Bajirao Mastani – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in his long gestating magnum opus Bajirao Mastani based on the fabled romance of Bajirao Peshwa the great Maratha warrior and Mastani Bai the warrior princess of Bundelkhand. SLB is a master of star crossed lovers and breath-taking visuals that are second to none. It is no secret that SLB has likened Bajirao as a seminal tribute to the greatest Indian movie Mughl-e-Azam, a comparison that few would dare to want to draw to their own movies lest it fall short of the ShahJehan and Anarkali romance that shook the foundations of the Mughal dynasty.

 

Bajirao Mastani is stunning exercise in visual mastery that one has come to expect from SLB. While earlier Bhansali has relied primarily on enormous sets with ostentatious production values here he goes more for the panoramic shots of the horizon upon which many a battles erupt and end rather violently but the faint pinkish hue of the sky somehow applies a calming touch to the bloodshed. There is a shot where Bajirao mounts an attack on the Mughal king attacking Bundelkhand which has featured prominently in the trailers as well that shot is worthy of a LOTR comparison in terms of the fight choreography and the scene composition. There are many a visual cues that evoke a 300 or LOTR like vibe but not because they are replicated like in those Hollywood movies but more so because of the cleanness and the competence of the craft involved.

But war is not what Bhansali specialises in – Romance is where the auteur’s signature touch comes through. The main characters are introduced in such a casual fashion that it is clear that in Bhansali’s universe the story comes first and its stars later.

Speaking of its stars there are clear stand outs. Ranveer is fantastic once again as Bajirao Peshwa – the sword of the Maratha Empire that at once threatened to overthrow both the British and the Mughal invaders from India. Ranveer manages to strike a respectable restraint when portraying the poignant Maratha warrior and does not render him as a caricature but rather as someone worthy of the awe that surrounds him. Deepika as Mastani continues her winning streak with her ability to get to the essence of each of her characters and to pull each one off with an exquisite elegance. Madhubala she is not but the grace and poise with which she carries herself in royal courts is brilliantly juxtaposed by the fierce warrior that she is on the field. Deepika either has some magical powers or all the cinematographers she works with love her and are able to light her in ways that not even the most famed beauties have ever been shot as. There is a luminosity to her which seems to emanate from within her rather than from the outside. Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, Bajirao’s first wife is also wonderfully restrained. She carries her proud self while still letting slip her vulnerability in moments when she confronts Bajirao after he marries Mastani. While Deepika’s gestures are more languid and lyrical befitting a Muslim princess, those of Priyanka are more energetic and exaggerated as one would expect the women of Maharashtra to embody. Their dance off in Pinga is SLB’s directional nuances at his best. Priyanka wears a silk blouse while Deepika wears a velvet one, Deepika holds her head high while Priyanka bobs hers enthusiastically, Deepika arches her back yet manages to look long and lean while Priyanka goes in for the more energetic hip action. Both similar yet strikingly different. This is why when people complain that Bhansali goes for mostly ostentatious sets they seem to miss the minute details that he puts in to etching out his characters. Milind Soman as Pant Pradhan to Peshwa and Tanvi Azmi as Peshwa’s mother are important characters in the story and the choice of the actors couldn’t be any better. Milind Soman is rather unrecognizable yet entirely impressive.

No Bhansali movie is complete without a smashing sound track with memorable songs and tunes that linger on in your head long after you have left the theatre. And Bajirao Mastani is no different. Deewani Mastani is without a doubt the most visually stunning song, Pinga evokes a Dola Re déjà vu and has a catchy hook. Albela Sajan seems to be a straight lift from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but with the reworked music works well. The only sore spot is the Malhari song, that song has no place in the final cut of the movie it should have been left on the chopping floors.

Camera work by cinematographer Sudeep Chaterjee is beautiful. The scenes with Priyanka coming forth with the Aarti to welcome Bajirao, the slicing of the peacock feather and the dagger thrown at Chimmaji Appa are particularly captivating but it is the entire sequence in the Aaina mahal during Deewani Mastani and the triple jump and slash scene in the battle field are so good that they will become the hallmarks against which future cinematic references will be made.

The story and particularly the climax evokes strong Devdas vibes, The nods to Mughl-e-Azam are more than a few the Holi Song is Mohe Panghat pe, The jailing of Mastani is Utho hamara salam le lo. But despite these minor flaws this is a stunning piece of cinema and without a doubt the best I have seen this year coming out of Bollywood.

Watch this for Bhansali who for me is the best director working in Bollywood today who delivers with a consistency, a visionary who makes going to cinema worth it. Watch it for Ranveer who continues to defy expectations and delivers a performance that is equal parts abandon and equal parts restraint. Watch it for Priyanka who shines like a finely cut diamond in the hands of the master craftsman. And watch it for Deepika Padukone who continues to defy the law of averages and keeps getting better with each movie and is at present peer-less in Bollywood and the queen continues to reign supreme as the warrior princess.

