Friday, December 25, 2015

Bajirao Mastani—Of Rukmini, Krishna, Radha

After making us wait for a decade, Sanjay Leela Bhansali comes up with his magnum opus Bajirao Mastani. Based on the book Rau by N.S. Inamdar, it is the story of the romance of a Marathi king Bajirao (Ranveer Singh), with a Muslim warrior princess Mastani (Deepika Padukone), even though he is married to Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra). In Bhansali land, love brings exhilaration but also pain and longing. In his earlier films, such as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Saawariya, Ram-Leela, and in Bajirao Mastani, as well, love brings with it joy, heartbreak, suffering, anguish, and grief. It is a story of an ishq that makes one forget even God in front of the lover. Ishq—Jo mehboob ko dekhe toh khuda ko bhool jaaye, vo ishq. Love is like a scar, ugly and forbidden in the eyes of society but permanent that would endure the test of time and become immortal in the annals of history. At one point, Mastani literally scars Bajirao with her sword on his neck, and that scar is visible later, etched on him in perpetuity. Later, Bajirao wounds her in the war with his sword. Aapne to sirf apne vaar ka nishaan dekha hai, ghaav to kahi aur hai. They are literally and metaphorically scarred for life by love.
In many ways, the film is the story of Radha, Krishna, and Rukmini. In Bhansali's world, Bajirao and Mastani are Krishna and Radha. The film is full of references to these characters. Mastani says, "Patni to Radha bhi nahi thi, lekin naam to Krishna ke saath unhi ka liya jata hai na." When they celebrate Holi, Mastani sings, "Mohe rang do laal, Nand ke laal laal," exhorting Nand Ke Laal Krishna to paint her in the color of love—red. During Pinga, when Mastani comes to meet Kashibai, the subtitles read that she comes dressed as Radha giving one more indication of the Radha-Krishna theme. One of my favorite scenes from the movie Lagaan is the Janmasthmi one when Elizabeth asks Bhuvan if Radha and Krishna are married to each other. Bhuvan replies that Krishna was married to Rukmini, and Radha was married to Anay, but they had this internal love that transcended generations. Kamal ke patte pe, shabnam ki boond jaisa. Ek bhi nahi hue aur alag bhi nahi hue. It was the first time I ever got to know the name of Krishna's wife and, more importantly, Radha's husband. Since times immemorial, Radha-Krishna has been the epitome of pure love. While Anay seems to have been discarded permanently from the annals of mythology, Rukmini gets a mention sometimes. With Bajirao and Mastani as Krishna and Radha, the film acknowledges the silent, almost forgotten love of Rukmini in the form of Kashibai. Kashibai narrates the story of Rukmini's trepidation on fear of being forgotten. Log toh priyasi ko hi yaad rakhte hain. Even though the film is based on Bajirao and Mastani, Kashibai's love is acknowledged, even if it takes some sheen off the leads' story, I feel it is important to give her due because a film based on the theme of love should be graceful enough to accept all kinds of love or at the very least not be dismissive about it. Kiran Nagarkar's gem of a book Cuckold, based on the predication of Meerabai's husband whose wife is in love with Lord Krishna, says one can exorcise a devil, but how does one get rid of a God. There is a line in that book. "We were that rarest of couples. Even after years of marriage, we were madly in love. I with her and she with somebody else." This could very well be Kashibai speaking.
In some ways, Bajirao Mastani also depicts the seven stages of love as defined in Arabic literature. The seven stages comprise hub (attraction), uns (infatuation), ishq (love), aqeedat (reverence), ibaadat (worship), junoon (obsession), and maut (death). We see these stages in some form or the other. The first time Bajirao and Mastani get attracted to each other in the middle of the war. Behoshi me bhi aap unse aise lipti hui thi, jaise do nahi ek ho. Then, there is infatuation when he visits her in her chambers and gives his dagger to her after looking at her deep wounds. They celebrate Holi. She tells him to paint her in the color of love. This infatuation turns into love when he is about to leave. She then leaves Bundelkhand because of ishq to meet him. Her love for him is like Radha's love for Krishna. Patni to Radha bhi nahi thi, lekin naam to Krishna ke saath unhi ka liya jata hai na. This ishq turns to reverence. Tujhe yaad kar liya hai, aayat ki tarah, kaayam tu ho gayi hai, rivaayat ki tarahI have memorized you, like an aayat, a holy prayer. For me, you have now become a custom and a ritual. They both start trusting and respecting each other; he will fight for her respect even if it means going against the world, and he will go against his family to protect her honor. This slowly becomes an ibaadat. Aaj ibaadat roobaroo ho gayi, jo maangi thi us dua se guftgoo ho gayi. The one for whom I have worshipped and prayed for, I’ve come face to face with her today. What I was desiring for, I’ve had a conversation with her. Slowly, this ibaadat turns into an obsession for them. She cannot live without him, and neither can he. Humare dil ek saath dhadhakte hai aur rukte bhi ek saath. He is ready to give up anything for her, and she will do anything to be with him. In the process, they lose their own identity. In the final stages, Bajirao's junoon becomes hallucinations where he sees fate and destiny conspiring against him and Mastani. He fights an imaginary war with his inner faceless demons. Death is the only escape from this madness, and it comes to them simultaneously. The final stage of love is achieved, and they are immortalized for the years to come, and everyone will take their name together as one. They have been united forever.
The film is spectacular in showing the glorious tradition of the past. When Bajirao gives a dagger to Mastani, she becomes his wife as giving a kataar to a woman also means marriage in Bundelkhand. Later, when Bajirao comes to visit Mastani after crossing the river, he talks about the three challenges she could face if he accepts her. Mastani, without an iota of hesitation, says kubool hai. In an Islamic wedding, the bride says kubool hai three times; in a way, it was the second time they married. In both cases, there was no big ceremony, and their wedding got solemnized based on tradition and customs. At the onset, Bajirao talks about creating a Hindu kingdom giving indications of his Hindu nationalist leanings. While there is the tradition in the film, it also surprises us with its liberalism. Mastani worships both Krishna and Allah. Even though she is a Muslim, she names her child Krishna. Yeh sach hai har dharm ne ek rang ko chun liya hai, lekin rang ka to koi dharm nahi hotaDurga and dargah might belong to different religions, but at the same time, the same green color is important for both. Bajirao says that even though he fights Muslims, his fight is with the Mughals, not their religion. He names his son Shamsher Bahadur in defiance when the fundamentalist priests refuse to do a naming ceremony for his son Krishna accusing him of not marrying a woman according to Hindu rituals. He teaches both his sons the shlokas. Rather than giving into dogmatic rituals, he makes new interpretations of them, like the cracker of a reply he gives to his heartless mother—what kind of mother stops her own grandson from taking her blessings—that he will make amends by marrying Mastani with full celebrations and bring her to Shaniwar Wada. Earlier this year, Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadhakne Do had an insightful scene. That film also starred Ranveer Singh; at one point, he says to his parents that he loves Farah. Vo dancer hai, aur Musalman hai. Religion continues to be one of our society's deepest fault lines that a film set nearly three hundred years later in an upper-class tony family of Delhi has undercurrents of the same religious difference in a film of the past. In this political climate, when we are debating ghar waapsi, it is heartening to see that the film holds onto its liberalism.
Any Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is a study of symbolism. The sets and the costumes represent the characters and their emotions. Cheeteh ki chaal, baaz ki nazar aur Bajirao ki talvar par sandeh nahi karte, kabhi bhi maat de sakti hai. Therefore, everywhere we see the images and the statues of the cheetah and the baaz. When Bajirao is in his camp, there are bronze carvings of the eagle and the cheetah. The map and the kingdom's flag have the eagle and cheetah. In Shaniwar Wada, his room has the same images and statues. Even Bajirao's dagger, which he gives to Mastani, has a cheetah on its end. This reinforces the idea that not only Bajirao was skilled in sword-fighting, but had these other two qualities—a remarkable celerity and a razor-sharp vision. If Bajirao was a cheetah, Mastani was a lioness in the jungle. When a lioness gives birth, there are no midwives and nurses, likewise, Mastani does not require any help and gives birth to her son without the services of a midwife. 
The map has cheetah and baaz
The costumes, too, told us about the characters. Mastani is always dressed in lighter colors, with the only exception of red. All her costumes had a single-colored palette and lighter shades. Whether it is the Deewani Mastani song, the blue lehengas, the yellow lehengas, or the white lehengas, everything seems to be in lighter shades, and they do not have a contrasting color. 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. It is an indication of the many worldly emotions of Kashibai from love, happiness, joy, fear, while Mastani is only interested in the one emotion of love, and red signifies that love.
At another instant, Kashibai tells Bajirao to not come into her chambers anymore; she is trying to light off the diyas. She cannot reach the height, so, Bajirao takes the stick and puts them off, just like their relationship seems to have run its course. 

In Bundelkhand, when Bajirao is to leave the next day, Mastani visits him in the middle of the night and gives a paan to him. When Mastani comes to Shaniwar Wada, after she sings Deewani Mastani, Bajirao welcomes her by giving paan. The betel leaf has been a part of Hindu tradition for a long time, even shown in some miniature paintings depicting Krishna offering paan beeda to Radha. There is an amorous quality associated in giving a heart-shaped leaf to one's lover; perhaps, that is why paan continues to be romanticized in films. At a later point, Kashibai also gives a paan to Bajirao when he visits her when she tells him she is pregnant. The way she gave the paan to him was an indication that she saw that he had given Mastani the paan. He thinks that she does not know anything, but she is smart and intuitive. She says, "Yeh chaand bhi na kabhi is badli ke peeche, kabhi us badli ke peeche," with a reference of the moon to Bajirao's hidden relationship with Mastani.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Kashibai and Bajirao's mother are sewing the flag and talking about how they are similar to each other. Kashibai says that all through the years, she was Bajirao's parchhai and without telling, he went into darkness. A shadow does not exist in the darkness, making her question her existence. In that scene, we see her image in the mirror in a box near her. It is a lovely scene, and her image is clearly seen even in the room's darkness. The image is a classic trope in Bhansali's films. In a gorgeous scene in Saawariya, Sakina's image is projected in the mirrors. In Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram-Leela, Leela's image is seen in a mirror. Early in the film, Mastani is seen holding a rose in front of a mirror. One of the most aesthetic scenes in the film involves Bajirao's image projected on a mirror. After that, Maa Saheb compares their lives to a mango tree; even though the mango might be the king of fruits, but it is the one that has to bear the most stones. Perhaps, Maa Saheb used this as a reference to her own husband's infidelity during his life, or maybe she misses the presence of her husband in her life and can understand Kashi's plight. The two of them were bonding by sewing a saffron flag—the flag of their kingdom—as if they were bound together by tradition and their helplessness to change the nature of their relationships. In the process, they 'sew' a bond with each other. In Saawariya, Sakina used to weave carpets. One welcomes the other by putting the best carpet. Sakina kept waiting for Imaan and wove the finest kaaleen to welcome him in her heart. Here, we see two women talk about relationships while sewing a flag. 
Love is the permanent state of intoxication for Bajirao and Mastani. Mastani's eyes flow with love for Bajirao; the moment she falls in love with Bajirao till the end, her eyes seem watery as if she is intoxicated by love. In the same way, Bajirao, too, is inebriated in her love. At one point, he even says, "Kaun nashe me nahi hai? Hum sab nashe me hai." Bajirao's eyes are seen to have a red blood color lining. Their love is so strong that she flows in his body like blood. He cannot exist without her, and 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.
Nature and its elements are a significant part of Bhansali's oeuvre. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Nandini is depicted as nature's finest creation in Manmohini Tera AdaTujh me hai kudrat saree khoyee khoyee. In Black, Michelle McNelly's first words are not mother or father, but water. It was a new birth for her where she was immersed in the water at the fountain. In Bajirao Mastani, too, nature is a character in itself. The sky changes its color depending on the mood. When Mastani sings Mohe Rang Do Laal with her gulaal hands, the sky turns red. When Mastani is welcomed for the first time by Kashibai, the sky seems to be changing color from grey to red. When there is death, it rains as if the sky is crying.
Water, too, plays an important part in Bajirao's life. He crosses a river going wild in the middle of a stormy night to meet Mastani. He is seen walking in the water many a time. When he calls upon the Nizam, he walks through the water. When he visits Mastani, he stands in the water, surrounded by lovely fountains, and calls her to join him. Later, Kashibai invites him into the water; however, there are no fountains because his fountain of love is now for Mastani. In the final scene, death comes to Bajirao in water. Perhaps, water represents the purity of his thoughts, his actions, his intentions, and his love. In Black, water represents purity and clarity of thought, helping Michelle realize that words have meaning. In that film, too, the fountain formed an important part. Michelle's first word is spoken by her in the water at a fountain; in the end, Debraj also learns his first-word 'water' from Michelle near a fountain. The magnificent poster of the film depicts Bajirao and Mastani standing in water, surrounded by lotuses, with tiny streams of water beneath and behind them. They are holding hands; perhaps, their love is like a fountain itself, sustaining them like the fountain of life.
If there is sky and water, the fire would catch up soon. There is a fire in almost every scene in the film. Mastani uses the fire to light her arrow, Kashibai uses the fire to glow the diyas, and Bajirao uses fire to stop the zeher of the wound he inflicted from spreading in Mastani's body. This fire is also a subtext for the burning passion of the characters. One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is when Kashibai is sitting over a golden statue of a cheetah-lion hybrid, with a fire burning in front of her. This fire is her state of mind, burning with desire for Bajirao as Mastani seems to have become the object of her husband's affection. 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 was starting to extinguish. It is Mastani who now ignites the fire in him. However, Kashibai's heart still beats for him, and sits on the animal statue, which is a reference to Bajirao.
And, then, there is nature itself. Bajirao wears a navgriha ring, made up of nine planets. Yeh dharti, yeh aasman, yeh toofaan, aur yeh seene ki aag ko sakshi manke, aaj se hum aap ko apni patni maante hai. Nature—the earth, the sky, the wind, the water, and the fire in his heart—becomes the sole witness to their communion. It is as if nature has blessed them. In the end, he says that they will meet the next time when the sky will have the setting sun and the rising moon; that day, the sky will change its colors; the winds of desire will be blowing; the clouds will be thundering; the dry leaves will be swishing; and, there will be an untimely rain. There will be no barriers of religion, no earthly relationships, only fire, the fire of their love. Again, nature and its elements provide the conditions for their eternal union. Bajirao might have won forty wars, but he couldn't win the one he fought for Mastani. It is only in death, that they will be able to meet forever.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is in love with the peacocks. Ram-Leela was full of peacocks. Every song in that film had a peacock reference, and Ram was compared to a peacock in the film. Even Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was teeming with peacocks. His love for peacocks is immense that even the symbol of Bhansali Productions is a peacock. Expectedly, Bajirao Mastani has peacock references. There is not only a peacock feather but patterns of peacock feathers on the palace walls and the floors, the diyas, the earrings, and the lamps. When Mastani is sent to live in the red light area, a woman jokingly calls her a morni. When she visits Mastani Mahal for the first time, we can hear a peacock screaming in the background. There are also many lotuses in the film. When Bajirao visits the Aaina Mahal, Chimaji tells him he is standing on a lotus. There are lotus flowers in Kashibai's and Mastani's rooms. Even the film's gorgeous poster is teeming with flowing pink lotuses. The song Aaj Ibaadat says, "Om Jai Jai Om, mangalam pundarikaaksham manglaaye tano Hari." All auspiciousness to the one who has eyes like petals of a lotus flower. And auspiciousness to Krishna. Krishna is associated with peacocks and lotuses; not only do they add to the Krishna reference, but the presence of these symbols also underscores the spiritual and divine elements in his earlier films and in Bajirao Mastani. His heroes and heroines are embodiments of gods and goddesses. 
Each frame of the film is so exquisite that one cannot help but marvel at this painting. It is truly like poetry in motion. The film stuns with its visual resplendence. At so many points, I was just smiling to myself and thinking about its brilliance. One can't help but be mesmerized by it. When that scene comes where they project Bajirao's image in Kashibai's room, it is similar to when Kashibai sees Bajirao and Mastani together—what a thought, what a scene. The top shots, another signature element of his films, are breathtaking. The symmetrical top shot of the priests eating from green leaves, the shot of women dressed in red at Mastani's father's place in preparation for the pyre, the Gajanan song sequence, and even the way that the peacock logo of his production house is made in the title credits using gulaal is marvelous.
Like any Bhansali film, all the songs are splendidly choreographed. The song Deewani Mastani is a dream song on the big screen. Its beauty is unparalleled. I was waiting for this song to come. Just the top shots of the song are worth the price of the film's ticket. The song is a glorious homage to one of the most iconic songs of Hindi cinema—Jab Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya from Mughal-E-Azam. Madhubala, dancing in front of the emperor of India, declared her love for Salim and completely defied the world. At one point in the song, she sings, "Chhup na sakega ishq hamara, chaaron taraf hai unka nazaara." Her images are then reflected across the mirror walls of the palace. She is everywhere. Mastani enters the Shaniwar Wada for the first time. She comes dressed in a golden lehenga, wearing a golden Peshwa topi and a golden nose ring, holding an intricately carved golden mandolin. The golden color matches the walls of the palace. There is a special significance of the golden color and the matching of the color of her dress and the color of the palace. A palace signifies something strong, grand, and brave. Mastani shares these characteristics with the palace. Her story will stand the test of time, like the walls of the palace, which are a testament to this era. She sings, "Mashoor mere ishq ki kahani ho gayi. Kehte hai yeh deewani mastani ho gayi." Her love story has become famous, and she has become mad in love. And, this story of hers will be written in 'golden' letters in the annals of history. As they say, itihaas ke sunehre aksharon me likha jayega. Like Anaarkali, she defied the orders of Maa Saheb, and comes to meet Bajirao. As Anarkali's love was everywhere in the walls of Aina Mahal, so was Mastani everywhere in the palace. The palace will be a testimony to her timelessness. Her sillage will linger in the palace walls for generations to come. Perhaps, that explains the amalgamation of Mastani and the palace in the song. In numerous interviews, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has said that whenever he makes a film for posterity. His characters are destined for posterity, too. 
In Devdas, Paro and Chandramukhi, the two women who loved the same man, had danced together on Dola Re. In Bajirao Mastani, the two wives of Bajirao dance together in Pinga. Kashibai and Mastani are dressed in a traditional Marathi silk saree with a traditional necklace, a khopa hairdo, and green bangles. The only difference between them seems to be the color of the saree. While Kashibai is wearing a purple one, Mastani is wearing a dark-red one. This contrast symbolizes the personalities of these two women. Kashibai is royal and regal. 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, and the film's poster, Kashibai is dressed in purple hues. In fact, Kashibai always carried a purple stroll with her. On the other hand, Mastani, true to her name, is dressed in dark red, as red is a color of passion and determination. At one point in the song, she sings, "Haan tu jaane yeh duniyadari, main to hu bas mohabbat ki maari." She does not care about worldly stuff, she is only immersed in her divine love. Pakeezah hasti hai teri, tu noorani hai. There is another moment in the song when Mastani sits in front of Kashibai, which reflects her lower stature as the second wife. This similitude in the costumes indicates that both love the same man. Both of them share the love for and by Bajirao, with changes in color underscoring the difference in their personalities. In fact, at one point, they even sing, "Jo peer meri hai so peer teri hai." What I worship, you worship it, too. In Dola Re, Paro and Chandramukhi dressed almost identical with no difference even in the colors, which reflected the shared love for the same man. At one point in that song, Paro advises Chandramukhi to put sindur, and gestures a movement where she puts sindur in Chandramukhi's maang, and then puts it in her own head, pointing that they both love the same man, although they don't know it. Here, they sing, "Are dono ki maang laage, sooni aadhi, aadhi laal." Like their half-filled maang, they share the half-love of a man who can never be completely theirs. It is a beautiful thought. 
Not only Deewani Mastani, but the beautiful song Mohe Rang Do Laal is also inspired by Mohe Panghat Pe Nand Laal from Mughal-E-Azam. In that song, Anarkali playing Radha sings, "Mori najuk kalaiyaa marod gayo re." Here, Mastani sings, "Marodi kalaai mori." The similarity of lyrics, the presence of the fountains, the sitting women playing veena, and the audience comprising the dancer's would be lover in the two songs leave no room for doubt that this is a tribute to Mughal-E-Azam. In addition, the scene where Mastani is in chains is reminiscent of Anarkali in chains. The thumri that plays in the background when Bajirao and Kashibai are engaged in coitus seems to have been inspired by Mughal-E-Azam. Even in Mughal-E-Azam, Anarkali danced on the floors with lotus paintings, like here. "Mohabbat jo darti hai, vo mohabbat nahi aiyyashi hai," said Salim; "Bajirao ne Mastani se mohabbat ki hai, aiyyashi nahi," said Bajirao. In many interviews, Bhansali has said that Mughal-E-Azam is his favorite film. He watched it with his father every year when he was growing up. Even in Saawariya, Imaan, Sakina and Badi Ammi watch Mughal-E-Azam, and Badi Ammi remembers all the dialogues from that film. With Bajirao Mastani, he reinforces his immense love for that film.
Albela Sajan that was also in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, is recreated in Bajirao Mastani, and is a delightful classical composition. I also very much enjoyed Malhari despite the criticism that was hurled at it. It is a totally energetic and infectious song. My biggest disappointment was the song I liked the most, Ab Tohe Jane Na Dungi, was not there in the film. The background score comprising Ji Re Ji Re is so enthralling that it lifts up the scene by a few notches. I wish they release that as a track, too.

Ranveer Singh as Bajirao delivers a stupendous performance. The way he walks, the way he speaks, and the way he shows his aggression, he brings the gravitas required for the role. Bajirao says Mastani was his prerna, and Kashi was his taakat. He knows that maintaining relationships is more difficult than making relationships. He stops meeting Mastani because he wants to tell Kashi about his relationship with Mastani first because she is his friend and confidant, and he respects his relationship with her. The film enters into interesting territory when Mastani says to Kashi that if he held her hand, he did not let go of Kashi's either. Can one be in love with two women at the same time? Undoubtedly, he loved Mastani, maybe even more than Kashi, but did he stop loving Kashi? I have always wondered if human beings are destined to be monogamous. I think one can be in love with two people simultaneously; perhaps the intensity of love might vary. For instance, take a film such as Kal Ho Naa Ho. Naina is in love with Aman, but she gets married to Rohit. Aman was her first love, and she says that she will always remember him. Aman died, but she never stopped caring for him. What if Amar did not die? Would she stop loving Aman? Coming back, when Bajirao is sick, he asks about Mastani, but he also asks about Kashi. He never forgets her. Or maybe love dissipated and she turned more into a friend.
Deepika as Mastani looks ravishing. One can imagine her to be the woman Mastani was, but somehow, her passion got slightly subdued in the second half. Without a doubt, she was the most intriguing character. The first time we see her, she comes to ask for help from Bajirao to save her kingdom. Later, she even fights the war with him. Why does her father not go into the war with her? She is fighting the battle to save her kingdom, putting her life in danger. Moreover, she was not even the legitimate heir to her father, as Mastani's mother never married her father. That made me wonder if that drove her desire to be accepted by Bajirao's family. Bajirao had told her that she would be humiliated forever if she married him, and she gladly accepted. Maybe that was another reason she never rebelled against his family. She accepted to live in the house of a prostitute and even stayed in a khandar. Love makes her lose her identity. There is a fascinating scene where she is sent to the prostitute's house. She takes out her sword and practices with it. Perhaps, that was her way of channeling out her anger. Something violent in its conception can be therapeutic for her. Love also brings a certain intuitive and magical power. I liked how she could sense that Bajirao was coming to meet her. Even in the climax, she can sense that something is not right. 
My favorite character was Kashibai. It is a very well-written character, and Priyanka Chopra flies with it. She stole the show from everyone. She accepted the role knowing it was not the lead one, and still managed to get all the accolades. She stars in an international TV show, brings out her own album, and shines in any role. Priyanka, you go, girl. The character of Kashibai was inspired by Raja Ravi Varma paintings. At one point, when she is sitting and crying in her chambers with the white swan, that scene is a replica of a Raja Ravi Varma painting. Kashibai was the wronged one, we sympathize with her, but we don't pity her. She does not become desperate or vengeful, boiling for Mastani's blood. In fact, she does not even care for paraye people when Bajirao says that he and Mastani must have hurt her. She was more hurt by the wounds inflicted by apne. She never loses her self-respect, but at the same time, can convey that she is hurt. She wishes she was the beloved than the wife because a wife is forgotten, and history remembers the preyasi. Still, she goes on doing her duties as a wife. She will welcome Mastani in her palace, but not in her heart. She never loses her humanism when she could have easily got Mastani killed when she got to know that there was an attack planned on Mastani. But she goes and conveys to Bajirao about the impending attack. That scene spoke volumes about the strength of her character. Eventually, she goes and meets Mastani in her palace. She makes some hurtful comments but then realizes that since Mastani is special to her husband, she has to come around. Rao ko tumhari zaroorat hai, aur unki zaroorat ka khayal rakhna hamari zaroorat hai. The sacrifice of the wronged lover is a repeating trope in Bhansali's work, and somehow, this wronged lover triumphs by the strength of his character. Be it Vanraj, Chandramukhi, Gulaab ji, or Kashibai. These characters understand love much more deeply because, to them love lies in the happiness of the lover, even if it brings pain to them. As Nandini said, "Tumne mujhe pyaar karna sikhaya, magar pyaar nibhaana maine apne pati se seekha hai." Kashibai knows the real meaning of love and comes out as the bigger person in the end. Rukmini may or may not be forgotten, but Kashibai will live forever.
In many instances, I was reminded of Jodhaa Akbar. For instance, at one point, Kashibai is watching Bajirao taking a bath. In Jodhaa Akbar, Jodhaa watches Akbar practicing his sword, and he tries to entice her to keep looking at him. When Mastani says, "Adhuri mulakat hi to phir se milne ka vaada hota hai", I was somehow reminded of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna where Dev says, "Alvida nahi, alvida kehne se phir milne ki ummeed mar jaati hai, kya pata phir mile." 
It was a bit disheartening to see the largest-ever disclaimer put in the movie that this is a work of fiction. I am amused by the protests and criticism that it is trying to distort history. Do people really believe that Akbar's son was Salim, as shown in Mughal-E-Azam? It was a work of fiction. There was opprobrium that he made Paro and Chandramukhi dance together in Devdas. Devdas was a work of fiction, so is it a crime to interpret a story in one's own way? Aren't there nearly three hundred versions of Ramayana?

In an interview with Anupama Chopra, Sanjay revealed that he makes grand sets to ward off his childhood claustrophobia. His sets are a mélange of the emotions of his characters. There is so much happening in the movie that one viewing is simply not enough to capture all the details. I remember reading a few pieces when Avatar had released. Critics had praised it as the movie that took people back to the theaters for it made people rediscover the experience of watching the movie on the big screen. Even though Hindi cinema has always been larger than life, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one of those few filmmakers whose films seem to have a magical hold on the big screen. Bajirao Mastani is a film that needs to be experienced on the big screen. Bajirao Mastani is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Sanjay Leela Bhansali. A character in the movie says, "Chandan ke vriksh ko bhi sugandh dene kiye ek umar ki aavashakta hoti hai." A sandalwood tree takes more than a decade before it is harvested for its fragrance. Strange are the things how life works. It took more than a decade to make this film. Maybe it is destiny, where the cosmos conspires to find the right time. As chandan's fragrance lasts forever, the fragrance of the movie will continue to enthrall in the coming future.
Other Reading:
1. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (link)
2. On Black (link)

Dialogue of the Day:
"Har dharam mohabbat sikhata hai, par mohabbat ka to koi dharm nahi hota. Vo khud apne aap me ek dharam hai."
—Mastani, Bajirao Mastani

P.S.—The film was dedicated to his parents, Lady Popo and S. Lady Popo is his dog but did S mean Salman Khan?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tamasha—Of Stories, and Storytellers

Victor Fleming's magical film The Wizard of Oz has a character called Tin Woodman. The Tin Woodman of Oz is made of shiny hallow silver tin and cleverly combined. He rattles a little as he moves but can bend his joints and get around when properly lubricated. He was once a normal man before being tragically turned into his current form of tin, having his meat body replaced by a metal one with no internal organs. He strongly craves a heart so that he can love again. Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha opens on a stage with two characters. One is dressed in a silver metallic costume inspired by the Tin Woodman. This mechanical character follows a daily mundane routine of going to the office, coming back from the office, getting scolded by the boss, and never telling anyone anything about it. 42 seat ki bus me jo 142 log chhadte hai, unme se ek tu hi to hai. Like countless others, he is stuck somewhere between dil and duniya. The other character who introduces this Tin Woodman is dressed as a clown and says she is the dil ki aawaaz of this robot. Like the Tin Woodman lost his heart and wanted it back the most, this robot does have a heart but seems to have separated from his dil ki aawaaz. Finding that dil ki aawaaz—the heart's voice—is Tamasha's theme. 
