[SPOILER ALERT: Please do NOT read this if you haven’t watched the film yet/wish to watch it! This article is an in-depth analysis of the entire film.]
I remember watching SLB’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ for the first time on a plane to Dubai, and the cinematography captivated me at first sight. So much so, in fact, that I ended up watching it twice again on the flight home six days later! It’s been five years since the launch of one of Bhansali’s greatest and most critically acclaimed films and I still sob every time I finish the film, so I’m going to explain exactly why it resonates so deeply within me and how it has impacted me to this day.
Bhansali not only directed and produced the film but he was also responsible for the musical direction and choreography. For those of you who haven’t watched a Bollywood film before, they’re almost always musicals with three to five-minute dance sequences at pivotal moments during the film. The choreography within the film, emotional and intensely expressive, is some of the best I’ve ever witnessed, complimented by the incredible set design and intricately crafted costumes which are now widely recognized and associated with the film by viewers worldwide.
‘Bajirao Mastani’ details the historical love story between the Hindu Peshwa (Prime Minister and general of the Maratha Empire) Bajirao Ballad and the half-Hindu, half-Muslim soldier Mastani Begum, daughter of Maharaja Chhatrasal in Bundelkhand. Bajirao helped save Mastani’s homeland from annihilation and ended up falling in love with her in the process. Unbeknownst to her, Bajirao is already married to Kashibai, his first (and until Mastani’s arrival, only) wife. The story follows Mastani’s relentless, vicious struggles against marrying into a Hindu political regime whilst being only half-Muslim. She fights constant battles against her mother and brother-in-law, Kashibai, priests and many others who refuse to accept a Muslim woman into the Peshwa clan.
There is one particular element of this film that strikes me as controversial, first and foremost. This is not the first Bollywood film to cast a Muslim character in a negative light – essentially, the film depicts a Muslim being the fundamental root of the downfall of a political empire in Pune, as well as essentially being the cause of the Peshwa’s death. Padmavati, another hugely controversial film by Bhansali which drew intense simultaneous criticism and praise worldwide similarly portrays the exact same message. As much as I do love this film, that element of a Muslim being an antagonist never quite sits well with me. However, to counter this, Mastani herself is portrayed in the most desirable light – she radiates intelligence and unmatched beauty, strength in her valour as a soldier whilst maintaining an air of innocence and untouched purity. Her beauty intimidates those wishing to oppress her, her wit threatening to undermine those who seek to destroy her.
The reason I fell in love with this film is because of the poetic nature of its dialogue, which makes perfect sense considering the film is based on a fictionalised love story between the two historical figures. What still strikes me as incredibly profound to this day is how Bhansali paints the unconditional love story between Bajirao and Mastani. Despite being branded a mistress by his conservative family, his love for Mastani never once withered; if anything, it only strengthened. He fell in love with her knowing her religious background and took the risk anyway, following his heart instead of his pride. He devoted his short life to protecting her dignity and happiness, as well as ensuring their son would be raised as an equal to his other child.
The most gut-wrenching part of the film for me was the ending. The film ends with both Bajirao and Mastani dying in the separate locations at the exact same moment in time – this is foreboded from the second the natural landscaping changes to unprecedented storms and monsoon-like weather conditions. Earlier on the film, as Bajirao bids farewell to Mastani before departing for war, he speaks poetically of the day their two souls will reunite amidst the chaos of a chaotic intertwinement of natural elements. As this comes to fruition towards the end of the film in both characters’ locations, they seem to acknowledge the poetic speech Bajirao delivered and they become simultaneously aware they will be reunited almost imminently. The characters shortly after die peacefully with grace, without struggle or pain. They effectively greet death with open arms.
The dialogue between Bajirao and Mastani is predominately poetic and dense with metaphors of their undying affection for each other. Their love clearly transcends anything we could possibly know on this Earth. The film ends with a beautiful poetic analogy which made such perfect sense and was a heartbreaking but stunning way to close their story. The film itself casts itself in the shadow of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in that two lovers who are forbidden from being with each other fight against all odds to remain alongside one another. Yet, the cultural references distinguish a point towards the fictional tale and distinctly underline its powerful message – that love defies mortal constraints, and that when soulmates come together they become intertwined as one being.
The film is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for my writing today. The love the two protagonists had for each other is something I imagine not many will experience in this lifetime but it is beautifully poetic and artistic in its depiction. The poetic nature of the film doesn’t stop at the dialogue, however. Towards the end of the film, a song is played during a sequence called ‘Aayat’, which translates as ‘holy verse from the Qur’an’. There are a few quotes and lines within the song that are also spoken in the dialogue between the two lovers earlier in the film, adding to the remarkable nature of Bhansali’s clever cinematography. The song is recited in Urdu which leads me to believe that it’s a poignant tribute to Mastani, particularly Mastani’s devotion to her husband right up until their dying breaths.
This film is definitely one of Bhansali’s greatest achievements, I believe. It’s only when you watch the film a few times that you really appreciate the subliminal messaging which ultimately makes this depiction a true work of art. Below are a few stills and quotes from key powerful moments within the film!
Bajirao on reuniting with Mastani,
“We shall meet when the setting sun
and rising moon appear together in the sky.
The sky will change colour,
and all will be bathed in an orange glow.
Winds of desire will blow
And thundering clouds will fill the skies.
Dry leaves will murmur
and untimely rains will wash the earth.
All that will remain will be
the fire of love in our hearts.
On that day
we will become one
Narrated in the final scene of the film,
“On a day when fate and time stood witness
two star crossed lovers breathed their last.
They say witnessing a falling star
fulfils any wish,
but these two stars fell to earth
wishing only to belong to each other.”
Quote from the song, ‘Aayat’,
“I’ve memorized you like a holy verse from the Quran … now you will be mentioned like a prayer.”
Bajirao and Mastani’s final words to each other,
“Our hearts beat together … and they stop together as well.”