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 in 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 were 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 that 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, and almost forgotten love of Rukmini in the form of Kashibai. Kashibai narrates the story of Rukmini's trepidation on the 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 he 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 it means going against the world, 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 at the same time. 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 meant marriage in Bundelkhand. Later, when Bajirao comes to visit Mastani after crossing the river, he talks about the three challenges that 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 that they got 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 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 of them. Bajirao says even though he fights Muslims, his fight is with Mughals, not with 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 in 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 flag of the kingdom have the eagle and the cheetah in them. In Shaniwar Wada, his room has the same images and statues. Even Bajirao's dagger, the one that 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 had 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. 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 that seems to have to 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 gives 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 the 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 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. In the darkness, a shadow does not exist, making her question her own existence. In that scene, we see her image in the mirror in a box near to her. It is a lovely scene, and her image is clearly seen even in the darkness of the room. 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. Thereafter, Maa Saheb compares their lives to a mango tree; even though 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 are 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 after 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 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.
Nature and its elements are a significant part of Bhansali's oeuvre. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Nandini is depicted as the finest creation of nature 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 of 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 upon 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 is standing in water, surrounded by lovely fountains, and calls her to join him. Later, Kashibai invites him in 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 represented purity and clarity of thought that helps 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, fire would catch up soon. There is fire in almost every scene in the film. Mastani uses the fire to light her arrow, Kashibai uses the fire to glow the diyas, 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 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 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.
And, then there is nature itself. Bajirao wears a navgriha ring, made up of the 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, there will be only fire, the fire of their love. It is again nature and its elements that provide the conditions for their eternal union. Bajirao might have won forty wars, but he couldn't win the one that 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 of 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 in 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 as well as 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, and later, it is the similar sequence 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 of the pyre, the Gajanan song sequence, 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 in complete defiance of 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 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 is Mastani everywhere in the palace. The palace will be a testimony to her timelessness. Her sillage will linger in the walls of the palace 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, it is the two wives of Bajirao who 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 points that both of them 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 also 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 used to watch 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 the immense love that he has 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 such 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, 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 wanted to tell Kashi about his relationship with Mastani first because she was his friend and confidant, and 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? There is no doubt that 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 at the same time, 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 the one 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 think if that drove her desire to be accepted by Bajirao's family. Bajirao had told her that she will be humiliated forever if she marries 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 stays 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 really 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 most favorite character was that of 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 is 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 said 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, is able to convey that she is hurt. She wishes that she was the beloved than the wife because a wife is forgotten and history remembers the preyasi. Still, she goes upon 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 is 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 to her, but then also 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 knew 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 that was 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 itself 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 the reason he makes grand sets is 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?


  1. You catalogued everything, you master protege (of sorts) of SLB- wonder how many people can draw parallels this beautifully. I loved the movie. Going back soon for a second helping :)
    SLB also referred to ram leela- I sat up in wonder when I realized in the 'Mohe rang do laal'- when Deepika smears a little bit of gulaal on her lower lip- gosh are we obsessed or what <3
    I was waiting for this write up rather impatiently. This is great!! Totally worth the wait. Kudos

  2. Pankaj - please start movie reading sessions akin to book reading ones.....the pleasure of discussing several movies while talking about one will be awesome.

  3. Yay, Manvi and Sonia. Glad you liked it :)

    Yes, Rahul - What a great idea :) I have been thinking for sometime to make a podcast or something, will see something. Thank you for reading :)

  4. Dear Pankaj
    I am ur fan now...
    because the way you analyse movie is awesome.

    I always inspired by u.
    Sanjay leela Bhansali is my most favorite director ever...

    It would be honor to be ur friend.
    Keep writing and keep sharing !
    waiting for next...

    and ya i m going to read your all articles from the beginning..

  5. Thanks, Hardik, so touched :)

    Yes, but please don't start reading from 2009, start from 2013 - the earlier me was very silly

  6. Pankaj...every review of yours is a masterpiece. The way you capture nuances is unparalleled. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm a big fan of your writing and i read all your reviews. Thank you for the beautiful melange of words.

    1. Totally love the name deepster!! Isn't Pankaj the most amazing film critic/writer ever!!?? This has to be my star struck fan girl moment ;)

  7. Fantastic is the only word comes out for this brilliant write up, I loved Bajirao-Mastani
    Priyanka steals the show.

  8. Thank you, Deep. I have learnt it from you :-) I am kind of embarrassed that you read this blog, because my movie choices are so bad as compared to yours.

    Thank you again for your kind words :)

  9. Replies
    1. Uff...Panki maar hi daloge modesty ke teeron se :*

  10. There is one more minute detail that SLB puts right in the end of the film when the credits are rolling. When you are leaving the theatre after both Mastani and Bajirao have passed away and credits rolling with "Aaj ibaadat" song playing in background, one cannot ignore the "mangalasthaks" (OM mangalam bhagwaan vishnu, managalam garuda dwaja... OM mangalam pudalikaksham mangalaay tanno hari) in the song which are sung during Marathi marriages. Its as if Bajirao and Mastani are finally married after their death.

