Most of the times I do not pen my thoughts on movies which are an experience (for me) rather than an exercise (for me). Reason being, I have nothing specific to say about them. I’m awed by them, they transport me to a place and I’m in the film-maker’s control for the entire length, I’m not viewing it critically, I’m just experiencing it (like the good ol’ 90s). So instead of wasting time in hyperboles and adjectives like stupendous, fantastic, amazing, I just lay low with a brief little Facebook status hailing the film. (Probably I’m not breaking these movies down, so as not to ruin my experience, because I’m still that guy who is insecure about his favorite movies). So that’s what I did with Bajirao Mastani. Just a provocative statement on FB “SLB makes Rajamouli look like an amateur” and I was done. But the general indifference and reserved/hesitant praise from our mainstream movie critics (probably the worst in the world) and the Bollywood blog scene towards Bajirao Mastani has made me angry enough to write this piece.
My main concern here is why there is no excitement? Why no one is really hailing and championing this film vociferously, say like Bahubali. BM is so obviously more spectacular and dramatically satisfying than Bahubali. Of course there are acting inconsistencies, dialogues overkill, bad CGI but don’t all mainstream Indian movies have them? We have attuned ourselves to overlook these as minor mishaps and not let it disconnect us from the movie. Why should we really hold these things against Bajirao, when on the other hand it’s giving us a blockbuster movie experience with grandeur, killer dialogues, drama, music, searing emotions and all this at an exhilarating pace. I know it’s already started sounding like those stupid, silly open letters ranting their personal frustrations in the guise of addressing it to someone. But this is really important to me and I will risk sounding stupid here for a movie which deserves praise for the cinematic experience it delivers like no other in recent times. And when it comes to mainstream hindi movies, it gets personal.
On the night I watched the movie, I texted my friend who is one of the best critics out there Satish Naidu, that he should watch Bajirao without fail. I remember him loving the trailer. But he raised his concerns, and asked if it’s a regular period drama. If it is he said it will be tedious and he will probably skip it. I didn’t exactly understand what he meant. Bajirao is definitely a period film and it definitely is a drama. But tedious? No way. And then during the course of our conversation, I understood what he was alluding to by period drama – Mughal-e-Azam, Jodha Akbar etc. Thankfully Bajirao is not in the same vein as these. Its drama is tense and high-strung and never sagging with the burden of period detailing. And I would like to give credit to the screenplay penned by Prakash Kapadia. It takes the juggernaut narrative approach rather than a ‘grand’ approach, where long scenes are built up around the sets with pauses in dialogues so that audience can absorb each and every detail. And SLB, who has been vocal about his Mughal-e-azam love, would surely have relished the ‘grand’ approach given his OCD about detailing. But thankfully we are spared that and what we get is a thrilling historical re-telling of Peshwa Bajirao Ballal’s love triangle, packed with small scenes with high drama.
I have really nothing insightful to say about the film-making or the films content. All I have are generic overarching statements on how this movie is THE movie. So I’m not going even going to try that. Instead what I’ll do is recount few portions/aspects of the film that literally made me quiver with excitement.
The restlessness of the screenplay is very evident here, as it begins by putting us write into the middle of the arguments about the appointment of Maratha Empire’s next prime minister. And amidst it, Ranveer Singh walks in spectacular fashion. I would like point out two aspects of the scene, both related to period detailing
- Shahu Maharaj’s darbar – It consists of a long and narrow open space surrounded by a trench filled with water, leading to the throne. It is surrounded by an elevated area for the darbar members (all standing).
- Bajirao’s look and accent – Dhoti clad, bald headed with the bhramin choti speaking Hindi with a heavy Marathi accent.
Firstly, the length of the darbar is used fantastically for effect. First Ranvir Singh is introduced by making him walk the length (from the door to throne). Few moments later he is challenged to split a feather with an arrow. The feather is kept at one end, and Bajiro stands on the other hand with bow and arrow. Secondly, the look , along with being authentic is carried out with real badassery by Ranveer Singh. And finally when he delivers his first dialogue in that Marathi accent, boy!!! Pure joy! And moments after this, he wins the challenge, is crowned the prime-minister and then walks in wearing something much more opulent, head covered with an oversized head gear. Walks again through the same long and narrow space for the ceremony (probably not the same, but looks same, and works perfectly in contrast with the earlier moment), exchanging a look with Kashibai.
Deewani Mastani –
This was promoted as THE musical set piece of the movie. And it lives up to its billing. When it comes to such ‘item’ songs in Hindi movies, I’m very stickler about the placement and the build-up. When a BIG item number like Munni Badnam just starts randomly, I get all worked up and lose all the excitement. Deewani Mastani was one song, which I’d been waiting for. I love the audio. It starts with a rocking Marathi folk prelude and then settles into a grand rhythm. I was conscious, that in the movie if it just cropped without any underlying emotional layers, it would be a dud. But the build-up is nothing short of amazing.
- Mastani has arrived in Pune, but is not allowed to meet Bajirao, instead is insulted by putting her up at a brothel instead of a guest house.
- After a brief flirtation with Mastani in Bundelkhand, Bajirao returns to his loving wife and is shown making love few scenes before
- Kashibai is ecstatic of Bajirao’s return and is in LOVE with Bajirao. She mentions to someone, that ‘my’ Bajirao will never look at any other woman.
And amidst this, Mastani is asked to perform (as an insult) at Bajirao’s homecoming ceremony. We see Bajirao dressed ceremoniously sitting on the throne. We see Kashibai and Bajirao’s sisters sitting in the side balcony. They are waiting for the dance to begin. It begins with the folk dancers dancing to the Marathi prelude, and then the beat dies down and there enters Mastani to Bajirao’s surprise. In the course of the song, Kashibai watches nervously from the balcony. The BIG love triangle is NOW set. The song marks the arrival of the turbulence. I’m not sure of the costume and choreography here, but at a musical and emotional level is works fantastically.
Another musical piece that I was excited to see how and where it was used was the Ganesh aarti. Before 1999, no one thought that the ganesh aarti could have a violent cinematic power. But in Vaastav, Mahesh Manjrekar infused the ganesh aarti with a sort of tension and exhilaration that no one could have thought a high tempo prayer recital could be the perfect background score for a Godfather style (the final multiple locations shootouts) action intercutting. And here 16 years later we have SLB using it in undoubtedly the best 5 minutes of Bajirao Mastani. We hear faint echoes of Gajanana playing inside closed doors. Kashibai is on her way to the aarti when she receives a message that killers are on their way to Mastani mahal, save her if she can. She is shocked. She slowly approaches the closed door (from where we hear Gajanana – still faint, increasing slowly) and then opens it to the blast of Gajanana and blood red gulaal filled air. Meanwhile we see Mastani woken up by the intruders. Kashibai proceeds in slow-motion through the crowd with ear blasting Gajanana playing. Mastani is seen defending her child with a sword killing the intruders one by one. We now cut to Kashibai’s close-up, seeing her dilemma, whether to tell Bajirao or just ignore thus getting her souten out of the way. The tempo of the aarti escalates with the intercutting of Kashibai and Mastani. These 5 minutes of pure audio-visual crescendo is absolutely breathtaking and worth every penny of the ticket.
This movie is indeed an event movie. You feel like you’ve watch 4-5 movies packed into one. You get 10 times the bang for every shot in the trailer. Easily the best of 2015 and one of the best ever.
PS: Thanks to my wife for passionately discussing this movie with me and making me realize it is SPECIAL. Also, thanks for pushing me to write this. I feel a lot better than I did at the beginning.