An Jo on Bajirao Mastani


Well then, Bhansali finally has a historical to his name. And I finally have the credit of watching a Bhansali movie on screen – and also kind of liking it. To me, it is not a great movie. But for sure it is a good movie – and far better than the messy, hotchpotch of a movie called Judah Akbar where history and anything pre-fixed to the word ‘story’ went for a toss and the stardom of Aishwarya and Hrithik took over.

The good thing about this film is that Bhansali has at least made an attempt to restrain himself and not get carried away with his indulgences: And this is reflected in how the characters here speak. He has them delivering dialogues in a comparatively controlled-fashion even when they seem to be emotionally mighty weighty. It is actually remarkable and pretty ironic that it is Bhansali who has managed to do that!! Not one character here contorts his or her facial muscles—remember that lady contorting her eye-lashes into a snaky spaghetti in Devdas at the death-scene of Devdas’ father?—and is alarmingly controlled displaying respect to the times and historicity associated with these characters. Acting ‘wild’ might be good when making Spartacus or Nero but not here and it is great fun to see every character respecting the manner in which speech conveyed emotions at that point in time – however light or heavy.

I haven’t read Inamdar’s RAUU [am curious to read it now after this movie] and hence cannot really comment on the ‘escapades’ of Bhansali with available historical records. [Inamdar’s book itself is called a ‘novel.’]. But yes, he makes it clear that he IS on home-ground when it comes to the tag-line of the movie: BAJIRAO MASTAI: The love-story of a warrior. It is a cue to the audience to just treat history as any other story but to treat this movie as THE love story. Coming to the ‘filmy’ part, Bajirao’s introduction is a smart ode to Asif’s that iconic romantic/erotic gesture from Mughal-E-Azam. He used the feather to accentuate the eroticism between Salim and Anarkali. Here, Bhansali uses the feather to display Bajirao’s ‘shastra’ skills! The dismantling of its roots symbolically represents the cutting off of roots of the Mughal Sultanate in Dilli for Bajirao. From here on, the film progresses to show Bajirao’s non-adherence to ‘established’ norms, be they war strategies, his ‘impulses’ on religion, marriage, or relationships.

If there’s one front where Bhansali delivers as he promises, it is the visual arc and narrative of his movies. He painstakingly provides glimpses of the Maratha architecture. Shanivaar Vada, the fort of Shahu Maharaj and the Mastani Mahal are truly unique in the sense that one does not relapse into a déjà-vu regarding the depiction of ‘palaces’. He has captured the architecture to be quite ‘distinct’ from what the Indian audiences are used to when it comes to capturing life of kings in ‘palaces.’ The ‘Aaina Mahal’ is a distraction—stunning of course—and serves nothing but an endorsement of visual superiority of Bhansali’s imagination. The battle scenes are minimal but do not appear as ludicrous as that of Jodhaa Akbar [the battle-scenes there looked as though kids in 2nd grade were rushing and jostling against one another to lay their hands on Hershey’s chocolates]. The aerial views of battle-grounds are well-shot and do convey visually a sense of ‘largeness’ of the impact and import of the battles.

Bhansali loses it in the final act when he goes all out to his pet obsession – man losing a woman and vice-versa to societal blocks – and resorts to a Romeo and Juliet transference. He literally makes Rao’s death a direct cause of the failure of a ‘love’ story. Yes, it is visually stunning to see Rao thrash his free-flowing sword in the face of an imagined enemy carrying ‘black’ flags [a smart move again to not color the flags ‘green’]. But beyond a point, visuals can only stun you — not move you. And this, alas, Bhansali has yet to learn.

