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Bajirao Mastani (2015)


Now here’s a holiday movie. A big, beautiful, operatic in its telling, stuffed full of gorgeous vignettes, with music like a waterfall, and the worst self-righteousness humanity, its religions and its loves, can bestow… film. A possibly true tale of warriors, their passions, and the families they destroy… meet Bajirao and Mastani. A film with a telling interval, and a telling title, not of the spurned wife or the wounded mother, but the lovers, Bajirao Mastani (2015).

So, old India, old principalities, and properly shiny people. Bajirao is a warrior – and a cocky one at that. He starts the film by shooting an arrow to impress a king, taking the job of Pashwa (prime minister… if only we could test the British one against actual skills…). His specialities, much of horse and sword, are to fend off enemies and capture new land. Many a flag blows in the sky, heads depart necks, for in these times men are men. And then… called to help in Bundelkhand… Bajorao takes his army to fend off some bad guys and – on the battle-field – is mightily impressed by one of his new allies. For she too is terrific with sword, dagger and vignettey loveliness, for in these times women are better than men. She’s also, you know, stunning. And – as men do – this one falls in love. Cultural ignorance comes to the fore when he gifts his dagger to this beauty… a symbol of marriage hereabouts. His second.

And – ta-da! Melodrama, artistically deployed CGI, and many wind-machines get Ranveer Singh’s Bajirao and Deepika Padukone’s Mastani into the bed chamber.

And then he has to slink home. And, by slink, old Jack means the way I enter the canteen: with a roar of mightiness, pennants a-waft and minions a-knee. For Bajirao is a hero of the first order. Stolid, solid and muscled to the nostrils, he greets his wife, Priyanka Chopra Jonas. There’s some business with carefully built palaces allowing mirrored sight of the places betrayal gets confirmed, but all-in-all, the return isn’t the triumph Bajirao demands of life. Still, she loves him. And he has the best tash on the continent.

Now, old Jack here has never been loved by two women. Certainly not the two most successful and, ok, here an old man goes again, naturally glam women our world has offered up since time began. That I didn’t marry. Got that? They have a group dance at one point and I sensed my deceased love, old Mrs Jack, writing notes for purgatory. Whilst the film loves all corners of this love triangle, you might take a breath as Mastani turns up to claim her man (enter the mother-in -law…) and anyone with ova gets them fertilised…

Plot-wise, there’s nowhere particularly surprising for this to go, but it doesn’t matter. There’s no after-the-interval for the Mona Lisa, either… 

Things disintegrate, and the people with it. Chopra-Jonas is nobler in heart than her fellows, but has a less sympathetic first-son. Padukone, giving off mythic passions with a warm glow, keeps your sympathies as love and enemies devour her; looks noble in chains. And Singh, posing and glowering whilst conveying a startling range of emotions (really, he glowers with anger, lust, love, righteous rage, stoicism and impudence… at one point, I could have sworn he glower-winked without moving), also keeps a pious audience at bay. His strength is as much about transmitting wit as bolstering things with manly archetypes. 

And old Jack’s favourite? Radhabai, the oldster mother. She is pissed at her son for damaging his family, powers and ultimately health. She rages quietly, she manipulates (to Padukone’s cost), and gives the grand emotions and mighty CGI a human, real edge. Perhaps I mean claws. The film needs her. Tanvi Azmi is the perfect foil to the grandiosity around her. As is her haircut.

So. It’s on most platforms. If you fancy a holiday movie of magnificence, properly lovely art design, and an ancient lens on love and betrayal, Bajirao Mastani is more than what you need. 

Sumptuous. And the oldster just about wins the day…

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