first act, the difference between form and content becomes apparent in the second act, and by the time the third act is consummated, you are in disbelief at the final resolution (or the lack of one).

Considerable style with almost no substance. This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the film. Everything else I have to say is just an elaboration.

It is undoubtedly the best looking period film to be made in India. Bhansali’s well-documented love for the operatic is on full display. The sets are lavish and magnificent. The costumes are intricate. The lead actors look stunning. Every scene is beautifully mounted. Establishing shots give you the sense of scale, a peek into the director’s vision. Bhansali’s beloved top shots show off precisely choreographed song sequences in geometrical harmony, a modern day Busby Berkely. And he takes it beyond songs; the top shot where he shows the meals being laid for the contingent of Brahmins is a thing of beauty; the green leaves on which the food is plated dotting the screen on a flawless white floor, set in a square grid. Frame after frame of almost pristine perfection overwhelm you.

The visual quotient is so high it makes the lack of depth in the script starker by contrast, if one tries to analyze the film. You do not need or miss a script at all in the first act, the difference between form and content becomes apparent in the second act, and by the time the third act is consummated, you are in disbelief at the final resolution (or the lack of one).

Because it is not an opera that we are watching, it’s a film. As inspiring as his visuals are, the film suffers from a well-paced and tightly plotted narrative. As lyrical as the lines of dialogue are, they begin to seem ineffectual because they lack a strong context of where the film is going. The engagement with what is happening on screen undergoes a slow disintegration culminating at a meek implosion, at great ends with the promise the film’s vision aspired for.

The central plot of the story is clearly the love story of Bajirao and Mastani, with his first wife Kashi providing a strong point of conflict. The film fails because it does not exploit this dramatic setup sufficiently. We know that Bajirao’s family is opposed to the union. We know it is because of caste prejudice. That much is established within the first thirty minutes. This idea is never taken forward. We essentially get scenes that continue to highlight this fact, instead of actually doing something in the story to move the plot ahead from here.

Even more of a significant miss is a confrontation between Kashibai and Mastani. The scene that is a prelude to the Pinga song was an ideal starting point. The song unfortunately took the edge away, and you realize it was never meant to be a starting point to anything. The end result of all of this is that Mastani remains a singularly one-dimensional character (again, at ends with how she is introduced in the film). Kashibai remains an ambivalent character in a way that you don’t know whether to sympathize with or scorn at.

Ranveer and therefore his Bajirao come through relatively unscathed, thanks to his strong, strong performance. He has the physique, attitude and energy to play a warrior king. The noticeable Marathi twang to his diction and the sing song delivery is consistent to a fault. Even more importantly, it shows that he is not afraid to try something as risky (it could look monumentally foolish if it fails) for the role. To think that the same actor played a laid back youth in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do is quite an achievement.

The film starts strongly with a brief but energetic war sequence, introducing us to the heroic protagonists Bajirao and Mastani. Deepika’s entry in particular is an inspired scene. Bajirao is discussing his battle strategy with his general when a soldier comes in, informing him of a messenger from a neighboring kingdom. They are surrounded by Mughals, and need urgent help. Bajirao smiles and asks him to tell the messenger they can’t come, they are fighting their own battle right now. Within moments of his exit, the tent opening flares up in bright light as the guards are thrown in, and a warrior charges into the frame. Now, in slow motion, you see the warrior expertly battling the other soldiers in the foreground. In the background, Bajirao casually continues to move around his wooden pieces on the war plan. He will not give his attention to this person, because he had decided so. No mere fighter can force his decision. But this is not a mere fighter, for all his soldiers are defeated. He rises, and falls the fighter with one swift movement. The helmet comes off in a tumble of beautiful hair, and he’s surprised to see a woman.

This scene has so many small and big things done well. But it emblematic of everything that is right and wrong with Bajirao Mastani. It was great to look at but like most things in a film, it was a scene that did what it had to, and had no bearing on the remaining storyline.

Score40%

Hindi, Drama, Action, Romance, Color

3 Comments

  • I often wonder why do people who look down upon Bollywood actually take the pain of watching mainstream movies and commenting on them. To feel justified in their intellectual superiority? I have no problem appreciating movies as different as Masaan and Bajirao Mastani and I value them for what they are – the former a truly great artistic film in every sense, and the latter a superbly acted, visually spellbinding, and engaging terrific piece of popular cinema. I am glad that 2015 gave us both.

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