Bajrao Mastani may be a historical epic, but it is also a mythical fantasy. It could have very well been called Laila Majnu, or Heer Ranjha, for the epic nature of this fantasy tale derives less from its historical aspect, and more from the fact that it is the epic love story of two star-crossed lovers.
Bhansali’s penchant for visualising epic legends about the permanence of love has been honed this time on to make a slick (yet not plastic) tale of war, court intrigue, love and abandonment, and the courage that young lovers are mysteriously possessed with. Like a good historical epic, the film opens onto a war sequence – soldiers, elephants, horses and others going at each other like nobody’s business. However, apart from a few memorable shots (reminiscent of Game of Thrones style), it goes on to become an insipid war sequence in the beginning of the film. In the times where Oscar winning CGI technology is available in this country, these fight sequences are reminiscent of Ramanand Sagar’s Mahabharat, full of stale stereotypical direction about how fights are supposed to be. There is one glorious shot of Ranveer Singh in full stride jumping atop people’s shields to reach up to his nemesis astride an elephant.
We see fantastic sets, no less in scale than the last fantasy epic Baahubali, and while these are a trifle contrived, they are so beautifully weaved into the story that they transport us back into the fantasy era of Bajirao and his feisty lover Mastani. Mastani is the ultimate hero – born of a Hindu father and a Muslim mother, she prays in temples and in dargahs. She can wield a sword as eloquently as she recites a shayari, destroying competitors in the field of love and war. In a twist in the tale, Mastani has the courage to seek out her lover, in court and otherwise, and is ready to be belittled in society for passion. Mastani is her own fortune seeker, a woman with agency, when asked if fate never make the lovers meet, Mastani replies, “Mastani apni taqdeer khud likhti hai.”(Mastani writes her fate herself.)
As far as the storyline is concerned, while it is Bajrao and Mastani’s tale, it is as much the tale of Mastani and Kashi Bai. Kashi Bai (played by Priyanka Chopra). Both women’s fierce adulation for their shared husband makes the film much more interesting than it would have been had it been a mere love triangle. Paro and Chandramukhi’s friendship is repeated here between Kashi Bain and Mastani. Kashi Bai is the doting wife and caring mother, who keeps her tragedy to herself till the last when she tells Bajirao, “Agar aap jaan maangte toh khushi se de deti, par aapne toh mujhse mera guroor chheen liya.” (If you had asked me to give up my life for you, I would have done so gladly, but you took away my self respect.)
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani is no old wine in a new bottle. It inspires, intrigues and most importantly, manages to transport the viewer into its fantasy land of melodrama, revenge, political intrigue and lover’s affairs. For once, the music sequences in the film do not seem unrelated and add to the romance of this film. Needless to say, the sets are breathtaking. However, while Goliyon ki Rasleela – Ramleela ended up looking gratuitious, these masterfully sets add to the allure of this fantasy tale. Ranveer Singh’s Marathi accent may sound a little like Baburao (Paresh Rawal in Hera Pheri) till you adjust to this versatile actor playing a mostly serious role. Priyanka Chopra has wisely kept her Marathi touch to the minimum – she effectively dresses down to fit into the role of the all-giving Kashi Bai, very unlike any of her previous roles, and pleasantly so. For all those of you who have struck Bhansali off your list, there is fire left in this man yet.