Tamasha is essentially the story of Ved Vardhan Sahni (Ranbir Kapoor). The story begins in Corsica. He meets Tara Maheshwari (Deepika Padukone). They decide to spend some time together without revealing their true identities as to who they are in real life. He says he is Don, while she says she is Mona Darling. They decide that they will not meet again in their life. But as it happens, Tara falls in love with Ved. Four years later, she looks for him in a cafe hoping that she will bump into him. She does. He introduces himself as Ved, a product manager in a firm. They agree to go out, but soon Tara realizes this is not the Ved she fell in love with. The point of conflict between Tara and Ved is this dual personality of Ved, where Tara is in love with the Ved whom she met in Corsica, while he thinks he was only playing a role then. She breaks off with him. She tells him that he is suffering from a complex. He angrily tells her that she is behaving as if she is a psychiatrist and he is her patient. And then begins his journey of self-realization. About finding who he really is. There are periodic flashbacks of his childhood in Simla, where he was fascinated by stories. He goes and listens to stories from a storyteller baba. The baba is nobody but Imtiaz himself who is giving us these stories. He imagines that he is playing one of the roles from the stories he listens to. Shakespeare said, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages." Life is a stage of the drama, and we are all actors playing our respective parts. Or, in other words, this world is a tamasha, perhaps, which explains the film's title is also Tamasha, and the presence of many plays and stories in the film. The film is broken down into acts—Teja Ka Sona, Ishq Vala Love, Andar Ki Baat, Don Returns—as if this is a Shakespearean play. The continuously changing looks of Ved, from clean-shaved, French beard, and unkempt, at different stages of life point to the larger Shakespearean stage theme. Many times, Ved talks to himself in the mirror. He sees many versions of himself. It is this internal journey of finding out who his real self is that he has to deal with, and Tara will help him in that.
At one point in the movie, Tara finds that Ved is reading Joseph Heller's iconic novel Catch-22. Heller's novel is set during World War II. It follows the adventures of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the Air Force stationed on Pianosa, a fictionalized island in the Mediterranean between mainland Italy and Corsica. The book has themes of mental disorders and schizophrenia. The book's title Catch-22 refers to a paradoxical situation and is based on a bureaucratic rule focusing on the sanity of flying pilots. The novel has a distinctive non-chronological style where events are described out of sequence so that the timeline develops along with the plot. Joseph Heller himself was stationed in Corsica at some point in his life. The more I think, the more it feels that perhaps Tamasha is, in some ways, a tribute to Catch-22. Like the novel set near Corsica and Heller himself being posted there, a majority of the action in Tamasha takes place in Corsica. Like there are themes of mental disorder in the characters in Catch-22, there are similar themes of schizophrenia in Ved in Tamasha. Like the novel does not follow any chronological order, Tamasha meanders back and forth between the different times, between the past and the present. Like the title of Catch-22 where something is stuck between two impossible choices, our hero is stuck somewhere dil and duniya. This perhaps explains what Ved and Tara were doing in Corsica. Tara said her favorite comic is Asterix in Corsica, in which Asterix and Obelix rescue a Corsican prisoner named Boneywasawarriorwayayix from a nearby Roman camp. She had always wanted to visit there. So, she comes to Corsica, while Ved had his Catch-22 reasons for coming to Corsica. 
At some point in Corsica, there are shots of a Cathedral, and prayer is sung. Immediately after that, we see Tara and Ved run towards a lake and put their faces in the crystal clear water. The water is as pure as the emotion of love, and the act of dipping their faces in the water is like they have been baptized in this virgin love. They have immersed themselves in the holy waters of this pristine emotion. Being dressed in ‘spotless’ white, they have tasted this ‘unblemished’ love. They then sit in this garden under the tree and talk about the forbidden act of making love. At an earlier point, Ved had said the time they are in is "Once upon a time." It is like this is once upon a time when Adam and Eve are in this garden of Eden with no one else around. Like in the Bible, where Eve consumed the forbidden fruit, here, too, Tara makes the first move and breaks their pact when she is about to leave Corsica.
Imtiaz brings in some fine nuances that further underscore the characters' motivations. When Ved and Tara go on a date, he brings flowers for her and then takes them from her and says, "Isko main backseat pe rakh deta hun," as if he has actually put his persona from Corsica on the backseat. When they started going on dates often, he glanced at his watch whenever he said goodbye. It was as if he even timed his goodbyes; he had become such a slave to this daily routine that even the calendar he had in his office had a clock. He even makes sure that his phone is silent even in the midst of a kissing session. When Tara said goodbye to him from her apartment, the window was never clear; at all times when she said goodbye, there were blinds on the window, as if something was not clear between them, and they were not being transparent with each other. When Ved's boss sees him without a tie, he screams at him. Of course, the tie was a metaphor that he should remain tied to the rules and that he cannot break free. I was also intrigued by the ugly sweaters that Ved wore; not only it was a throwback to Rishi Kapoor's infamous ugly sweaters, but also, in many ways, it was quite representative of an aspect of his personality that he was trying to hide. Be it his childhood, his adolescence when he is leaving for college, or when he is in Delhi at his workplace, he is always wearing a sweater or a jacket, while Tara does not wear any, even if it is cold. The only noteworthy time he took the sweater out was when he finally narrated the story of his childhood to his father, when he finally became free.