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RamLeela – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in the “goliyon ki Rasleela – Ram Leela” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And after the directorial misstep that was Guzarish and the producing abomination that was Rowdy Rathore Bhansali retreads the familiar paths he etched with “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Devdas” and the result is a richly layered and textured visual masterpiece that manages to strike a balance in catering to the masses and appealing to the classes as well.

Ram as played by a mustard-oil drenched Ranveer Singh and Leela as played by the statuesque Deepika Padukone play the Romeo and Juliet belonging to the opposing clans of a village in Gujarat whose rivalry goes back 500 years. The ill-fated lovers lay eyes upon each other on holi-day and what unfolds is a tragic romance that has found innumerable adaptations and countless influences when it comes to love stories.

The story by Siddharth and Garima and also the screenplay steers clear of the clichéd and predictable tropes for most parts and manages to even surprise once or twice with you holding your breath as what unravels was so far away from the expected that the result is spectacular. I wish they had worked on giving the opening sequence a bit more dynamism than a person relaying the backstory and context to someone else via a telephone call. Also the second half really needed to be cut short to drive home the impact even more effectively but these are minor grievances.

Bhansali and Ravi Varman capture stunning visuals that are nobody’s business. There is no better visual auteur in India today who understands how to frame a beautiful shot than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Every shot is a painting that can be hung up on a wall. Every scene is visual poetry. The dance sequences are framed and shot with such throbbing vibrancy that you cannot help but take a sharp intake of breath as the set pieces unveil and the scenery is laid bare before you to soak in.  No one does water reflection shots like Bhansali does – from the glittering havelis of the tavayafs of chitpur from devdas to that one tracking shot in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam from the song “Dholi Taro” and here to Udaipur become Jantara and the lights of the city palace reflect like precious jewels in Lake Pichola. STUNNING! Another spectacular shot is that of Kesar running away from her pursuers and the rolling of the pot along with her – like I said visual poetry.

All this visual artistry would be wasted if it wasn’t for the solid acting chops on display. Ranveer who always makes me cringe with his off-screen presence (interviews et al) still manages to strike a balance between playing a playboy and transforming to the titular Ram (yes of the mythic Ramayana). Deepika just takes your breath away every time she is on screen with her beauty but she has grown in the acting department and how! This is perhaps the best she has ever been and she manages to carry most of the movie on her shoulder while Ranveer is focusing more on thrusting his pelvis every chance he gets.  Richa Chaddha and Barkha Bhisht who play the daughters- in – law of the Saneda and Rajadi clans respectively are brilliant in their respective roles. Supriya Pathak Kapur who plays Dhankor the clan-mother of the Saneda clan is power personified. She plays the lioness like Dhankor with such aplomb that I was going into giddy fits every time she appeared on screen. I would pay top dollar to watch Supriya Pathak’s Dhankor vs Shabana Azmi’s Santok Jadeja the fight of the godmothers would make Brando blush.

Another very important element of the movie is the music and the songs. Every song with the exception of Ishqiyaon Dhishkiyaon is perfectly suited to the movie and given that the lyrics were written by Siddharth and Garima who share story credits as well every song helps in furthering the story. The background score by Monty and the actual music by Bhansali himself infuse Gujarati Folk songs into every note that the movie pulsates with a rhythmic frenzy that can only be witnessed during the final notes of a Garba dance. The costumes deserve a special mention because utmost care is taken to champion the traditional handloom techniques of the different regions of Gujarat, from the Kutchi-threadwork to block prints, Patola-weaving to many other exquisite techniques that only act to enhance Deepika’s beauty.

While this is not a perfect movie and the opening sequence and the second half needed more care from Bhansali and the character of Ram didn’t need those many pelvic thrusts, this is a movie that must not be missed. Watch it for Bhansali who makes a triumphant return to directing epic love stories like only he can. Watch it for Deepika Padukone. Watch it for the visual artistry that does not rely on exotic foreign locales; watch it for set pieces that are unparalleled in Bollywood today. Watch it for this is a beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

7 khoon maaf

7 khoof maaf – vishal bharadwaj’s latest is a movie based on the novel Susana’s seven husbands a novel by Ruskin bond. The movie sees Bharadwaj reteaming with his Kaminey Lead actress Priyanka who plays the titular role of Susana.

Bharadwaj’s previous work includes Makadi a critically acclaimed children’s movie a genre almost unknown in india, Maqbool a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Omkara a Othello reinterpretation and the hugely successful Kaminey. So understandably the expectations from 7 Khoon Maaf were extremely high, Sitting in a half empty theatre on a Saturday night of the first week of the movie’s release is not necessarily a good sign in these dire economic times. But regardless of the box office outcome of the movie the director deserves kudos for introducing cinema noir .