  11. You wonder, you. It's like SLB made the movie for you. You're able to absorb everything on his vast canvas. Excuse me while a dislodge this lump of emotion from my throat. You have such an earnest, intelligent and sensitive eye for cinema.

  12. Wow..such a detailed..made me ur fan

    .You forgot to mention ,In the pinga song kashibai says "mere jiya mein utari tune baini piya ki katari"

  13. Hello there. I found your blog as I was randomly messing with google. Let me tell you, the way you put your reviews in words just blows me away. I read a couple of them and loved all of it. You have some really splendid talent. Well, if I were to describe Bajirao Mastani in simple words, I would say "a movie where infidelity is celebrated as love". I would say Mastani was rather selfish for destroying a happy family and an asset warrior. As the saying goes, if you like a flower you pluck it but if you love the flower you will let it grow. Mastani chose to "pluck her flower". Perhaps I reviewed this movie in a negative way because I watched it in the perspective of Kashibai. And I totally agree with you about Kashibai being the favourite character. Nevertheless, I adore everything about the movie, the songs, the backdrop, the acting of all the actors and SLB himself Except the story. Suprisingly, the story irked me. Personally, I could not see it as a passionate fairytale because of the injustice done to kashibai. Im just sharing my opinion. But hey, such beautifully written words there. Loved every line and hoped your reviews never ended. Keep writing. Have a great day

  14. THanks, Rahul, Babuso, Unknown, FluffyJaan for your thoughts :)

  15. The movie is one of the best I've seen in s love by time, Bollywood or Hollywood. I loved kashibai and Rao..I am a big fan of SLB and Deepika; sadly her role was not well written. There are so many dimensions to her character left unexplained or explored. Kashibai had the upper hand, sympathy and a role completely detailed. Had mastani not given birth to Rao's son one would think there relation was platonic.
    Yet the scenes that I carried with me and still do are those of mastani, fighting for her son and her life, bidding him farewell, trying so hard to be accepted by Bajiraos family, her love felt not spoken, never complaining or whining; let us not forget that was an era of polygamy and concubines. You can't judge her by today's standards.
    Beautiful film, great review.

  16. Just awesome comparisons of movie's.

  17. I'm french, et i would love to know what's the meaning of the name Mastani ? Thanks for this article :)

  18. Hi Melyne,
    Mastani means someone who is absorbed in her own world :)

  19. Thank you for your reply, Pankaj :)

    Some people told me that Mastani means " intoxicating ," others told me that Mastani was an Afghan name " Mastana " which mean " carefree "

    I want to know the true meaning of the name Mastani because I want to call my future daughter like that ... Is that a common name in India? Because I can't find much information about it.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Melyne,
      Mastani does mean carefree, someone in her own world, it could be interpreted as someone who is intoxicating, but it is more towards being absorbed in your world, not care about what others say, and someone who is just dancing and twirling in her own world. It is not a very common name in India, it is more of an adjective, though the word mast is more commonly used these days by youngsters to refer to anything that is cool. This also->

  20. Also, sometimes, it is also used as a reference for madness :)

  21. Thank you so much,

    I am very happy with the meaning of the name Mastani. The reason why I want to call my daughter like that,is because, for me Mastani is a powerful woman, I like her carelessness when she said "Kiski talvaar sar pe rakhu ye bata mujhe do, Ishq karna agar Khata ha to do saza mujhe" . I like the way she is passionate and madly in love with Bajirao .The fact that she is a great beauty, but also a warrior princesss. I like her courage, she is an accomplished woman, a lover, a warrior, a mother. I think despite that this film takes place in the 18th century, Mastani is a model for women today, her strength and impetuosity inspire women like me for example. I like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, because his characters and especially women, are strong and full of values. They never give up, the scene where Mastani is imprisoned with her son is one of my favorite, they said that if she returned to Bundelkhand she will be released, but she refuses. Her love is unconditional. Sanjay Leela Bhansali was fascinated by Mastani and I can understand why, in my sens, Mastani is an iconic women as Cleopatra and her love story is epic and will last in the posterity.

    I'm very sorry for my bad english...

    Thank you for your reply, i appreciate that :)

  22. please please tell me what is the song that plays at the end of the bathing scene ? its a classical.

    1. The song that plays is Kaahe tum ab aaye mere dware sauten

  23. I have been obsessing over the music in this film. I yet have to watch it and I can't find it anywhere. I would love to know more of the history of this story. Just reading this review makes me feel love. I can only imagine how the actual story is. Thank you for this incredible review.

  24. Great piece of writing! Now i can relate to the film evenmore


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