With the film being superbly marketed and the music already doing well, expectations were at fever pitch. The danger, under these circumstances, is that a film could sink under the weight of its own expectations. Even a tiny mismatch between hype and what one sees on screen can cause a backlash that is disproportionate to the actual merit of the product.
So how does Bajirao Mastani, a film that Sanjay Leela Bhansali waited 15 years to make, measure up to all its pre-release hyperbole and hoopla? Well, the film impresses but also disappoints, especially during the second half and the melodramatic climax.
The first 60 minutes is an immersive experience for viewers but after that, the film nosedives. It is obvious that the writers had no idea how to take the story forward. An hour into the film and the story is spent. That is why you are forced to watch a repeat of some scenes, like the confrontation between Bajirao and Mastani, or Bajirao and his mother, or Bajirao and his wife, or Bajirao and his brother, or Bajirao and his people or Bajirao’s wife and Mastani… the list goes on and on and on and on… it’s never-ending.
Bajirao Ballal Peshwa (Ranveer Singh) is an ambitious Maratha warrior who has set his eyes on creating a unified Hindu nation, the Bharatvarsha. What’s more… he has the valour to fight for it. During the Mughal invasion, Bajirao is away from home, planning an attack on Delhi, when he meets Mastani (Deepika Padukone) who has travelled to seek his help to save her hometown Bundelkhand, which is being held captive by the Mughals. She is the daughter of King Chhatrasal and his Muslim wife. Mastani’s commitment and bravery impress Bajirao, who is determined to help her. In the midst of the battle, the two fall in love with each other.
Back home, Bajirao’s wife, Kashi (Priyanka Chopra) is eagerly awaiting his return, oblivious to the fact that her husband has fallen in love with another woman. Meanwhile, Bajirao and Mastani, whose inter-religious love earns strong opposition from his Hindu community and family, begin to live together.
Directorially, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, yet again, presents a film in his true auteur style, on a majestic, larger-than-life canvas. His vision is extraordinary and his ability to convey his vision on the silver screen is spectacular. If one is to find fault, the story gets cloyingly melodramatic at times and the screenplay stands still. Add to that the complexities of having a stagnant narration and the proceedings become dreary.
Musically, the songs go well with the narrative. The background score adds to the story’s flow and lifts each scene. Irrfan’s voiceover is another highlight of the film. Cinematography by Sudeep Chatterjee is spectacular. He captures scenic locations and the grand sets beautifully. Dialogue is simple and lends a sense of realism to the film. Locations and costumes are breathtaking. Editing by Rajesh G Pandey is precise even though the flow of the screenplay dips in places. With a runtime of 158 minutes, the film could have been shortened by a good 20 minutes.
Production values are absolutely top-notch. Indeed, huge sets and dramatic visuals of locations is a perfect marriage of screenplay and locales. Costumes are beautiful.
Performance-wise, from the magical chemistry of the lead pair to the conviction of the other actors and the character artistes, the film boasts brilliant performances. Each actor plays their part with utter conviction and that’s what makes the film so fascinating.
Ranveer Singh has emerged as one of the strongest performers we have, with his portrayal of a character so rustic yet mighty. Singh shows an incredible ability to grasp the dialect and body language of his character. Deepika Padukone, who has already proved her potential, delivers yet another stunning performance. She looks spectacularly beautiful and her skill to grasp the minutest details of her character is evident yet again. She is undoubtedly Numero Uno.
Priyanka Chopra subtly portrays her part and delivers an endearing performance. She holds her ground from the first frame till the end, and brilliantly executes her part. Tanvi Azmi is fabulous in her part and balances the shades of her character with panache. Milind Soman is noteworthy. Mahesh Manjrekar performs well. Aditya Pancholi is all right. Vaibbhav Tatwawdi is good. The rest of the cast supports well.
Verdict: The film is worth watching even if only for the performances of Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, and of course the stunning visuals.