Monthly Archives: January 2016

Bajirao Mastani

MILD SPOILERS…

Well then, Bhansali finally has a historical to his name. And I finally have the credit of watching a Bhansali movie on screen – and also kind of liking it. To me, it is not a great movie. But for sure it is a good movie – and far better than the messy, hotchpotch of a movie called Jodhaa Akbar where history and anything pre-fixed to the word ‘story’ went for a toss and the stardom of Aishwarya and Hrithik took over.

The good thing about this film is that Bhansali has at least made an attempt to restrain himself and not get carried away with his indulgences: And this is reflected in how the characters here speak. He has them delivering dialogues in a comparatively controlled-fashion even when they seem to be emotionally mighty weighty. It is actually remarkable and pretty ironic that it is Bhansali who has managed to do that!! Not one character here contorts his or her facial muscles—remember that lady contorting her eye-lashes into a snaky spaghetti in Devdas at the death-scene of Devdas’ father?—and is alarmingly controlled displaying respect to the times and historicity associated with these characters. Acting ‘wild’ might be good when making Spartacus or Nero but not here and it is great fun to see every character respecting the manner in which speech conveyed emotions at that point in time – however light or heavy.

I haven’t read Inamdar’s RAUU [am curious to read it now after this movie] and hence cannot really comment on the ‘escapades’ of Bhansali with available historical records. [Inamdar’s book itself is called a ‘novel.’]. But yes, he makes it clear that he IS on home-ground when it comes to the tag-line of the movie: BAJIRAO MASTANI: The love-story of a warrior. It is a cue to the audience to just treat history as any other story but to treat this movie as THE love story. Coming to the ‘filmy’ part, Bajirao’s introduction is a smart ode to Asif’s that iconic romantic/erotic gesture from Mughal-E-Azam. He used the feather to accentuate the eroticism between Salim and Anarkali. Here, Bhansali uses the feather to display Bajirao’s ‘shastra’ skills! The dismantling of its roots symbolically represents the cutting off of roots of the Mughal Sultanate in Dilli for Bajirao. From here on, the film progresses to show Bajirao’s non-adherence to ‘established’ norms, be they war strategies, his ‘impulses’ on religion, marriage, or relationships.

If there’s one front where Bhansali delivers as he promises, it is the visual arc and narrative of this movie. He painstakingly provides glimpses of the Maratha architecture. ‘Shanivaar Vaada’, the fort of Shahu Maharaj and the Mastani Mahal are truly unique in the sense that one does not relapse into a déjà-vu regarding the depiction of generic ‘palaces’. He has captured the architecture to be quite distinct from what the Indian audiences are used to when it comes to capturing lives of royalty. The ‘Aaina Mahal’ is a distraction—stunning of course—and serves nothing but an endorsement of visual superiority of Bhansali’s imagination. The battle scenes are minimal but do not appear as ludicrous as that of Jodhaa Akbar [the battle-scenes there looked as though kids in 2nd grade were rushing and jostling against one another to lay their hands on Hershey’s chocolates]. The aerial views of battle-grounds are well-shot and do convey visually a sense of ‘largeness’ of the impact and import of the battles.

Bhansali loses it in the final act when he goes all out to his pet obsession – man losing a woman and vice-versa to societal blocks – and resorts to a Romeo and Juliet transference. He literally makes Rao’s death a direct cause of the failure of a ‘love’ story. Yes, it is visually stunning to see Rao thrash his free-flowing sword in the face of an imagined enemy carrying ‘black’ flags [a smart move again to not color the flags ‘green’]. But beyond a point, visuals can only stun you — not move you. And this, alas, Bhansali has yet to learn.

