Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bajirao Mastani—Of Scarred Love, and Passionate Fires

The ever so comforting and soothing Adele pours her heart out in Rolling In The Deep. She sings:-

There's a fire starting in my heart, 
reaching a fever pitch and its bringing me out the dark.
The scars of your love remind me of us;
they keep me thinking that we almost had it all;
the scars of your love, they leave me breathless.

Fires and scars. This is the near perfect description of the trailer of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Bajirao Mastani that was released recently. It is the story of the romance between a Marathi king Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) and a Muslim warrior princess Mastani (Deepika Padukone) that defied all rules. It is a story of an ishq that makes one forget even God in front of the lover. IshqJo mehboob ko dekhe toh khuda ko bhool jaaye, vo ishq. It is the story of Mastani's love that scars Bajirao forever. Her love for him is like a scar, ugly in the eyes of the society but permanent that would endure the test of time and become immortal in the annals of history. At one point in the trailer, Mastani literally scars Bajirao with her sword in his neck, and that scar is visible later, etched on him in perpetuity. Even the title of the film's poster shows the name of Bajirao in blood, while Mastani's does not have any of it, underscoring, for lack of a better word, an Adele-ian scarred love. Even in the teaser trailer that was released earlier, there is an allegory hinting at that. There is a fabulous sequence of the play of swords where Bajirao passes his thumb over the sword while Mastani practices with the sword, as if she is the sword who will scar him.

Their love is like the one that is able to wither the stormy seas. IshqJo toofani dariya se bagawat kar jaye vo ishq. Bajirao literally crosses a sea on a boat in the stormy night, navigating the choppy waters. In Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, there was a point where Ram is left adrift in the middle of the river when Leela is taken away from him. He is neither here, nor there. But here, Mastani's love will take him ashore.

What is interesting is that if we revisit the earlier teaser, we realize that there is so much fire in it, both literally and metaphorically. Mastani uses the fire to light her arrow, Kashibai uses the fire to glow the diyas, Bajirao uses fire to show him the path, there is fire almost in every frame. This fire is also a subtext for the burning passion of the characters. While the new trailer still has a lot of fire, it also has a lot of water. The stormy waters, the rain, the pools in the palaces, the water for bathing.  

At one point, Bajirao remarks, "Cheeteh ki chaal, baaz ki nazar, and Bajirao ki talwar, pe sandeh nahi karte, kabhi bhi maat de sakti hai." One should never doubt a cheetah's speed, a hawk's vision, and Bajirao's sword, it could take outwit anyone. A Bhansali film without any imagery is a chai tea latte without sugar—bland—and whose name does not make any sense. So, we see statues of a hawk and a cheetah-lion hybrid in the palace. Perhaps, Bajirao has the characteristics of these. 

One of the most beautiful images from the trailer is the one where Kashibai is sitting over a golden statue of an cheetah-lion hybrid, with fire burning in front of her. This fire is her state of mind, burning with desire for Bajirao and jealousy for Mastani, who seems to have become the object of her husband's affection. There's a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and its bringing me out the dark. In an earlier scene, Bajirao pours water over Kashibai. Dressed in a saffron saree, a color that matches the color of the fire, this pouring of water was, perhaps, a subtle indication that the fire that Kashibai ignited in Bajirao's heart is starting to extinguish. It is Mastani who now ignites the fire in him. However, Kashibai's heart still beats for him, and sitting on the animal statue, which was a reference to Bajirao himself. She even tries to become like Mastani when she wears a warrior's helmet, which is most probably Mastani's.

Burning Fires

If the burning fire represents Kashibai, a prisoned Mastani is a reflection of her state. At one point, she is held in chains from the four pillars. She cannot escape. This entrapment is symbolic that she wants to get free, and break the shackles which the society has put on her. She only wants to love Bajirao, but she is treated as if she has committed a huge crime. If loving is a crime, she is even ready to bear the punishment for it.

As I have written before, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a particular fascination for peacocks. Ram-Leela was full of peacocks. Every song of that film had a peacock reference, and Ram was compared to a peacock in the film. Even Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is teeming with peacocks. His love for peacocks is profoundly immense that even the symbol of Bhansali Productions is a peacock. It is no surprise that Bajirao Mastani has peacock references. There is not only a peacock feather, but patterns of peacock feathers in the palace walls and flooors, the diyas, the earrings, and the lamps.

