Tag Archives: Tanvi Azmi

Movie Review: Bajirao Mastani (2015)

BajiraoMastani3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

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.

Links

Movie Review: Dekh Tamasha Dekh (2014)

dekhTamashaDekh3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon

Dekh Tamasha Dekh is a satire of modern India, but its relevance is universal. Director Feroz Abbas Khan and writer Shafaat Khan present an insightful, funny story about the dangers of sectarianism and intellectual laziness.

The town of Canda functions under an uneasy balance between the local Hindu and Muslim communities. The town’s most prominent politician, Mutha Seth (Satish Kaushik), also owns the local newspaper, and he bemoans the declining readership. The marketing guru he brings in pushes local gossip: “What people wish to read is more important.”

Mutha Seth gets his wish when a billboard depicting his likeness falls over, killing Hamid (Satish Tare), the local horse cart driver. Hamid’s body is already in the grave when members of the Hindu community demand that the Muslims turn the body over to them. Hamid was born as a Hindu named Kishen, although he converted to Islam more than twenty years earlier.

This sparks a protracted legal battle over the dead man’s body, and both sides become increasingly militant. The new chief of police, Sawant (Ganesh Yadav), struggles to quell a feud he doesn’t really understand, as he’s reminded by the local historian, Professor Shastri (Satish Alekar).

Though the ideas of corrupt politics and violent religious tension are large in scale, they are exacerbated by small acts. For example: Kulkarni (Dhiresh Joshi), the editor of the local paper, feels his career threatened by the new marketing guy, so he publishes an inflammatory story that sparks a riot. When the paper’s lone reporter, Rafiq (Angad Mhaskar), asks a visiting imam to promote peace instead of war, Rafiq is forced to flee for his life as the city burns.

Khan constantly reminds the audience that fights driven by fanaticism have dire consequences for people who want no part in them, especially the poor. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi’s shots capture characters framed in doorways or windows. We are invited into their homes to see their suffering.

The people who suffer the most in the fight for Hamid/Kishen’s body are his own family. His widow, Fatima (Tanvi Azmi), doesn’t care what happens to the body. He’s dead, and she and her children are still poor. She tolerates the mournful wailing of the women who’ve taken over her house, vowing to pray continuously for Hamid’s soul until he’s buried. Then the water turns back on for the day, and they abandon their prayers to fill up their buckets.

Even worse off is Hamid’s daughter, Shabbo (Apoorva Arora), who’s in love with a Hindu man named Prashant (Alok Rajwade). Shabbo’s pragmatism and worries are mitigated by Prashant’s relentless optimism. He stares at her as though she’s the only thing that exists in the world. In another place, their future happiness would be a given, but not in Canda, where their very relationship is tantamount to treason.

Grounding the story so firmly in one town highlights the way such problems could manifest in any town in any country. Substitute two other religions — or races or political parties — and the mania that overtakes Canda could happen anywhere. It’s a chilling lesson told in an amusing, moving way. Dekh Tamasha Dekh is terrific.

Links