There are some fantastic visuals here that carry the film’s arc forward. And in Hi-fi of today, it is only Bhansali that has this almost-extinct talent of making the visuals talk without words. The Brahmans’ ‘bhojan’ scene; the ‘saptami’ pooja scene; the joint ‘aartis’ praying for the welfare of Rao – these are but just a few of the many, many visual splendors the film offers. In the initial battle scene, after Bajirao strides atop two of his soldiers’ shields and atop the elephant’s trunk and slaughter’s Bangash, he gets down and triumphantly faces Mastani while a ‘saffron’ flag flutters right from across his face: Powerful symbolism here. And when it comes to words and rhymes and shaayari, he is superb too. Krishna Bhatt, the Brahman priest-head – a superb Yatin Karyekar [Kamesh of ‘Shanti’ fame]—thunders about Mastani: ‘Arre ise toh Dargah or Durga ke beech ka pharak bhi nahin pata’. And then Mastani softly ‘thunders’ back: ‘Kesar aur Hare rang ke bare mein toh nahin pata, haan lekin aise log bhe dekhe hain jo rang mein mazhab dekhte hain aur unka zameer ka rang kaala dikhta hain.’ In another scene, Baji Rao makes Brahmans wait but takes his own sweet time to first enjoy Eid feast and then comes to the long-waiting Brahman-feast and brazenly says that he was enjoying Eid feast! Krishna Bhatt is in the background saying ‘Shiva Shiva.’ He then turns back angrily when Chimmaji – Bajirao’s brother – pleads saying the Brahman community cannot insult the Peshwas and retorts, ‘Arre khairat to Masjid mein bhi milta hain’: A fantastic line here, underlining the importance religion as identity and self-worth in those times. Initially, Bajirao thunders to Shahu Maharaj that he won’t rest until ‘Hindu Swaraj’ – note, he doesn’t say ‘Hindu Samrajya’— is established in Hindustaan. Pretty powerful [by powerful I mean ‘unadulterated’] stuff from Bhansali in these ‘intolerant’ times. But then he again tries political correctness with statements from Baji Rao that paraphrased underline that he isn’t against the ‘religion’ of Delhi-rulers but the ‘’dynasty’ – take that Rahul Gandhi— of Mughal Sultanate. Of course, there is no mention of that dreaded phrase, ‘Hindu Pad Paadshahi’. Marxist ‘historians’ would have you believe that this term only originated from Veer Savarkar. But you know the tricks of the trade.

The greatest glory of BM is that Bhansali brings back those grandiose poetry-laden lines to the Hindi screen after a long, lonnnng time. Sample this: ‘Tujhe yaad kar liya hain aayat ki tarah, aab tera zikr hoga ibaadat ki tarah.’ Great! ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ gave folks like me the luxury of dwelling on the Lucknowi ‘tehzeeb’ and this one again gives us the pleasure of going back in time when poetry could be substituted for conversation and conversation for poetry. Another gem: ‘Jab deewaron se jyaada dooriyan dil mein ho jaaye toh chaat nahin tikti.’

Coming to performances, I am in two minds about the glories that Ranveer is getting. He walks dangerously close on that thin red-line separating his inherent ‘taporiness’ to the ‘gravitas’ required of this role. He succeeds most of the times, but also fails almost the same number of times! His personification of Rao comes across more as ‘chichorapan’ than that of a wily war-fox. However, there are some scenes where he does excel: Checkout the scene where he first shows signs of mental imbalance. Priyanka walks out with the meatiest part as a self-suffering ‘legit’ wife. This is author-backed. But to Priyanka’s credit, she does a damn good job. Her first confrontation scene with Deepika’s Mastani is a gem. Also the scene where she comes to offer her saree and other ‘pooja’ paraphernalia to pray for the husband’s longevity is a gem. Watch her when she dismisses Mastani’s rant about ‘dil ka kya kasoor’ scenario right out of the Mastani Mahal window. Great one there! Deepika, however, comes across as the weakest link amongst these three performers. She just couldn’t convince me as a warrior who HAPPENS to be beautiful and musically gifted. There is a lot of lightness to her act and moves that prove to be her undoing.