The husbands played by neil nitin mukesh, an axle-rose inspired John Abraham , A S&M obsessed Irrfan khan, a hindi-speaking-bollywood-crazy Russian spy, a lecherous annu kapoor and the magic mushroom brewing naseerudding shah all pitch in super cameo appearances. Special mention to John Abraham for his almost Christian bale’s machinist inspired emaciated look as a recovering drug addict.

Susana is not alone in her killing spree she is ably assisted by an almost unrecognizable Usha Utthap as Maggie aunty, the butler khan saab and the jockey goonga. New comer Vivaan shah who plays Arun Kumar who adopted by Susana as child harbors a crush on her for all his life and return to do her one last favour is a revelation.

But the movie belongs to Priyanka Chopra who proves her mettle as an actress with this movie. She transitions from a grieving daughter to a battered woman with such ease that it is unnerving . Her scenes with Naseeruddin shah and one with the Russian are simply acting gold. The madness the malice the mirth that drips from her eyes as she circles her prey like the black mamba is unnerving and a little scary as well as a little saddening to see.

Bharadwaj does a brilliant job of keeping the pacing sharp and tight considering you have 6 weddings to go through and albeit 6 murders! I will still maintain that bharadwaj is way too smart for the Indian audiences and he sometimes has to spell out his next(or last ) move so that people would follow – case in point the little blue pill in annu kapoor’s hands does need spelling out but he had to.. and the side effects of taking the little blue pill are also spelled out lest the plot stalls. This I say because the director leaves an unspoken analogy which I am sure a lot of people will miss… so… the scene where Arun returns from St Petersburg he sees a spider on the desk – a Black Mamba spider – a deadly species in which he female spider kills the male spider after mating… this black mamba is crushed by arun using a book he bought as a gift. See really clever right?

This is not a movie that you “go and watch after a week of hectic work to sit back and relax without applying your mind” (not my choice of words). This is a movie that challenges your intelligence and rewards you if you apply yourself. Plus the ending leaves you wondering what exactly happened.

Go see this movie because this may very well be a benchmark for what female performance in Indian movies should be compared against. The physical transformations that Priyanka goes through over the years is sheer commitment to the art. Bravo Priyanka Bravo!

This article is a reproduction from my facebook account.

Kaminey

It was a toss up between Inglorious Basterds or Kaminey… Kaminey won simply because of the proximity of the theatre screening it . So would my choice of the Indian Tarantino pay off? or as with most of the bollywood movie would i be left bored and out of the theatre half way through?

Kaminey is a story of two identical twins who have had a falling out in their childhood . one (guddu) takes the good route and remains poor and the other (charlie) takes the wrong one and ends up being the proverbial mumbai gangster… so far nothing novel or new about this story. this has been done to death in bollywood. But what is different is Vishal bharadwaj… he takes the often hacked story and treats it with such style that there is really no parallel in all the past bollywood movies to compare this with. its gritty and grimy and dangerous and sexy as one would expect the story of a gangster to be.

The background score has been used like never before. which is not surprising because the director had his calling as a music director before he made such memorable movies as makadi ( a personal favourite) maqbool and omkara ( need to see them pronto). the songs are not thrown in to fill the time or to make an additional buck with the music sales but they melt into the story perfectly. Gulzaar has outdone himself with the lyrics for the song bhavra aaya… that should be the official song of the government’s fight against AIDS campaign .

I had the absolute misfortune of sitting through the cannes jury prize winner Babel a couple years ago and the scene in the disco was the worst 5 minutes of celluloid i have ever been exposed to. Dhan tan nan is how any psychedelic trance/rave scene should be shot.

Priyanka as the feisty marathi mulgi puts in a brilliant performance and so does amol gupte who in my mind still remains the maker and creator of Taare Zameen Par ( take that aamir khan – you can keep talent down)

but the hero of the movie in its true sense of the word is Shahid kapoor . He channels the two characters with such charisma and bravado that you cannot but love him even when is the cocaine dealing gun totting small time gangster who dreams of having his own booking office at the race course!

The climatic gun battle which ensues is shot brilliantly the music reaches a cresendo and the lays a fitting end to a brilliant brilliant piece of new age bollywood.

so to choose vishal bharadwaj over tarantino paid off. the best bollywood movie in a very very long time. for once I plead – this is a movie for the big screen a 700 mb rip will not do it the justice it deserves. i spent 800 INR and i dont regret it for a bit.

This was the first review I ever wrote ! this was first published in 2010 on my facebook page