Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bajirao Mastani [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing (S. Srivastava) review
Hindustan Times (S. Kaushal) review
India Today (A. Bhattacharya) review
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review
The Hindu (N. Joshi) review
Times of India (S.M. Das) review

Bajirao Mastani [2015] [IMDb] [FBt] (story and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali [IMDb] [FBt], screenplay by Prakash Kapadia [IMDb]) is a super-crisp / visually SPECTACULAR (both indoors and out) Indian Historical Epic based on the life and TWO GREAT LOVES of the 18th century Indian general Bajirao I (played in the film with appropriate serious awesomeness by Ranveer Singh [IMDb] [FBt]).

Bajirao was the Peshwa (prime minister) to Shahu (played in the film by Mahesh Manjrekar [IMDb]) the fourth Chhatrapati (Emperor) of the Hindu Maratha Empire in central India which existed at the time (from the mid-17th century to the early 19th century) as a rival to the Muslim dominated Mughal Empire to the north.  He was noted / celebrated as having fought _and won_ 40 consecutive battles (!), mostly against the Mughal Empire and its allies.

However, while there are a couple of truly spectacular, LOTR-worthy, battle scenes portrayed in the film, the story is really about Bajirao's complicated (and for a Westerner / Christian outsider like me) INHERENTLY _fascinating_ relationship with his two wives Kashibai (played by Priyanka Chopra [IMDb] [FBt]) and Mastani (played by Deepika Padukone [IMDb] [FBt]).

Now in the East, regardless of religion (Hindu/Buddhist, Parsi/Zoroastran, Muslim even Biblical Jewish) it was never deemed a problem for a powerful man to have multiple wives (assuming that the he could afford to keep them).  However, as becomes Epic Romance/Story-worth(li)y obvious, a "multiple wives" arrangement would almost certainly be "complicated."  And so it was here ...

Kashi(bai) was Bajirao's FIRST wife.  Further, Bajirao was NOT "royalty."   So Kashi was in a sense a "hometown girl" and Bajirao's "first love."  BUT after Bajirao becomes Peshwa (and top general) to his Emperor, _he meets_ Mastani a _warrior-princess_ from a neighboring state, and well, ... SHE WAS AWESOME.  So "out there," "AT WAR," he takes her as his second wife.  And it _even seemed_ "like a good deal" (to him...) for his kingdom, as it helped seal an alliance between Mastani's father's other/lesser state and Maratha Empire. So what could go wrong...?

And, of course, THAT's the rest of the movie... ;-)

Let's just say that even in the best of circumstances, "coming home with a second wife," EVEN IF "she was AWESOME" (and perhaps _particularly_ if SHE WAS AWESOME ;-) would be a rather "delicate" affair.  Add to this (and something that Bajirao may not have been initially fully aware of) Mastani was half Muslim (by her mother's side) AND the Maratha Empire was a _radically_ ANTI-Muslim Hindu state.  Bajirao was nominally Hindu, his whole family was Hindu, Kashi his first wife was Hindu, THE EMPEROR was Hindu, and WHO WERE THEY MOSTLY FIGHTING? ... the Mughal Empire which was RULED BY MUSLIMS.

And yet, here was Mastani who was both AWESOME, _and_ as the story plays out, proving herself to be KIND.

What a remarkable, and thoroughly complicated story and a SPECTACULARLY WELL MADE FILM, _certainly_ one of the best I've seen this year.

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