Perhaps there is hardly anyone around who hasn’t heard of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s dream project Bajirao Mastani and his plans to make it over the years, which for some reason or the other never really took off for a long time. Finally after going through several iterations the ambitious project has made it to the theatres. Though of late the film has been more in the news for the fight for screens and shows due to its big clash with Rohit Shetty‘s Dilwale, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the film has been keenly awaited, what with every promotional input being well received. Needlessly to say I was quite curious to know whether the film actually manages to make the wait for the same be worthy enough for both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the audience, especially considering the various changes in the casting that the film has gone through.
Based on the Marathi book “Rau” by N.S.Inamdar,SLB’s Bajirao Mastani is a part factual and part fictionional tale that is set around the Maratha Empire of the 18th century. Bajirao Ballal (Ranveer Singh) becomes the Peshwa under Chhatrapati Shahu Bhosle (Mahesh Manjrekar)’s reign, thwarting another contender in the process (Aditya Pancholi). While on the mission of expanding the Maratha Empire Bajirao ends up helping the Maharaja of Chhatrasal (Benjamin Gilani) in thwarting an attack on his kingdom of Bundelkhand. Needless to say Bajirao emerges victorious and while all this is happening he also meets Mastani (Deepika Padukone), the half Muslim daughter of the Maharaja who is skilled in warfare as well as music and dance and they end up falling in love with each other. Bajirao is already married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) but seeing Mastani’s profound love for him, he goes on to accept her as his wife. Unfortunately the rest of his family led by his mother (Tanvi Azmi) and his younger brother Chimaji Appa (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi) do not appreciate this and are not willing to accept her into their fold. What happens from thereon and how does the romantic tale of Bajirao and Mastani progress is what the rest of the film is all about.
SLB doesn’t waste too much time in introducing us the plot, the film literally kicks off with Bajirao proving his worth and getting appointed as Peshwa by Chhatrapati Shahu. The first half of the film has a blistering pace, the songs being the only element which slows it down at times. Rajesh G.Pandey’s editing work in the first half especially is commendable, there is hardly any dull moment till the interval block. Unfortunately the same thing cannot be said of the second half where SLB lets the drama take over and slowly the pace drops as well. In the process somewhere the intensity of the first half is a little lost in the second half and the film suffers a bit due to the overtly dramatic and filmy culmination to the tale. As we see a superhero (but a silly) act from Bajirao, followed by the romantic pair’s agony it won’t be a surprise if you find yourself asking why did SLB have to resort to such a change of direction eventually.
In terms of grandeur and in getting the period look right there has been no stone left unturned and the results are there to see. Though there is quite a bit of VFX work in the film, it never comes across as an eyesore and is certainly adding value to the film. The production design (Saloni Dhatrak, Sriram Iyengar and Sujeet Sawant) and art direction is excellent and you are literally transported back to the 18th century. Costumes by Maxima Basu and Anju Modi are also excellent, definitely indicating signs of research and detailing involved in their work. Sudeep Chatterjee‘s cinematography is wonderful and the visuals speak volumes of his work. While the songs (composed by SLB himself) aren’t out of the World considering that the director has a reputation for good music in his films, they do suit the mood and temperament of the film quite well and are eye pleasing as well.
The film is embellished with wonderful performances, interesting to see veterans Raza Murad and Benjamin Gilani albeit in cameos as the Nizam of Deccan and Maharaja of Chhatrasal respectively. Milind Soman as Peshwa Bajirao’s trusted adviser, Aditya Pancholi as Bajirao’s adversary and Mahesh Manjrekar as Chhatrapati Shahu leave an impact. Vaibbhav Tatwawdi as Chimaji Appa gets good screen time and does justice to the important role. Tanvi Azmi as the mother of Bajirao who hates Mastani, an avatar that’s quite different from her roles so far is a complete revelation. All the 3 lead actors, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra do more than mere justice to their characters. Despite the film being primarily around Bajirao and Mastani’s romance, it is creditable indeed of SLB to ensure that Kashibai comes across also as a character of prominence and isn’t relegated to the background. It’s also good to see the potential that Priyanka Chopra saw for herself over here and not falling prey to any insecurity which would have been quite normal in such a situation.
Priyanka Chopra pulls off Kashibai with a lot grace and charm, especially impressing in the scene where she welcomes Mastani to Shanivarwada but informs Bajirao that the welcome is only customary and not from her heart. Deepika Padukone looks ethereal as Mastani, at the same time she also looks quite comfortable in pulling of the action portions. The off screen chemistry between her and Ranveer comes alive on screen once again, making them look good together, just as it was the case in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. Ranveer Singh for once sheds off the Delhi guy image convincingly as he sinks into the character of Bajirao. There is a certain edginess and swag that he carries forward here too but that is done in a manner which thankfully doesn’t look jarring or out of sync with the narrative or plot.
So now that SLB has fulfilled his dream of bringing alive the romance between Bajirao and Mastani on screen I still wonder what he saw in this tale to be so obsessed with it for years together. I say this because the better aspects of the film are covered well before the director runs riot with his cinematic liberty with perhaps a view to show off the uniqueness of their romance. Eventually Bajirao Mastani is a good film till the climax befuddles you and it certainly falls well short of being the epic romantic tale that it was projected to be.