Published on July 17th, 2015 | by Sandeep Patil2
Bajirao, Mastani, Bhansali and Disappointment
When the movie “Bajirao-Mastani” was announced, Ranveer and Deepika were still school kids! Yes, it was almost 15 years ago. Sanjay Leela Bhansali announced it sometime after releasing his first film, “Khamoshi“. There was no internet in those days to read filmy gossip ‘online’. The readers appetite would be rather fulfilled by local newspapers in their weekly supplements meant exclusively for Films. I remember distinctly reading about Bajirao-Mastani in one such Marathi editions with typical names like “Film-jagat”, “Sitara”, “Soneri” etc. Bhansali had then announced Salman “Bhai” Khan to be his Bajirao. Only recently “Khamoshi” was released and we all had seen how Salman can twist the plot of the whole movie single handedly with his acting acumen. As it turned out to be the climax of Khamoshi was to be soaked with emotions with tearful concluding speeches by Nana Patekar and Seema Bishwas. Then Salman would start crying along to top up the already overwhelming emotions. But as irony would have it’s sweet revenge, the audience would start laughing after seeing Salman’s tears… washing along the whole effect that had been created by his precursors! With the memories of Khamoshi still fresh in my mind, I had serious doubts about what Salman would do to a character of Peshwa Bajirao’s stature. Thankfully, Bhansali did not disappoint by bringing in Salman in Bajiraos’ role – but after seeing the trailer (or the ‘teaser‘ as they call it these days) I still cannot save myself from disappointment!
With great expectations come great disappointments; and in case of “Bajirao-Mastani” expectations – no, great expectations – are inevitable. Not many tales in the history can match the intensity, drama, defiance of this story. The only other story I can think of is of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Not always you get your hero and heroine so perfect, so complete, so ideal in themselves. People device idioms like “shola aur shabnam”, because in real life very very rarely they come across the duo who embodies the qualities of fire and frost in most ideal way! But then to our great fortune, we had one such couple that lived and died on this very soil few centuries ago.
Peshwa Bajirao was the fiery warrior and military genius whose highest achievement is most simple and unparalleled ….that he has not lost a single war all his life! Had their been a fair, less politicised history taught in Indian schools, people would have learnt more about Bajirao before they learnt about Napoleon! He was a daring and visionary leader who formed the Maratha Empire out of existing Maratha Kingdom. In terms of people’s affection and admiration, he is only second to Chhatrapati Shivaji. While it is true that Chh. Shivaji will always be the greatest, tallest and most revered leader that there was (or would be), yet more legends are associated with Bajirao than Shivaji! The legends are the testimonies of the awe with which common people look up to a public figure. One such legend is that Bajirao was “Ashtavdhani”, which implies he was a person who could handle eight (or say multiple ) different administrative matters simultaneously! It’s something like the Chess grandmasters play parallel matches with 8-10 different opponents on different boards. The legend is a fitting tribute to the sharp, acute intellect of Bajirao. So when someone is going to portray Bajirao on screen, people would expect to see someone who is… let’s see… handsome and fearsome, has face that radiates intelligence, looks courageous, with deep penetrating eyes… in short a demigod. A mere tall, dark, handsome dude like Ranveer cannot be very fitting substitute.
The second reason why I didn’t find Ranveer suitable – and you would understand me here if you too are brought up in the region and identify yourself closely with the culture – is that, as a rule of thumb I would have liked to see someone playing Bajirao Peshwa from a Maharashtrian Brahmin family! I would say this at the cost of sounding communal, sectarian and uncool. But there are certain things that come through ethnicity – the appearance, the structure, the face-cut – which cannot be made up externally. Only artists of mountainous talents are capable to make the audience overlook these gaps on the strength of their acting skills. Like for instance, in “Legend of Bhagat Singh” it hardly mattered that Ajay Devgan wasn’t much a lookalike of Bhagat Singh. But then actors need to be of the stature of Kamal Hassan, Al Pacino or Utpal Dutt; the director at least a Gowarikar or Rajkumar Santoshi. Unfortunately both Ranveer and Bhansali – although both are decent performers – have still a long way to go.
Next in the list of disappointments is Deepikaji as Mastani. In Maharashtrian culture, certain women epitomize certain feminine quality. Jijabai (mother of Shivaji) is the epitomization of motherly qualities, Rani Laxmibai is the symbol of valour, similarly Mastani is the highest watermark of beauty. Not just beauty, Mastani represents all that is rich, delicate and exotic. Why, in Pune you even get an exotic summer drink named after Mastani!!! Furthermore Mastani also knew how to handle sword and she was an accomplished singer and dancer. With Deepka’s dancing skills being comparable with Salman’s acting (and vice versa), I now hold the same sceptism for Mastani’s dance performances like I once did when Bhai was to be Bajirao. In the promos at least Bhansali has by-passed the dancer’s aspect of Mastani and she rather emerges as an warrior above anything else.
Beyond beauty, dance or sword … there is something far more enigmatic in the persona of Mastani. Something that made Bajirao to risk all his unparalleled accomplishments, the love of his subjects, faith of his loyalists and his family relationships… by marrying her! we are talking about marriage in medieval times, when the society was driven sheerly by the concepts of castes, purism and rituals; when people used to be extremely cautious about keeping their bloodlines pure. And we are not speaking about some intercaste marriage… it’s between a puritan Brahmin ruler and a Muslim dancer with obscure ancestry! A rebellion against the times!
What was so magnetic about Mastani that a larger than life person like Bajirao was implored to her. I can somewhat try to understand Bajirao – a genius who can think years ahead of time, a rebel who never accepted any norm as is, a visionary who spots talents of ordinary people and made them generals like Malharrao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde (forefathers of Jyotiraditya Scindia/Vasundhara raje)… people like Bajirao always find themselves lonesome in the company of society who is crawling under the burden of their legacy, beliefs, customs and superstitions. They need someone like Mastani who would understand and compliment them; where they would find their solace. But we don’t know what made Mastani all that which Bajirao longed for! We have to leave it to our imagination. That’s what makes characterization of Mastani a step more challenging than Bajirao – for the element of mystery, for the openness of interpretation.
To date I haven’t come across any good book that does justice to Mastani’s character. It is indeed a Shakespearean task. The contemporary historians have never gone beyond her beauty and her modest origins. For the limited arsenal this movie has promised us, I wouldn’t set much expectations from the movie to do justice to the character of Mastani.
That brings us to the third and final disappointment – Kashibai. Strangely though, she is a disappointment other way round. Historically she was not a very important figure. Many people would not know the name of Bajirao’s first wife for that matter. But since the role has been offered to Priyanka Chopra, this role will carry more importance than ought to be. Perhaps the movie would become somewhat of love triangle rather than the original intense love story of two souls.
In the end, we must give it to Bhansali to pursue his pet project over such a long period – almost change of a generation. And we must be thankful that finally someone made movie on a topic that maharashtrians hold so close to their heart. An unmatchable warrior like Peshwa Bajirao-I, who has been largely ignored and forgotten (how typical) – would at least claim a part of public’s attention.
There are a lot of people who didn’t know about Peshwa Bajirao before this movie’s promos came. After seeing the movie they will in all likelihood carry a unreal image of Bajirao-Mastani-Kashibai.
I don’t know what is worse.