Sanjay Leela Bhansali, after the success of Ram-Leela, returns with Bajirao Mastani, the "true" story of a Hindu Peshwa from Pune named Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) who falls in love with the Muslim Mastani (Deepika Padukone), the illegitimate daughter of a Rajput King from Bundelkhand. The whole movie revolves around their unflinching love for each other and Bajirao's family and friends, reacting to this forbidden relationship.
Where this movie excels is where Bhansali's forte lies: brilliantly choreographed dance numbers and gorgeous sets. All the songs are catchy, and out of the dance numbers, Pinga stands out, which reminds of Dola Re from Devdas. One can see that the majority of the budget went to the sets, and kudos to the art director for creating not only aesthetically pleasing sets but also ones that are accurate to the time period. I truly appreciate the ambition in the direction by Bhansali, in showing Indian culture and history in an amazing light. The cinematography by Sudeep Chaterjee is colorful. Also, Priyanka Chopra as Kashi, the first wife of Bajirao, and Tanvi Azmi as Bajirao's widowed mother, outshine everyone in terms of acting and characterizations. One feels empathy for their plight, more than that of Bajirao and Mastani's, which brings me to the problems.
The drama and emotion of the film is built around the notion that the audience is supposed to care for Bajirao and Mastani's relationship, but this never happens for three reasons. First of all, there is virtually little to no chemistry between Ranveer and Deepika. These initial scenes where they "fall in love" are extremely poor and rushed, that one wonders how they fall that deeply in love in such a short time. The second reason is that Ranveer Singh does a terrible disservice to the character of Bajirao, as he does bring the swagger and muscularity but brings no likability to the character, as he never shows a shred of humanity through the film. Though Deepika is introduced as a warrior, she spends the rest of the film as an uninteresting glam-doll, and I say doll specifically because she never feels like a real character. The confluence of these factors makes the movie seem longer than it actually is, since it is impossible to care about Bajirao and Mastani.
Though Bajirao Mastani is visually ambitious and technically brilliant, it falters in the most important part of the film: the soul in Bajirao and Mastani's relationship. Had this been more developed and their characters given more attention, this movie would have been a modern classic. However, it is still a watchable movie just for the visuals and dance numbers.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars