Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra
Bajirao Mastani is a celebration of magnificent obsession — Bajirao's obsession with his beloved Mastani, and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's obsession with the 17th-century Peshwa and his doomed love story. Sanjay has nurtured and sculpted this film for 12 years. It is based on the book Rau by Marathi novelist NS Inamdar. But it begins with a disclaimer, which states that the film isn't professing to be historically accurate.
Bajirao Mastani plays out a like an operatic, swooning, feverish love poem. It is also Sanjay's homage to one of Indian cinema's greatest love stories — Mughal-e-Azam. Once again, statesmanship gets in the way of grand passion. A proud, battle-scarred leader is felled by an uncontainable emotion. Bhansali instantly throws you into Bajirao's story — even before the opening titles, he has been established as a superlative warrior and shrewd politician. Sanjay is Hindi cinema's most opulent artist and each frame is designed for beauty.
The film feels overly ceremonious, purposefully epic and, in places, a little exhausting. But hang in there. Because slowly and skillfully, Bajirao Mastani transports you. The narrative negotiates between scale and intimacy. Sanjay's triumph is that he makes us invest equally in all three — Bajirao, Mastani and Kashibai, the devoted wife who must come to terms with her husband's infidelity. This is the all-too-familiar triangle made messy by marriage, religion and status. But in Sanjay's hands, it is elevated to Krishna, Radha and Rukmini. Love, this film argues, is a higher calling. Love constitutes its own religion.
Ranveer Singh isn't instantly convincing, but he slowly makes you believe. It's a complex role that combines towering strength with aching vulnerability and helplessness. He delivers his career's best performance. Priyanka Chopra might have the fewest scenes of the three, but she creates maximum impact. And Deepika Padukone is riveting as the legendary beauty Mastani. Her face is so luminous that she seems lit from within. What doesn't work as well is Tanvi Azmi as the fierce matriarch.
But you will easily get past this. Because in Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali has dared greatly, and succeeded.