There are some fantastic visuals here that carry the film’s arc forward. And in Hi-fi of today, it is only Bhansali that has this almost-extinct talent of making the visuals talk without words. The Brahmans’ ‘bhojan’ scene; the ‘saptami’ pooja scene; the joint ‘aartis’ praying for the welfare of Rao – these are but just a few of the many, many visual splendors the film offers. In the initial battle scene, after Bajirao strides atop two of his soldiers’ shields and atop the elephant’s trunk and slaughter’s Bangash, he gets down and triumphantly faces Mastani while a ‘saffron’ flag flutters right from across his face. Powerful symbolism here. And when it comes to words and rhymes and shaayari, he is superb too. Krishna Bhatt, the Brahman priest-head – a superb Yatin Karyekar [Kamesh of ‘Shanti’ fame]—thunders about Mastani: ‘Arre Ise toh Dargah or Durga ke beech ka pharak bhi nahin pata’. And then Mastani softly ‘thunders’ back: Kesar aur Hare rang ke bare mein toh nahin pata, haan lekin aise log bhe dekhe hain jo rang mein mazhab dekhte hain aur unka zameer ka rang kaala dikhta hain.’ In another scene, Baji Rao makes Brahmans wait but takes his own sweet time to first enjoy Eid feast and then comes to the long-waiting Brahman-feast and brazenly says that he was enjoying Eid feast! Krishna Bhatt is in the background saying ‘ Shiva Shiva.’ He then turns back angrily when Chimmaji – Bajirao’s brother – pleads saying the Brahman community cannot insult the Peshwas and retorts,’ Arre Khairat to Masjid mein bhi milta hain’: A fantastic line here underlining the importance religion as ‘identity’ and ‘self-worth’ in those times. Initially, Bajirao thunders to Shahu Maharaj that he won’t rest until ‘Hindu Swaraj’ – note, he doesn’t say ‘Hindu Samrajya’— is established in Hindustaan. Pretty powerful [by powerful I mean ‘unadulterated’] stuff from Bhansali in these ‘intolerant’ times. But then he again tries political correctness with statements from Baji Rao that paraphrased underline that he isn’t against the ‘religion’ of Delhi-rulers but the ‘’dynasty’ – take that Rahul Gandhi— of Mughal Sultanate. Of course, there is no mention of that dreaded phrase, ‘Hindu Pad Paadshahi’. Marxist ‘historians’ would have you believe that this term only originated from Veer Savarkar. But you know the tricks of the trade.

The greatest glory of BM is that Bhansali brings back those grandiose poetry-laden lines to the Hindi screen after a long, lonnnng time. Sample this: ‘TUJHE YAAD KAR LIYA HAIN AAYAT KI TARAH, AAB TERA ZIKR HOGA IBAADAT KI TARAH.’ Great! Dedh Ishqiya gave folks like me the luxury of dwelling on the Lucknowi ‘tehzeeb’ and this one again gives us the pleasure of going back in time when poetry could be substituted for conversation and conversation for poetry. Another gem: ‘JAB DEEWARON SE JYAADA DOORIYAN DIL MEIN HO JAAYE TOH CHAAT NAHIN TIKTI.’

Coming to performances, I am in two minds about the ‘glories’ that Ranveer is getting. He walks dangerously close on that thin red-line separating his inherent ‘taporiness’ to the ‘gravitas’ required in this role. He succeeds most of the times, but also fails almost the same number of times! His personification of Rao comes across more as ‘chichorapan’ than that of a wily war-fox. However, there are some scenes where he does excel. [Checkout the scene where he first show signs of mental ‘imbalance’]. Priyanka walks out with the meatiest part as a self-suffering ‘legit’ wife. This is author-backed. But to Priyanka’s credit, she does a damn good job. Her first confrontation scene with Deepika’s Mastani is a gem. Also the scene where she comes to offer her saree and other pooja paraphernalia to pray for the husband’s longevity is a gem. Watch her when she dismisses Mastani’s rant about ‘dil ka kya kasoor’ scenario right out of the Mastani Mahal window. Great one there! Deepika, however, comes across as the weakest link amongst these three performers. She just couldn’t convince me as a warrior who HAPPENS to be beautiful and musically gifted. There is a lot of ‘lightness’ to her act and moves that prove to be her undoing.

And PINGA PINGA is the BEST example of Bhansali’s excesses. Absolutely unnecessary, zero value-added song. Just as Bhansali decided to use Madhuri and Aishwarya in Dola Dola, he uses these 2 here. ‘Hey, I got 2 of the hottest heroines of this age. What do I do? Duh, Ping Pong!!’ And then, you have Ranveer’s Rao trying ultra-hard to speak Marathi-accented Hindi when using words like ‘Kudrat’, ‘Aurat’, ‘pharak’ [instead of ‘farak’]. Surprisingly, all other Marathi-speaking court-members speak in normal Hindi, including Priyanka’s Kashibai! It sounds ridiculously stagey and dis-honest. And go figure, every Marathi-speaking character mentions ‘Poona’, instead of ‘Pune.’ ‘Poona’ is what the Brits would have us believe. Nobody Marathi called/calls it Poona.

One of the fantastic, long-remembering scenes of this movie to me remains that scene between Tanvi Azmi’s Radhabai and Priyanka’s Kashi Bai where they are stitching a ‘saffron’ cloth. In a rare moment of ‘tenderness’, when they are stitching a pretty long yarn of ‘saffron’ they bond with each other saying, ‘Arre Hara rang he seel dete’! And they laugh away hiding beneath years and labyrinths of pain while Tanvi wipes away a tear.

Please forgive the language. I haven’t spell-checked or Microsoft Word grammar-corrected. Hope it is ‘readable.’ I trust Maker’s Mark.

27 Responses to “An Jo on Bajirao Mastani”

  1. Waiting to watch the movie so that I can read the much appreciated review 🙂



    Contd from my BM snippets here

    Ann’s review is deserving of my random COMMENTARY…(shudder)
    Her review benefits from v skilful language, some common sense & honest attempts to understand the film..
    Besides, her review becomes automatically much BETTER (by default) as compared to the following subtypes 1-4

    1. Some who are either not watching BM or not commenting or reviewing on it just bcos it’s competing against their fave stars’ films
    2. Some who are effectively boycotting BM just bcos it can ‘appear’ to be against certain ‘religion/s’ for eg BM has been banned by one of indias neighbouring country (goes without saying that this doesn’t qualify as #intolerance by the same people who find ‘intolerance’ in the most mundane of issues)
    3. Some who actually liked this film but for the wrong reasons (I’m too lazy to elaborate on that right now)
    4. Some who think they are ABOVE watching or reviewing this film & who feel the perception of their own ‘standard’ will diminish if they are seen in bed (or even on a coffee table) with this film!

    Where I think differently can be illustrated by a few examples–
    Now let’s take a film called the MOUNTAIN MAN/ Manjhi..
    This boasts of the career best performance by nawazuddin siddiqui (after GoW2!!). And a v creditable piece of work by Ketan Mehta who skilfully integrates the sociopolitical Milieu & aspects like the emergency, caste politics and untouchability. In a seamless way. for eg scene the evolution of Maoism is shown in the most ORGANIC way

    But for eg I didn’t find the body language or performance of Radhika Apte perfectly fitting the milieu and in THIS scenario, the bollywoodised ‘romance’ didn’t quite gel in THAT model of film making. The film did well in the festival circuits, would’ve done 15-25 crwhores and that was good for the humble ‘Mountain man’…

    Bhansalis BM had a much bigger budget, ambition, a festival release and needs to be closer to 100 (or more) rather than 25 crores to be ‘safe’ (though some like krrish who have inside info about the invoices & payment details may have more info!)
    Plus an army of blind fans and unarguably the biggest Bollywood star (& marketing brain) competing & waiting to kill this film…

    So the issues of authenticity of detail and language, dialect take a BACK SEAT
    and rightly so..
    & ECONOMICS aptly take centre stage …
    All the war gear, chandeliers, forts, havelis, dresses, deepikas banjo & push-up bra, Priyankas Botox & lip injections don’t come as part of an AFRICA AID DONATION but somebody somewhere is footing the bill (& waiting with bated breath to get the moolah back)

    I love the works of RICHARD LINKLATER & ALEXANDER PAYNE but
    that doesn’t stop me from enjoying and loving BAZ LUHRMANS the Great GATSBY

    Bhansali is a filmmaker whose modus operandi (& usp) is working on a dream with a certain passion, scale & (colour laden) vision
    So instead of REALISM, it’s APOCRYPHAL & part FABLE elements that hold forte..

    Imo It’s important (though not legally binding) to note these subtle differences & nuances… That’s also what separates the ‘women’ from ‘girls’ in the review business as well (though the fact that I’ve attempted to explain this here means that this piece is not far off –unlike some others..)


  3. Thanks for creating separate post on this superlative piece of writing by one of our very own…you should push our (fan) comments out here as well. Thx!


  4. I have not seen the film but I loved your review. This review seems to surpass the film. And the subjective touches makes it much more interesting and the inherent sarcasm is an added delight. Just like the hero cant be separated from his taporiness, you cant be separated from tongue in cheek sentences.