Peacock Lamps

In Pinga, while Kashibai is wearing a purple saree, Mastani is wearing a dark-red saree. This contrast symbolizes the personalities of these two women. Kashibai is royal and regal and belongs to an aristocratic family. The color purple is symbolic of power, wisdom, leadership, respect, and wealth. It has been worn by emperors in the past. Even in the song Deewani Mastani, Kashibai is dressed in purple hues. On the other hand, Mastani, true to her name, is dressed in dark-red, as red is a color of passion and determination. The theme of purple and red is repeated in the film's gorgeous poster, which is like a painting. Kashibai is again dressed in purple, while Mastani is dressed in red. In the film's trailer, there is a motif of purple in Kashibai's costumes throughout if we observe carefully. At one point in the earlier teaser trailer, Bajirao is dressed in a red costume and has a purple shawl draped over him. This is like his own state in life, draped in the two colors of his two wives.

Red and Purple—Color of the Wives 

One last thing, and I am likely going to be wrong about it, when the movie releases, but the impression from both the trailers seems that Mastani is dressed in lighter colors, with the only exception of red. All her costumes are typically single-colored, and have lighter shades. Whether it is the Deewani Mastani song, the blue lehengas, the yellow lehengas, the white lehengas, everything seems to be in lighter shades, and they do not have a contrasting color in them. On the other hand, Kashibai's sarees are full of dark colors, and they are not single-colored, but have many, many colors in them, such as a contrast of purple, blue, yellow, and much brighter than Mastani's. Perhaps, it is an indication of the many worldly emotions of Kashibai from love, happiness, joy, envy, while Mastani is only interested in one emotion of love and red signifies that love. It will be good to explore it when the movie finally releases.

There is a powerful image in which Bajirao's eyes are seen to have a red blood color lining. Their love is so strong that she is flowing in his body like blood. He cannot exist without her, neither can she. Without blood, no human can survive. The red color that symbolizes Mastani is deeply ingrained in his veins. Even the title poster shows that the red color is in Bajirao's name. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when her mother asked Nandini if Sameer had touched her inappropriately somewhere, she had replied, "Usne meri aatma ko chhua hai." That is what Sanjay Leela Bhansali has tried to show before and does it again, because he believes that love is something that touches the soul. We will be waiting to experience that soul-touching again.

Ji re, ji re, ji ji re, Baji ji ji. #SanjayLeelaBhansaliForever.

Other Reading:
1. On Bajirao Mastani movie review (link)
2. On Deewani Mastani (link)
3. On Pinga (link)
4. On peacock motifs (link)
5. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (link)

Dialogue of the Day:
"Humare dil ek saath dhadakte hai, Mastani. Aur ek saath rukte bhi hai."
—Bajirao Mastani


  1. Beautiful insight on the trailer of the movie...much looking forward to....This movie needs to be a different mind all together. ..and probably going alone for this would be the best to understand the depth of each character and thought of Bhansali to bring forth this story to the audience.

    Another detail that is common with Devdas is the scar Dd leaves scar on Paro's face and she keeps it along with her sindoor from her marriage...she celebrates the scarred love with social sindoor. ..

  2. Fantastic article. Thanks for explaining the symbolism of color in detail.. Kashibai does seem to have a lot more shades. But I wouldn't have looked for them in her sarees if you didn't point it out :D ... You mentioned the presence of water in the trailer. Do you reckon it has some significance as well?

  3. Every time you post something I am amazed with how much you pick up in the symbolism, colors, motifs, etc. Thank you for sharing these insights with us, you make loving Sanjay Leela Bhansali even easier. :)

  4. @Arpita - Yes, so true. We need to watch it alone to understand its beauty. He is a thinking filmmaker but I really hope that people appreciate the film. And, yes, Devdas scar, I remember. Fits so perfectly.

    @Kowshik - I need to really watch the movie to get that, though I only got the meaning of Bajirao putting water on Kashibai, rest I still need to think about :)

    @Anna - Thank you for reading. Yes, we all love Sanjay Leela Bhansali :)


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