Bajirao Mastani (2105)

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

As a filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is no stranger to portraying misogyny & sexism. The essence of both is seen in all of his previous works. Analyzing his filmography, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) is devastated after her parents refused her union with Sameer (Salman Khan), a man she loves. Along with her, the movie also shows us a glimpse into the lives of women who are treated as their husband’s property. After seeing Nandini’s deep depression, her husband Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) decides to take her back to Sameer. The pinnacle of the film is the part where Vanraj resists his father who believes that real men should be able to control women.

Devdas is at the peak in terms of misogyny and sexism. Paro (Aishwarya Rai) is married to someone who is over 25 years older and her life is controlled by the boundaries within marriage. Her attempts to be bold results in her paying a hefty price, that is her personal freedom. Bhansali created a strong-willed independent woman in Black and it is definitely the best depiction of women empowerment as far as his films are concerned. Also, in Ram-Leela we have the iconic Dhankor baa (Supriya Pathak) who is so firm that she could stop a man’s anger with just a stare. Despite being naïve initially, Leela (Deepika Padukone) is someone who evolves as an individual with experience.

Now Bhansali’s latest flick Bajirao Mastani ignited spark in the minds of the audience with the majestic settings, jewels, visuals and costumes. The structure, style and texture of the film is a combination of Devdas, Mughal-E-Azam and Goliyon ki raasleela Ram-Leela. However, the culmination is the massive development in the visual effects and treatment of this film.

The movie is about the love story between warrior Peshwa Bajirao I and Mastani (his second wife), during the period of war with the Mughals. Just like his previous film Ram-Leela, Bhansali created strong female characters but then they were less soulful or punchy. The story takes place in 17th century where women empowerment is way outside the circle of rulers and lawmakers. It is the time when misogynistic practices such as the widow system, jauhar (self-immolation queens and female royals) and sati (immolation of widow on her husband’s funeral pyre) were accepted. Widowed Radhabai (Bajirao’s mother) wears a plain white saree and has her head shaved as per the Hindu Brahman rituals. Even then she has a strong voice and stand in the house, even before Bajirao’s (Ranveer Singh) decision to have Mastani (Deepika Padukone) as his wife. But the fact that this practice was encouraged is where the story lacks soul. In the light of looking into the past setup, it was indeed nice to see powerful portrayal of women in such a social position before men with swords.

While the Rajput women are preparing for jauhar to save their honour, we are introduced to the eloquent Mastani. The best part was her entry in Bajirao’s tent – Bundelkhand is under attack and as per her father’s request, she goes to meet Bajirao to seek his help to defend her palace against the Mughals. She is initially denied access but then she barges in and fights off Bajirao’s guards. She is kicked down by him but seeing her determination and after listening to her formidable words, Bajirao obliges. Mastani is a hardened warrior who has exemplary skills with her sword and horse riding (& dance). We see her ride next to Bajirao who gazes at her with pride and fascination in his eyes. He never questions her actions.

Mastani describes herself as someone who makes her own destiny. She falls in love with Bajirao and after convincing her parents, she follows her heart and goes to Bajirao. She is fearless in terms of expressing what she wants and who she wants to be with, as her status is demeaned since she is half Muslim.  That is seen when she expresses her desire to marry Peshwa Bajirao before the king even though he warns her of dire consequences. Mastani, being a gallant warrior, never bows before anyone. She is made to stay with the dancers and even then she assures Bajirao’s mother that nothing will stop her from going to him. She is also an influential mother figure. She exerts it on her son by teaching what and how a ” Yodha” (warrior) is. Not to mention, the awesome scene where she fights off the men who came to attack her in middle of the night; keeping her son safe in her arms. Mastani is the true feminist figure of this film and symbolically her life itself depicts the plight of women fighting for their rights (the end scene where she was chained) or the feminist movement of 18th century.

Priyanka Chopra gave a powerful portrayal of Kashibai, a woman who was torn between her loyalty towards Bajirao and repulsion towards his betrayal. Kashibai also loved and remained devoted to both Bajirao and Mastani.  Her true-hearted nature made her a strong character, but then her gestures and overall presentation as a submissive individual who got her status reduced to first-wife is where Sanjay Leela Bhansali failed in terms of execution. And yes, her best moment of acting with Deepika Padukone was ruined with the song that followed i.e controversial & unnecessary pinga. The sequence didn’t mix up well with the over all flow of the story along with historical inaccuracies.

My favourite part about the movie is the portrayal of Bajirao’s affection towards both his wives. Bajirao respected both his wives (despite Mastani’s status was as his concubine before the Brahmin community). He gave his children equal importance. He sees Kashibai as his inspiration and strength even though he loved Mastani selflessly. He comes running to Mastani when she goes into labour after learning that no doctor would see to her safe delivery. It was good to see that side of Bajirao along with the side that screams “Har har Mahadev” before killing a large group of soldiers with unbelievable stunts.

Bajirao Mastani is a well-executed epic film that has many priceless scenes amidst the stunt-filled war and long monologue-filled romance. It is worth a watch look and it is far better than Rohit Shetty’s Dilwale which is released on the same day.

Featured Image: A collage of a few stills from Bajirao Mastani | m.newshunt.com

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