There are very few characters in movies that have the ability to stand out despite having a short screen time. Kashibai from Bajirao Mastani definitely is one such character that deserves her own storyline. Being the demure royal damsel who sincerely carries out her household duties as a wife, daughter-in-law and the Maratha Peshwin, Priyanka Chopra's character starts off predictably. But along the way, she finds a voice and place for herself in the story while detaching herself from her husband. While Kashi remains a pativrata nari, the pati in question does not return her the favour. The first opportunity he gets, we see him fall for Mastani and also feed her hope even while modestly declining her offer of love, stating that he is married. But then again when she comes to him (in a rather disillusioned daring act of madness, or what we call "ishq" in the Bhansali Universe), he accepts her. Bajirao clearly suffers from a heavy dose of masculine ego and wanting to be the saviour to Mastani, who ironically holds her sense of agency pretty well. Amidst this turmoil, Kashi is torn between performing her Peshwai duties and standing up to her husband.
Kashi is not a one-dimensional "good" person – she has her own complexes, fears, jealousy and cunning. When she figures out that Bajirao and Mastani are having an affair right under her nose, she chooses to manipulate her husband by seducing him, on an aesthetically designed moonlit set, in a desperate attempt to save their marriage. Over time though she realises that their intimacy issue has nothing to do with her but with Bajirao's newfound fascination for Mastani. While she garners the support of her husband's family and advisors, she also realises that it has less to do with their love and respect for her but more to do with their disdain for Mastani's religion.
The end result is that she feels let down, insulted and all alone. One must remember that the time in which the story is set, it was rather common for the royals to have polygamous marriages and if Mastani was a reputed Hindu princess, not much would have been made of it perhaps and she would have been asked to accept it and move on. A lot of these feelings are internalised by Kashi, as she does not have anyone to have a heart-to-heart talk with, reflecting the plight of women in those times no matter their social status. As she suffers in silence, Priyanka's eyes and body language beautifully express a lot of these emotions with hardly any dialogue. The scene in which she comes out of the palace to do the aarti and welcome her newlywed husband and Mastani – she tries better than her best to hold on to her pride and perform her duty as the Peshwin of the household, while making it clear that she does not accept their relationship.
There are other notable moments too where Kashi's character glows: One where Kashi while angry at Mastani, still reaches out to her and gives her peace of mind. This, however, is followed by a song where the two women dance off in a classic SLB style; and another montage where Kashi overhears a sinister plan to kill Mastani and battles with her inner instinct and emotions and eventually confides in Bajirao just in time to save Mastani.
The show stealer however, is the one where Bajirao visits Kashi in her chamber after a long gap and the 7-10 min scene that unfolds truly encapsulates Kashi's stance and her feelings towards her husband who now can't look her in the eye. She makes snide remarks and pokes him where it hurts, while pointing out to him that what she cannot forgive is that he took away her "guroor" or pride, which she did not deserve after being loyal to him and his family for all these years. Finally she tells him that while they could stay married for political reasons, he is not to come to her chamber anymore. This is where she clearly takes the stance that while he has gone ahead and taken another woman, she was not going to sit around and pretend nothing had changed between them. She was hurt, betrayed and her position as his partner was mocked. She decides to take a stance for her dignity and not give Bajirao the satisfaction of compromising with her.
The sheer joy of watching well-etched characters especially for women is a trend I hope to see more of.