Bajirao Mastani: A historical leap

Bajirao Mastani

Sanjay Leela Bhansali returns with another visual spectacle that wilfully takes liberties with the past that it depicts. But it does manage to engage even as it exhausts.

Devdas onwards some elements have been a given in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s filmi universe. Especially, that he will place an intimate love story on a larger-than-life canvas and turn it into a grand, melodramatic spectacle. So he is unapologetic about wallowing in visual excess in his latest outing, Bajirao Mastani, as well. He also makes it amply clear in the disclaimer at the very start that though based on N.S. Inamdar’s Rau, his love triangle — of Peshwa Bajirao I, his first wife Kashi and second wife Mastani — is not a historically accurate narrative but one which takes liberties with the period, the setting and the story. Here Bajirao’s political battles, conquests and courtroom intrigues remain a mere backdrop to the more significant matters of heart.

In the Bhansali tradition, Bajirao Mastani does scream opulence; what with those fountains, chandeliers and drapes, and the headgears and jewellery that seem to weigh the actors down. There are many nods to Raja Ravi Varma kitsch with some scenes seeming straight out of his art. The extravagant setting is backed by a stylised operatic narrative, song ‘n dance set-pieces, declamatory dialogue, and emotions that are forever heightened. Crowds are in perfect geometry even as feelings are carefully choreographed. Notice how well Bajirao’s teardrop is orchestrated in the scene where he blows the lamps off and bids a sad farewell to his betrayed first wife Kashibai. One dramatic confrontation follows another. In fact, the confrontations, the argumentative characters, their high-strung interactions, and emotions are relentless. There is not a moment of silence. Even when there is, the pounding background music takes over.

But Bajirao Mastani gets more ambitious with what it intends to do. There is the Holi song which seems straight out of Pakeezah. There is the obvious nod to Mughal-E-Azam (Deewani Mastani, beautifully staged in the Aina mahal, hall of mirrors, a throwback to Pyaar kiya to darna kya). There are the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon inspired leaps and jumps in the combats and the 300: Rise Of An Empire like battle scenes.