Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani& is a breathtakingly beautiful masterpiece - a triumphant film from Bollywood that closes out 2015 with distinction. The film is inspired by the Marathi novel Raau by Nagnath S. Inamdar.
If you are new to Bollywood, this film is the perfect introduction to Indian film. It also offers a sliver of Indian history.
The historical romance Bajirao Mastani takes place between 1720-1740 and tells the story of Baji Rao I (Ranveer Singh), the warrior and prime minister who became one of the most influential leaders of the Maratha empire. He was happily married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) and enjoyed the respect of his people.
While on a campaign, King Chhatrasal asked for Baji Rao's help in defeating Mughal forces that threatened to take over Bundelkhand. Baji Rao answered the call and the battle was won. King Chhatrasal thanked Baji Rao for the glorious victory by gifting him land, riches and the hand of his daughter Mastani (Deepika Padukone).
Triumphant on the battlefield, it was his personal life that created havoc for Baji Rao, his family, and the Marathi people. Because of her lineage and Baji Rao's unwavering love for her, his marriage to Mastani caused turmoil in his household and among some religious leaders in the Maratha empire.
While Bhansali took some artistic license with actual events - as one would expect in any film portraying bigger-than-life personalities - he stayed true to the characters, culture, and circumstances of the times.
Ranveer Singh's portrayal of the confident warrior leader is outstanding. He is strong both on and off the battlefield. His strength is sorely tested as Mastani is unaccepted, mistreated and physically threatened. Bajirao seems to be unable to accept that his family and people will not respect his choice to welcome Mastani as his second wife.
Bajirao begins to push back against the system. He ceases some of the practices he is expected to observe as a Brahman. He steps down from his peshwa-ship and begins to drink heavily. Finally, he threatens to do battle with those in Pune, the seat of the Maratha empire and his home.
Ranveer Singh approached the character and historical figure of Bajirao with a great deal of respect, saying:
"He's man who never lost a battle. He's a man who lives a very simple life. He's a son, a father, husband, lover. He's extremely strong physically and mentally. He's courageous. He's a man who's not afraid of anything, not afraid of any consequence, not afraid of death. A true hero. He's a once in a lifetime character."
Priyanka Chopra's Kashibai is energetic and enthusiastic. She lives a simple life with simple pleasures and doesn't get involved in politics. She is somewhat childlike - when she hears that her husband survived a recent threat, she joyfully climbs into her mother-in-law's lap and hugs her.
Kashibai loves her husband deeply, bordering on worship and adoration. She would do anything for him and trusts him completely. When Mastani enters Bajirao's life, Kashibai at first ignores this "second wife". But when they both give birth to children around the same time, Bajirao's pride and protection of his growing family makes Mastani more of a reality.
Kashibai eventually realizes that the continued mistreatment of Mastani is taking a toll on Bajirao, so she becomes a bit more accepting. But her heart is broken as she realizes how much Bajirao loves Mastani. Priyanka Chopra shared her experience as Kashibai:
"Playing her character has been one of the toughest things I've done in my career because it's just so heartbreaking. Kashi is just heartbreaking and everytime I say her lines, my heart breaks just a little bit more. She's childlike, young, fun. Life hasn't touched her yet. She's very pure, pure-hearted, honest, and her entire world is Rao. It's a very emotionally depleting experience because I have to reach somewhere deep down to do it."
The experience of accepting Mastani as a necessary part of Bajirao's life matures Kashibai and forces her to become a stronger person.
A heroic warrior in her own right, Deepika Padukone's Mastani is no lightweight. She is just as strong and confident as Bajirao and so is able to face the obstacles in her way with courage and perseverance. This princess is also a skilled dancer and a brilliant strategist, understanding the political games she faces and how to approach them in such a way as to transform them to her favor.
While she accepts rejection gracefully, she makes it clear that she will never, ever back down from her claim as the second wife of Bajirao. She has a special connection with Bajirao and they draw on each other's strength.
Portraying the multi-talented Mastani was inspiring for Deepika Padukone. Besides learning sword fighting and horseback riding, the presentation of the character of Mastani required an amazing assortment of costumes. Deepika explains:
"I'm someone who believes that styling plays a very, very important factor in making me feel the character and I think [costume designer] Anju [Modi] has done a fantastic job. Every time I wore those clothes she made me feel like a warrior princess and I think that's half the battle won."
While the costumes supported the portrayal of Mastani, Deepika drew inspiration from the personality of this historic figure.
"Mastani was a warrior princess. She was extremely feminine, elegant, beautiful but also someone who is very, very strong and very, very powerful. I think she has really inspired me as a woman. She was a mother, she was a lover, she was a nurturer and most importantly, someone who was very, very determined and always went after what she wanted."
Bajirao Mastani is a feast for the eyes, with beautiful cinematography and lavish costumes and set design. The brilliant soundtrack matches the epic nature of the film and the musical performances are not to be missed. As the drama crescendoes, the director brings down the curtain on this love story in beautiful and memorable sequence that won't soon be forgotten.
Bajirao Mastani is a film that reminds you what a gifted storyteller Sanjay Leela Bhansali is and why the world needs to pay more attention to this film-maker.
The following playlist features trailers, making of videos, and background information about the people and locations highlighted in the film Bajirao Mastani.
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