And PINGA PINGA is the BEST example of Bhansali’s excesses – an absolutely unnecessary, zero value-added song. Just as Bhansali decided to use Madhuri and Aishwarya in Dola Dola, he uses these 2 here. ‘Hey, I got 2 of the hottest heroines of this age. What do I do? Duh, play Ping Pong!!’ And then, you have Ranveer’s Rao trying ultra-hard to speak Marathi-accented Hindi when using words like ‘Kudrat’, ‘Aurat’, ‘pharak’ [instead of ‘farak’]. Surprisingly, all other Marathi-speaking court-members speak in normal Hindi, including Priyanka’s Kashibai! It comes across stagey and emphasized. And go figure, every Marathi-speaking character mentions ‘Poona’, instead of ‘Pune.’ ‘Poona’ is what the Brits would have us believe. Nobody associated to Marathi culture called/calls it Poona.

One of the fantastic, strongly-etched scenes of this movie to me remains that scene between Tanvi Azmi’s Radhabai and Priyanka’s Kashibai where they are stitching a ‘saffron’ cloth. In a rare moment of tenderness, when they are stitching a pretty long yarn of ‘saffron’ they bond with each other saying, ‘Arre Hara rang he seel dete’! And they laugh away hiding beneath years and labyrinths of pain while Tanvi’s Radhabai wipes away a tear.

Tamasha

That Imtiaz Ali has a fine flair for visual flourishes is indeed further cemented with ‘Tamasha’. In ‘Highway’, the prosaic nature of a procedural is captured using dusty cam-visuals while the escapades – if one may call it so—of Bhatt’s character are captured with stunning visuals. In TAMASHA, he again employs the technique: This time, Ranbir’s Ved’s innate talent and ear for story-telling are captured in grainy but colorful visuals of the parallels of Ram-leelas [note especially the shot where you have Raavan with ten-heads interspersed along-side text-books of Math and Geography]. But when Ved actually performs on stage, it is all natural and boisterous. So are the ‘visuals’ of Corsica—extending onto Delhi and Calcutta— that, in a Karan Johar’s or Ayan’s or umpteen Telugu and Tamil pot-boilers would pass off just as bare-minimum visual two-way trips to exotic places without the bureaucratic hassles of a visa. Here, the splendor of visuals does serve some purpose. There is a line that Ranbir utters which can be paraphrased thus: One hasn’t come so far to an unfamiliar/new town to continue living the same old ‘identity’ from a known land. ‘I have come here to traverse that distance between the worldly-life and one’s heart.’

When a human sheds the boxed-definitions of ‘living’ life, even dirt appears less murky. So what happens or what one feels in a picturesque Corsica is anyone’s guess. Of course, Imtiaz uses our films’ traditional elements of song-and-dance in ‘Matargashti’, filling-up the screen with foreigners enjoying in the background; but here, it appears less offensive and more in-line with what the nameless- characters of Ranbir and Deepika are thinking. [It is fantastic thinking/writing that the plot-incident that brings the characters together is that Tara loses her bag containing her ‘identity’ documents [passport, driver’s license, etc., etc.,] and THAT is what propels the discussion between Ranbir and Deepika and their subsequent flow into a bliss of identity-free moments in a foreign-land. They can now be anything: He can be Teja or Don; she can be Mona Darling and no sky would come shattering down. Thus they consume ‘moments’ of identity-unburdened fun before Deepika’s character regains her passport and metaphorically her ‘identity’ and her way back to the known world.

More than 3 years pass—[a very weak spot in the film where the assumption is that 4 years of life’s realities don’t dampen a no-strings-attached ‘relationship’ forged on unknown-identities in a foreign-land: After all, if a country can get intolerant between interviews spaced within two weeks then the assumption of a rich and privileged Deepika’s character longing for those fleeting moments, breaking-up with her boy-friend and staying single – emotionally—for a period of 4 years does sound a bit stretched] – but Deepika’s character isn’t able to forget that ‘Don’ character and his zest- for-life from Corsica and realizes she has fallen in love with him. They then meet [she ‘tricks’ the meeting] and start dating in the ‘real’ world. [Again, these are fantastic shots where every date is captured ‘episodically’ to emphasize ‘bliss’ in real-world: call-meet-watch a movie; call-meet-enjoy some food at a Japanese joint-go back to the girl’s house {they were about to have sex when Pahlaj Nihalani brandished his scissors}; call-meet-propose to the girl in front of friends with that ring of matrimonial-eternity. Uh-oh! It is here that Deepika’s character of Tara finally treads away from Ranbir’s Ved Sahani’s real-world turgid life as a Product Manager in a tech-company where everything is by order and by time [Ved’s ‘routine’ in life on a daily-basis is captured by him wearing a half-sweater, a tie, a blue-tooth ear-piece, eating cereals for break-fast, being harassed by a eunuch at a traffic light, and his wishing a good-morning to his colleagues and his boss [a HILARIOUS Vivek Mushran trying to pass-off as a ‘global’ business-man .] In a finely-detailed scene, when Tara is on the verge of passionately kissing Ved, he is ‘careful’ and ‘decent’ enough to take out his phone and remove his wrist-watch so that it doesn’t ‘disturb’ Tara!].

After Tara’s rejection –the back-ground music and shoot during the break-up is touching— citing that this isn’t the person she met in Corsica, Ved is heart-broken and inadvertently, walks on cinders where he tries to assess what he really-is; what he wants to – whether he wants to — ‘become’ for Tara as she envisioned his ‘true-self’ to be in Corsica; and what he is to the world around him. And there, right there, lies the beauty of the script and the vision. Ved tries to become the ‘zesty’ guy that he was in Corsica for the real-world; for his boss, for his friends and fails miserably – and it is superbly conveyed to the audience through his mirror-talk. It is a lesson-within-a-lesson plot-point where the take-away is that you cannot be true-to-yourself for consumption by others; you have to be true-to-yourself ONLY for your-self. That’s when things ring true to your soul. In scene-after-scene, there is confusion in Ved’s mind about Tara and more importantly, about himself. Where does his soul actually breathe? As the corporate sheep or the unhinged, unshaven guy from Corsica or the kid stealing rupees to listen to a raconteur in the foot-hills of Shimla who starts with passion but loses to business and thus confounds Ramayana with Helen-of-Troy or/and Heer-Ranja or/and Romeo-Juliet. [In a finely-written scene, Ved approaches all-tears to Piyush Mishra and asks him to narrate his {Ved’s} story. How blissfully dis-honest can a person get with one-self when he/she would be so-lost as to depend on another person to ‘complete’ one’s story!]

This is a coming-of-age film –funny how all our films have 30+ actors discovering themselves; except marriage, everything in our country seems to occur too late—delicately managing to chip away at the superficial addressing of such themes tailored to multiplex-audiences. It is, for sure, at least an honest-step forward. Even though both the characters – Deepika’s especially—belong to the educated and the privileged class, Imtiaz doesn’t let them get in the way of heart-felt emotions mostly. [The brilliantly shot and scored AGAR TUM SAATH HO is a testimony to that.]

The climactic shot, then, is especially tricky and swirls the audience into dual-minds. You have the lead characters dancing free-wheeling atop hill-tops with top-of-the-shelf noise-canceling head-phones. What about those unlucky ones? Like the rick-shaw driver that Imtiaz conveniently but finely uses as a plot-device to remind Ranbir’s Ved that ‘dreams’ and ‘soul’ die across classes almost equally. Some die brutally and early due to lack of privilege/wealth/class; some die late due to the presence of same – but die they do.

Coming to the ‘grammar’ of the film, the film does suffer a bit of slow-pacing. But in the end, it just depends on what one ‘sees’ and experiences in the film. It is quite a personal viewing-experience for each and every audience-member. The songs are mesmeric and Kamil once again supports Rahman and Imtiaz brilliantly and vice-versa. ‘HEER TOH BADI SAD HAI’ is a fantastic reversal on the Punjabi folk. Rajesh Autowala’s [a superb Ishtiyqk Khan] ode to ‘Emotional Atyachar’ from DEV D is a treat. And the way it is inter-cut music-less with Ved’s spontaneous poetry is fantastic.

After a long, long, time, Ranbir comes out of His-Ranbirness and performs. He finely forks his corporate-life and the life that is art-driven. Deepika is good but her act here could not be considered ‘progressive’ talent. Frankly, this film is owned by the lead characters, Piyush Mishra, Corsica, and Ishtiqak Khan – impact-wise as well as role-length-wise. All others are incidental.