  5. Great review. Like many others I was interested in seeing the film until the reviews came in..and in does appear that Bhansali has done a creditable job. I enjoy period dramas like these, but part of the reason I was less inclined towards this venture was its non-exclusive, non-A list cast. All three stars are working in half a dozen films, and relative light-weight, non-serious actors to pull off a heavy Bhansali film about love, pain and suffering. Aishwarya and Madhuri in Devdas was a casting coup, because all said and done, Ash is an exclusive star and seems to somehow shine in the ‘beleaguered beauty’ roles with Bhansali. Madhuri of course has the depth and gravitas.
    I thought, and I may be right, that Bhansali took the convenient route for the casting, taking the actors who were available. I don’t blame him, since he waited long enough. Deepika is an A lister now, and she can be terrific in specific roles and films, but I don’t see her as someone with great recesses of acting talent. She’s not your Tabu, Rani, Urmila or even Kareena (who has pretty much squandered her career with nothing-films)
    As for Priyanka, I have always had reservations. Besides her very ordinary looks, she comes across as a poseur to me. She does turn in performances which at that moment look impressive, but I’m not sure they make a lasting imprint in the mind.
    As for Ranveer, again, a natural and good actor, but perhaps not instinctively suited for a serious subject I don’t want to see a man-child or a woman-child in these kind of roles. I always prefer more evolved, or serious actors, even if in real-life the characters may have well been of that age.
    So part of my reason for not being excited about the film has been the cast. But it appears that they have not let down the subject, and Bhansali has a winner on his hands.I will be seeing the film for sure.
    Also happy to see him making a spectacular comeback.


    • Sandy what are smoking when describing Priyanka’s looks as ordinary…a miss world might I add. Otherwise agree, I can’t wait to watch it hopefully in next few days.


    • **As for Priyanka, I have always had reservations. Besides her very ordinary looks, she comes across as a poseur to me. She does turn in performances which at that moment look impressive, but I’m not sure they make a lasting imprint in the mind.**

      I agree with everything except the looks part which is subjective. I have not found her either attractive or ordinary. She is somewhere in-between.

      Regarding her being a poseur, I do find that to be utterly true when she is outside the screen. Check here —

      Of course, the prize for that goes to Aishwarya Rai without any doubt. She is the number one poseur.

      Her performance is BM is surely a fine one. It is a thorough performance, whether she is shaking her head in appreciation and pride — just as a Marathi woman would — from the balcony when Baji walks to sit on the throne of Peshwa or when she takes the name of her husband in a rhyme when he returns from the battle-field.


  6. I meant to say I was not interested in the film till the reviews came in…


  7. logged in to see this precious gem of a review AJ (which I was desperately hoping for). Chakas on every count, every word, every imagery, analogies you have used. Haven’t read something so superb in BM reviews which wants me to convince you to become a full time writer boss! Satyam should create a separate post on this one.
    Two significant scenes worth a good discussion in these and those, tolerant/intolerant times, and even though the movie is all love story (he still put some scenes like this in the movie which allows the audience to ponder on history/self-reflection), for me, would be the scene where B-M’s son Krishna is not allowed a munji/yagnopavit and Bajirao changes the name of his son (possibly same thing happened to Mastani because she was also product of hindu father and muslim mother). The scene where they take mastani’s son away from her in the prison. Both scenes linger on in my mind. Poignant. Moving. Touching. Telling.
    Ranveer’s acting is like Bhansali’s movie making. There is flashes of genius/brilliance all over the place but something that leaves the end result still incoherant or one feels a sense of ‘adhura-pan”. It is like reading a most interesting, spactacular novel but in the end the reader feels that the book was somehow not complete and leaves him perplexed instead of satisfied. It is like eating the most sumptuous meal with laddoos, ghee, pharsan and feeling ‘full’ but not satisfied because maybe the daal-rice was missing. I feel Bhansali needs a collaborator like wozniak needed Steve Jobs to bring all his talents and genius to market it. Or merchant-ivory-jabavala, the trio that created movie magic each incomplete without the other. Ranveer is a good clay in hands of a right molder and hopefully he will become daniel-day-lewis that hs so desperately wants to be (he is not DDL that he thinks he is yet but on a right track at least from the choices and priority he has which has to be admired even if one cannot stand him on personal prejudices).
    P.S.: what were you doing at 3AM…though the sleepless night produced such a piece of writing that makes me think that aayat of writing needs to convert to ibaadat-mohobbat-e-writing 🙂


    • Thanks Di. Very generous as always.

