Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

BajiraoMastani3 Stars (out of 4)

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The historical epic Bajirao Mastani scores high marks for scale and style, but its message of religious tolerance is perhaps its real selling point.

The movie’s title bears the names of the renowned battle commander Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and his second wife, Mastani (Deepika Padukone). Bajirao served as prime minister of the Maratha Empire in the early 1700s.

Though already married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra), Bajirao falls in love with Mastani while helping her to free her father’s besieged castle. Mastani herself is an accomplished warrior, a fact that impresses Bajirao as much as her beautiful looks and graceful dancing.

Before returning home, Bajirao gifts Mastani his dagger, unaware that this constitutes a marriage pact among her people. This presents a huge problem not just because Bajirao already has a wife, but because Mastani was raised in her mother’s Muslim faith, not in the Hindu faith of Mastani’s father and Bajirao himself.

When Mastani follows Bajirao to his home in Pune, she is shunned by Bajirao’s mother, Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi), who lodges Mastani in a whorehouse and appoints her the humiliating position of court dancer. Undeterred, Mastani publicly professes her love to Bajirao, who builds her a palace of her own. This does not go over well.

(Before continuing, I want to point out that, when Bajirao returns home with Mastani, he and Kashibai already have a preteen son, Nana. Given the lack of familial affection between Bajirao and Nana, I wasn’t sure if he was actually their biological son, or just some kid from the household that Kashibai calls “son.” Nana is, in fact, their child.)

The anger directed at Mastani and Bajirao by Bajirao’s mother, brother, and son is primarily based on her religion and its perceived pollution of the family line. Bajirao’s tragic flaw is his underestimation of the depth of his family’s hatred.

Kashibai has the biggest grievance against Bajirao for breaking their matrimonial vows, but she’s a pragmatist. She has a house to run while Bajirao is off sacking cities, so she is less outwardly hostile toward Mastani than her in-laws. Yet there is fury in Chopra’s eyes while Kashibai goes through the motions of keeping the peace. By virtue of her position — and Chopra’s performance — Kashibai is the film’s most interesting character.

Bajirao himself is devoted but oblivious. He’s supposedly as skilled a diplomat as he is a fighter, but he reads the vibe in his household all wrong. He acts as though he’s entitled to do what he likes without realizing that his threats are no match to his family’s hatred of Muslims. The limitations of the character don’t leave much room for Singh to shine, although his buff physique certainly fits the part.

Mastani’s character also feels underwritten. After her introduction as a fierce warrior, that aspect of her persona is diminished, replaced by an emphasis on a more passive kind of femininity. According to Wikipedia (for whatever it’s worth), the real Mastani accompanied Bajirao on his battles. It would have been fun to see more of that, although Padukone’s dancing is quite a treat.

The film’s early battle sequence is impressive, emphasizing the key players while still feeling expansive. Dim pre-dawn lighting gives a sinister tone to the fight. There’s also an effective scene later in the film as Bajirao imagines his destiny manifesting as a shadow army on black horses.

Designer Anju Modi’s costumes and jewelry pieces are so stunning as to merit a museum exhibit. The film’s sets are lavish, the dance numbers beautifully choreographed.

Tales of star-crossed lovers are always popular, but writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s choice of this particular pair is timely. Bajirao and Mastani love beyond the borders of religion, condemned by a society with hearts too small to tolerate such a union.


25 thoughts on “Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

  1. JustMeMike

    I saw it tonight – I hoped for a larger audience – at least someone besides me – but Star Wars was screening in at least 3 if not 4 screens at the Regal Hollywood in Sarasota. I think the release date of December 18th was wrong choice, but we can’t blame that on Regal can we. There was another problem – the house lights remained on even 10 minutes in – and I had to go out of the theater and ask that they deal with that – which they did.

    Personally I thought PryC stole the film. Not only was she the most interesting character, but she was the only one with some complexity. Deepika looked great but her role had just the devoted love, or the determination necessary. Ranveer also looked great but he, as you described had the most simple of roles .

    But to echo your thoughts – I’ve never seen a film with better production values from the costumes, the jewelry, the sets, the furniture, the palace designs and so forth. Truly a magnificent production.

    Now if only Ranveer’s boots didn’t squeak so loudly.

    1. Kathy

      I’m glad I didn’t notice the squeaky boots, Mike! I was wearing earplugs to block out the sound of crying toddlers in my auditorium. 🙁

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  3. Parth

    Excellent Review. I agree with all the high and lows of the movie as you mentioned.
    Mastani’s character should have had few more shades to it. if one more scene of her falling in love with Bajirao to establish the strong love she has for him.

    One of the best thing i think that the movie displayed is that the rejection of the Mastani by the family and by large the whole Brahmin community. Bajirao’s mother’s fear of getting boycotted by the community was so real. (even in 2015 the fear of getting boycotted by Brahmin community is too much) so the hate for her was so high and because of that the message of the communal harmony becomes so strong in the movie. So relevant with whatever is happening in India and also around the world.

  4. shree ram

    Sanjay Leela bhanshali is a quintessential beloved director we have. He always been depicted great amount of Indianness ethics gloriousness music dance love vulnerable pain are in one stuff with paramount conviction.

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  8. Siddharth Tilwankar

    It was again a very good review , Sanjay Leela Bhansali has taken a liberty with facts but has produced and directed a very good movie. It works really well as a period love story (if not as a complete biopic on Bajirao & Mastani).

    There is another period drama that’s got audiences raving i.e Katyar Kaljat Ghusli (The dagger pierces the heart) , which is about two musicians in a kings court sparring…It is based on a play by the same name , do catch that ( only warning – the songs are based on classical music and do take considerable time )

  9. Siddharth Tilwankar

    Katyar kaljat Ghusli was made in 2015 , so it has the backing of technology making the soundtrack truer ( except for Shankar Mahadevan and his son, have heard all the other singers live) , same with visuals and production value.
    I can’t at the moment comment on the pacing in comparison to Baiju Bawra since its two decades ago I had seen the film. But KKG is a crisp version of the play ( the most watered down version if play was 4 hrs)

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  19. shrey

    saw the movie today…. perfect review… but it was priyanka’s character that i cared about most…. also it would had been great if they had mentioned that after mastani’s death, kashibai adopted mastani and bajirao’s son and raised him as her own even giving him lands to rule.

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