It made me wonder how different the film would be if Priyanka played Mastani
It made me wonder how different the film would be if Priyanka played Mastani

Director/producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been searching for love all his life, at least on celluloid.

Earlier, in smaller moments with Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, then taking an experimental turn with Saawariya and later in fully embracing star-crossed lovers in Devdas, and the Romeo-Juliet inspired Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram Leela.

His latest offering Bajirao Mastani too tells the epic tale of a doomed love against the backdrop of warring Marathas and rigid divisions along lines of religion which leave little room for love to flourish.

Newly crowned Peshwa Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) makes a detour from his battles in expanding the Maratha Empire to fight and defend Buldelkhand against the Mughal onslaught. He falls in love with the Raja’s half-Rajput, half-Muslim daughter Mastani (Deepika Padukone), marries her and the rest of the film revolves around the friction this causes in both his stately as well as domestic affairs.

So basically, a Peshwa version of shazishi saas, dusri biwi aur majboor shohar. Wherever have we seen that before?

Rinse, repeat

And that's not all we've seen before.

Perhaps director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is being self-referential, but there is strong element within the props, staging and even dialogues that seem to be on repeat. Mastani shown embroidering brings to mind Sakina’s loom from Sawaariya. Even Sakina’s “Kabool Hai” dialogue is repeated here by Mastani.

Despite Bhansali's denial, it's obvious that 'Pinga' is 'Dola Re'-inspired
Despite Bhansali's denial, it's obvious that 'Pinga' is 'Dola Re'-inspired

The towering candle-lit pillars and linen curtains that showcase lovely light and texture and were used to great rustic effect in Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram Leela are seen here too. The 'Dola Re' female bonding song from Devdas is reincarnated as 'Pinga'.

Lights, camera...

Sanjay Leela Bhansali does do what he is best known for: creating lavish set designs, opulence filled frames and magnificently choreographed songs.

All that and more is on display in the song 'Deewani Mastani', shot in the beautiful Aaina Mahal, which itself is a direct nod to Mughal-e-Azam’s Sheesh Mahal . This dazzling backdrop serves as a visual rejoinder to a story whose main focus seems to be beauty and a pleasing visual aesthetic.


For a story whose crux rests on doomed romance, the sizzling chemistry between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh which was leaping off the screen in Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram Leela seems to be strangely missing.


Bhansali is a master of creating each frame as a scene of crafted elegance but as a whole, the film refuses to come together.

For a story whose crux rests on doomed romance, the sizzling chemistry between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh which was leaping off the screen in Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram Leela seems to be strangely missing.

Bhansali is a master of creating each frame as a scene of crafted elegance
Bhansali is a master of creating each frame as a scene of crafted elegance

The majority of the screen play is devoted to the Peshwa clan’s refusal to accept Mastani as Bajirao’s second wife.

His intimidating mother (Tanvi Azmi) clad in widow’s whites cuts a terrifying figure and his brother (Vaibhav Tatwadi) too, never fails to humiliate Mastani. Behind their constant taunts that see Mastani being called a dancing girl and concubine lie the very real discord and divide that religion and orthodoxy causes.

The rigidity of their Brahmin household and practices recoils at accepting a Muslim woman as one of their own. But instead of exploring this idea of differences, and perhaps even come to an uneasy understanding, as Kashi Bajirao’s first wife does, all we get from the film is one dialogue about how some people reduce the contours of religion to match the colours of saffron and green.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story line is what our drama universe has been peddling ad nauseam.

Everyone's talking about: Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone

As far as performances go, Ranveer Singh bites into his meaty role with relish.

From a savvy politico to fearless warrior to the caring husband and helpless lover, he plays all the nuances of his character and maintains his Marathi accent and controlled body language throughout even into the off-key climax. Then again, Bhansali always gives ample space and time to his heroes, whether in full body armour or in just their towels. They all get at least one song where they are front and center.

Ranveer Singh bites into his meaty role with relish
Ranveer Singh bites into his meaty role with relish

Deepika Padukone looks ethereal and dreamlike in all those wonderfully over designed dresses by Anju Modi, which are sure to cause a riot at the local darzis this Eid.

Every carefully curated and coordinated outfit is to swoon for. However, she is merely coasting on her good looks. Though Mastani talks of eternal love and longing, there is very little soul to Padukone’s interpretation. She shows more gumption when she was fighting for her home and child, where clearly something was at stake.


The person who stole the show from right under Deepika’s nose is Priyanka Chopra.


Even worse, though, are her terrible Urdu pronunciations which only heightened the clichéd and trite sounding Urdu dialogues.

Deepika Padukone looks beautiful in every frame, but there is very little soul in her performance
Deepika Padukone looks beautiful in every frame, but there is very little soul in her performance

The person who stole the show from right under Deepika’s nose(rings) is Priyanka Chopra.

Her character of Kashi, Bajirao’s first wife is lovingly written and warmly enacted. Chopra’s pairing with Singh makes for a refreshing change and there is a playfulness to their scenes which is lovely. Not only does Priyanka Chopra carry off her navaris (nine-yard saris) and naths with elegance, her child-like ways allow her to be a little more believable, and she is able to add an aura of dignity to her pain and suffering as the wronged wife.

It makes me wonder how different the film would be if she played Mastani.

Priyanka Chopra's performance in Bajirao Mastani was inspired
Priyanka Chopra's performance in Bajirao Mastani was inspired

The other actors, Tanvi Azmi, Milind Soman, Mahesh Manjrekar and Vaibhav Tatwadi too put in formidable performances.

Technical wizardry can only take you so far

There is much to be admired in the technical handiwork of the film.

This is a vast improvement from Devdas’s boat ride against a decidedly cardboard-y background to Bajirao braving a tempest brewing storm to get to Mastani.

The battle scenes were filmed admirably well
The battle scenes were filmed admirably well

Even some of the battle scenes, despite a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon hangover, seem plausible. Sudeep Chatterjee’s fluid camerawork and play between light and shadows manages to capture the perfectly staged armies at war, and people at symmetrical repose. But major props should go to set and costume design which is the reason this film is a visual treat.

But in the end, after all the smoke and mirrors, the opulence and visual excess, if all you are left with is a shimmering image of the Aaina Mahal, you know that this epic failed to deliver.


Sadaf Siddique is freelance writer, an avid film and drama enthusiast and sometime drama queen not necessarily in that order.

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