      Totally agree with the oscillatory performance from Ranveer. But yes, he has shown fine strides and may reach a consummate performer stage. As of now, he is not there yet; though this performance is a big, big one in his repertoire…

      At 3 AM I was like Mastani, apni hi dhun mein mast…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Back from Bajirao Mastani. Loved it unequivocally. Will write about it in the evening. In the meanwhile here is a poem I wrote quite smetime back, based on hazy memories of even more ancient times.

    I saw her at the reception desk
    Of the real estate firm
    When I was on the lookout for an apartment.
    Her skin was translucent.
    And it glowed like a glass jar at night
    With a swarm of glowworms in it.
    For no reason I asked her name,
    ‘Shafura’, she answered without a demur.
    Met her on the street one day.
    She stopped and I said hello.
    ‘I have a brother, Shafaqat,
    And he loves to play football’,
    She said without any reason.
    She was wispy thin.
    And the saree wrapped around her
    Like wind around a tree.
    No I did not love her.
    Or did I make myself believe
    That I did not?
    Because her name was Shafura
    And her brother was called Shafaqat?


  9. “ pong!” lol…absolutely hilarious. saw the movie tonight and then had to read your review to see what you thought about it. another spot on review.

    the only thing I would disagree with is ranveer’s performance; IMO, he was pretty damn great. he stayed disciplined even in the short drunk scene. i’m not a huge fan of his but have to give him his props when it is due. this movie was worth a watch and definitely had M-e-L’s good genes instead of the bad ones (which apparently all went to J-A).


    • Saw BM finally.
      Beautiful review by AN Jo above even if not entirely concordant with mine.
      I have been an SLB supporter even an apologist from HDDCS times. Heck,I even stuck with him through Saawariyan and Guzaarish. But, he lost me with Galiyon Ki…..
      He totally mauled Romeo and Juliet and didn’t work for me at all. Sleazy, vulgar and down market. He was obviously in love with Ranveer’s body and for a while I was confused as to who loved Ranveer more-Deepika,Utkal or SLB.
      But he redeems himself totally over here.
      With the exception of the end, he gets it mightily right.
      Engaging,riveting and pleasing.
      Notch performances from the three central characters and supporting cast.
      Have not been a huge Ranveer fan but he is great here. Truly outstanding. Leaves HR’s Akbar in the dust ( a performance Inhad liked). This is at another level.
      Priyanka is her usual superlative self and for once Deepika surprised me.
      Visually, it is a little more restrained than Bhansaliland but very effective.
      Agree with An JO that Bhansali is lot more restrained and in turn more effective. He has a certain flair to dramatize humdrum moments and that leads to pleading cinema.
      The ending sequence didn’t work for me but till then there wasn’t much I would change.
      Comparision to MEA are inevitable and while most would dare not criticse MEA, I am not a fan and IMO this was far more interesting.
      And, might be a sacrilege to say it, but Ranveer’s performance was more interesting for me than the thespian’s.
      I would highly recommend a theatre viewing.
      Saw it late Sunday night in NYC and was packed to capacity.


  10. AnJo: I especially enjoyed your appreciation for the dialoguebaazi in this film (it seems that SLB’s masala journey, which in some sense began with his production of Rowdy Rathore, has stood him in good stead), spot on in my view. In fact it is that dialoguebaazi that sustains dramatic interest in the film even when “nothing much is happening” (this is in sharp contrast to other SLB films, which often seem inert). Great write-up!


  11. Bollywood raags: Hindustani classical vocalists who made film music

    Featuring Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, DV Paluskar and other legends.

    At the turn of the last century, practitioners of Hindustani music were suddenly faced with new technologies. Despite their general initial reluctance to record gramophone discs, they soon saw this as yet another means to disseminate their music to a wider audience and as an additional source of income.

    Cinema similarly provided musicians with a new means of sustenance. With the emergence of the talkies in the 1930s, musicians took up employment with film production houses established in Bombay and Calcutta, working as members of the orchestra, as actor-singers, or as composers. Film songs and background scores placed a different set of demands on practitioners of Hindustani music, who had until then performed art music live or recorded for gramophone discs. In the new setup, they had to make music that was composed and arranged to suit the purposes of the film narrative. In this situation, the element of elaboration that was integral to Hindustani music was eliminated.


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