One of the most moving scenes in the film is when Ved realizes he is the master of his own story. No one is going to tell him how his story will end. The storyteller baba calls him a coward and says, "Dil me Heer liye, aur Heer khoje veerane me?" He tells him to create his own story. He then runs out on the streets of Simla, meets a procession, and starts dancing like a dervish, immersed in his newfound freedom. At this moment, nothing else matters except his own self. A feeling of letting go, like a pehli udaan of a bird who has learned to fly confidently. He seems to have finally found his dil ki aawaaz, symbolized by the two clowns he meets on the way. Later, we see more clowns, his dil ki aawaaz, in his office. In the beginning moments of the film, we see clowns on the mirrors in his room, but once he grows up, there are no more clowns. This dil ki aawaaz that he seemed to have lost has come back. It follows him everywhere, like the clowns that follow him in the moments of Safarnama
The young Ved is hooked on stories. "Stories sunata rehta hai," says his teacher. He steals money from his parents to pay a fakir baba who tells him stories. The fakir tells him a range of stories and sometimes mixes them up. He mixes Ramayana with Helen of Troy. Brahma hai ya Ibrahim, Moses hai ya Musa, Hindu hai ya Indus, Jesus hai ya Isa, Jamuna hai ya Yamuna. It does not matter; all stories have the same elements. Bas maza lo kahani ka. In a profound moment, we see a picture hung on a tree behind the storyteller baba; the picture is of Pandit Ravi Shankar with George Harrison of the Beatles, who gave the world a fusion of Indian classical music with Western music, again highlighting the sameness of our stories and the fusion of our cultures. If this was not enough, we see Sanyukta doing her swayamvar in a Church.
Many times, it feels like Imtiaz is referring to his films in Tamasha. When Ved and Tara are traveling in Corsica, we see a special focus on the shots of mountains at the crossings and turns, like we saw in Highway. The daily routine of Ved reminds me a lot of Main Kya Hun from Love Aaj Kal. In Jab We Met, Aditya launched a calling card Geet—Dil Ki Baat, and here we see Dil Ki Aawaaz. Like always, all his heroines are engaged or married to the wrong person, realizing they love someone else. Like Aditi, Geet, Meera, Heer, and Veera, Tara is in a relationship with someone, but she breaks off that relationship after returning from Corsica. Like Veer and Harleen loved tea in Love Aaj Kal, a reference for love; here, Tara owns a tea business. Like everything in Love Aaj Kal had bridges, Tamasha, too, has the signature bridge shot of Howrah bridge. Much water has flown under the bridge. Like Aditya owned and worked in a telecom firm, Ved is a product manager at MCM Tech Telecom. Like Yeh Dooriyan gave a brief overview of the film at the beginning, we see Tara and Ved introduced like the characters of a mythology drama without their formal introduction. Ved says, "Yahan se kai kos door, dil aur duniya ke beech." Somehow, it reminded me of Rumi's quote in Rockstar. "Pata hai, yahan se bahut door, galat aur sahi ke paar, ek maidan hai, main vahaan milunga tujhe," which means, "Away beyond all concepts of wrong-doing and right-doing, There is a field. I'll meet you there." Tamasha is inspired by another Rumi quote, "Don't be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth." This also fits with the film's tagline. Why always the same story? Any Imtiaz Ali film is based on the journey of characters. All his films have an element of the journey in this. In Tamasha, Ved takes a safarnama to find his true self.
Imtiaz gives a lot of messages in the second half, some of which are far too simplistic. Ved wants to tell stories but ends up being a product manager. His real persona talks to the mountains and drinks water from the river like an animal. Imtiaz's message is that being stuck in a job for which you have no passion will make you mediocre and stop you from performing to your full potential. So, he should do something he really wants; else, he will remain an average person. Ved's father had said that if he did what he wanted in his life, who would feed the family? In one of the most beautiful scenes in the film, Ved is having a conversation with an auto-rickshaw driver who sings Tu Meri Aashiqui Hai. The driver wanted to be a singer, but then life happened, and he got busy with that. He says, "Andar se kuch aur hi aur bahar se majboor." But what is Ved's majboori? He can do what he wants? As Ved says to his father, "Main hun na apna dushman, kar hi raha hun, khud ko barbad." His fight is with his inner self, and he needs to overcome that. Why does he need to hold himself between the two extremes? Like the auto-rickshaw at least tries to remain connected to his singing, has Ved tried to do something that gives him happiness? No one has forced him to follow this routine. Thus, his biggest enemy is himself. Not the world, not his parents, not Tara, but he. It is his own story, so he has the power to change its end. Ending change kar lenge

Tamasha also briefly touches on the mental disorder and schizophrenia. Ved is a tormented soul; he never shows his true feelings. He goes into his room and cries. He pretends that he is happy in front of his friends. When Tara breaks off with him, it actually touches a 'raw nerve' in him. It triggers a sort of split personality. On one side, he is trying to behave politely like a gentleman, not showing any feelings to her, but on the other, he is filled with anger. This comes out when he is outside Tara's house and behaves weirdly. This behavior continues at the party he goes to and later with his boss. It is like he is dealing with many personalities inside him. When he narrates the story of a character called 'Hero' to his father, it is inspired by his own life. Hero has studied engineering and has been a pliant person all his life. He follows a daily routine. One day, Hero moves away to a far-off place, somewhere between 'dil' and 'duniya,' and finds a partner. Ved narrates the story of 'Hero' and introduces himself as 'Don,' one of the most famous 'villains' of Hindi cinema. Thus, Hero has both the shades of a hero and a villain. It, then, makes sense that the counterpart of Ved's Hero is Don. It is also worth noting that the character of Don in Don had two personalities—an evil one and a good one. This Don is not only based on Amitabh Bachchan but also imbibes Dev Anand. Also interesting is the presence of two names in his name—Ved Vardhan and the way he calls Tara Mona Darling. He says, "Toh main aapko Mona kahu ya Darling," which points out that he cannot think that Mona Darling (or Mata Hari) can be one person. At one point in Japan, a man even says, "The bipolar behavior of the metropolitan consumer," which re-validates the themes of bipolarity in the film.
In Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par, Ishaan Awasthi suffered from dyslexia. Ishaan had his own world where mathematical problems seemed creatures from another universe to him. "Every child is special," preached Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) to Ishaan's father. In a similar way, Tamasha is a Taare Zameen Par for adults. Like Ishaan, Ved hates maths. Ved says that childhood is like a snake, and during childhood, every child is told that he is special. Once that child grows up, that snake is killed, and everybody becomes a rat, trying to win a rat race that no one knows it is about, only that everyone wants to win the race. They all become mediocre, and lakeer ke phakeers. That was one issue where I felt that pace dropped in the second half. It felt I have scene this story before.

The film ends in Japan. When Ved and Tara went on their first date, they went to a Japanese restaurant. Perhaps, there is some connection to Japan. "Companies are the latest countries, and countries hare the latest companies," he had said. It is entirely befitting that the place where they finally meet is a tea conference, and the building's board says Oracle. Tea is a symbol of love in Imtiaz's oeuvre. The storyteller baba had told Ved to find his own story, and he has finally been able to do that. His prophecy has become true.
Deepika Padukone as Tara is simply fabulous. At one point in Corsica, Ved calls her Madhubala and says he wants her to act in his film. Deepika is indeed turning out to be Madhubala. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani pays tribute to Madhubala in Deewani Mastani and calls it a coincidence or the writings of fate that Deepika plays Mastani and gives a glorious tribute to Madhubala. Deepika as Tara makes us forget her character's underwritten and missing parts. Even though it is Ranbir's show, somehow, Deepika came out as memorable for me. She made us care for her. In the scene where she is sitting in the car after she says one last goodbye to Ved in Corsica, we can feel what is going on in her mind. The way she walks up and down the stairs twice in hesitation, in Corsica and in Delhi. The way she confesses her love to Ved. The way she says, "Really?" when Ved compliments her. Deepika channelizes Tara's pain beautifully. Deepika is love. She is emotionally mature; she understands Ved so easily when no one else does. She is the one who brings a change in him. She is the one who shows him the light in the darkness of the night, like a tara—a star. Finding life through love is a central theme in Ali's films. But it gives me such pleasure that the film recognizes Tara's role. Unlike in Jab We Met and Rockstar, although Geet and Heer bring a transformation in Aditya and Jordan, no one knows the story of change, but Ved, in front of an entire audience, thanks her and lays down on the stage floor in ibadat of Tara. She is the one who completely deserves all the applause for his change. I wanted more of Tara in the film, especially in the second half. I wanted to know why she was alone at the parties. I wanted to know why she celebrated her birthday alone. I wanted to know what music she was listening to on her headphones. And that one hug in Agar Tum Saath Ho where she does not let go of Ved is harrowing. It will remind me of a time of devastating heartbreak, a time of a wretched state, and a time of numbing hopelessness.
Ranbir Kapoor is fabulous as Ved. He plays everything to perfection and proves yet again why he is one of the best actors of this generation. He gets into the skin of the character. A lot of talks is going on that Ranbir is back, but when did he ever leave? Even in Bombay Velvet, his performance was terrific. The kid who played his childhood resembles Ranbir a lot and was first noticed in Bombay Velvet. AR Rahman's music and Irshad Kamil lyrics sync perfectly with the mood of the film. Safarnama and Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai are infectious. What I also liked was the use of cinematography where Ved's character is shown in dark many times, as if a reflection of his inner struggle.
At one scene in the film, Ved is giving a presentation and behind him is a slide showing input, output, analytics. In my real life, I do the exact same thing, yes the exact same thing. When Ved's boss makes a statement that his work is average, but he has only been able to survive because of good behavior, for a second, that someone is talking about me. Sometimes, reality hits you out of nowhere, and a film shows the mirror of reality.
The first half of the film is gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of Before Sunset. My only issue was in the second half, where the film's pace dropped a bit, Tara went missing, and I missed seeing more of the love story. But there is always much to see and think about in an Imtiaz Ali film. I am amazed at the reactions. I have been reading a range of reactions to the movie, from certain people disliking it to loving it, with many variations. Some people loved the first half, and some loved the second half. Find your own story was the message, and it seems that the message seems to have been delivered. Each individual has their own way of connecting with the film. It is funny how things work. Imtiaz Ali would be a happy man.

In Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, a character says, “Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time; as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy: its after-flavor, metallic and corroding, gave me a sensation as if I had been poisoned.” It is the same after-effect that an Imtiaz Ali film has. At one point in the film, Tara says, "Mujhe laga theek ho jayega kyunki hamesha theek ho jata hai. But chaar saal ho gaye abhi bhi vohi haal hai." Poisoned may be too harsh a word, but its effects are ever-lasting. And, we are always ready to be intoxicated by his stories, even though they might be messy. Mess ho gaya, bahut kharab ho gaya
Other reading:
1. RockstarLink
2. Love Aaj KalLink
3. Jab We MeetLink
4. HighwayLink
5. TamashaLink
6. Agar Tum Saath HoLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Mujhe nahi lagta ki tum ordinary ho, tumhare saath hoti ho, toh main special ho jaati hun yaar, to socho tum kya hoge."
Ved's Story, Tamasha

"Hoti ret hai, lagta paani hai."
Ved's Story, Tamasha

P.S.Baradwaj Rangan Sir has written such a splendid piece on Tamasha; it is a must read. Why did I even bother writing this piece?

P.P.S.Will Tamasha start the trend of man buns?