Bajirao Mastani – the Feminist Review

Bajirao Mastani is a wretched love story about Bajirao the stately Maratha Peshwa (equivalent to Prime Minister) and Mastani (a half-Muslim) warrior princess of Bundelkhand. The movie is lavish – magnum opus of sorts, a grand-slam delivered by director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I loved the speed with Bhansali delivered all elements essential to a Bollywood movie – stunning song sequences, insanely rich costumes, captivating action, drama, and strong characters.

The otherwise flamboyant Ranveer Singh, plays the traumatized and much-in-love Bajiao. Deepika Padukone plays his love interest – Mastani. Mastani is unlike other women of her time – she’s warrior, performer, and a feminist beyond her times. She fights alongside Bajirao when the Peshwa wages a war to save her father’s kingdom against the Mughal (Muslim) Sultanate.

Vida Manejo, Bajirao Mastani Review, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Credit: FilmiBeat.com

Priyanka Chopra stuns as Bajirao’s wife Kashibai who adores her husband, like the rest of his kingdom. Her portrayal is imbued with quiet restraint and melancholic emotions. Though Bajirao falls in love with Mastani, Kashibai does not take the transgression lightly. Though she accepts her position as the lesser love of his life for the greater good of the kingdom, the love-triangle is tumultuous.

Vida Manejo, Bajirao Mastani Review, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Credit: Fashion Talkies

I didn’t expect to love the movie as much as I did. The movie is best enjoyed in a good theater setting, with plush chairs and excellent sound system – after all you will be killing 3 hours at the theater. Bajirao Mastani is like most other Hindi movies – you can enjoy the movie at a very superficial level or delve into each character. Of course, we do the latter in this blog and you should stop here because we discuss the plot and characters in detail.

Warning – Spoiler Alert!

The Kashi Bai (Priyanka Chopra) Angle

Priyanka plays the role of Kashi – the homemaker queen who is happy to take care of Bajirao’s family, household, children and his mother – with whom she shares an honest and endearing relationship. Their love making scene is colored with passionate hues of Holi and showcases the depth of their stable matrimony.

When Deepika – Mastani whirls into Bajirao’s life, Kashi suffers silently, strewn with jealously and agony. At this time, Bajirao was relishing matrimonial and physical bliss with both the women in his life – both of whom bore him sons around the same time. Just like her mother-in-law – venomously played by Tanvi Azmi, Kashi initially discriminates and vehemently rejects Mastani’s influx into her blissful martial life. But Mastani does not back down and eventually becomes the primary romantic influence in Bajirao’s life.

At this point, Kashi’s character sketch falls apart in the typical Bollywood-Bhansali style. Kashi invites Mastani to a women’s gathering where they dance together singing praises of Bajirao – aka the Pinga dance. Kashi eventually however, rejects Bajirao and bans him from her bedroom – an equivalent of divorce of sorts during that day and age. Her love for Bajirao however, does not recede and she strives to save Mastani’s life rising against her own son – Nana Saheb.

The feminist in me cannot reconcile Kashi’s undying love for a man who didn’t really care for her existence and her decision to stay in the marriage. Bajirao saw Kashi as other patriarchal Indian men see their homemaker wives – not of a significant economic value! Kashi seemingly understood this and remained a silent well-wisher in Bajirao’s life. Why she didn’t walk away from the marriage does disturb me – after all she made is clear to everyone in the royal court that she did not approve of Bajirao’s transgressions. Given she was his lawfully wedded wife who didn’t approve of polygamy, she could have retired with significant wealth in her maternal home. Her state is perhaps a disconcerting mark of times and a reflection on the state of women in India – even the royal ones.

The Mastani (Deepika Padukone) Angle

Mastani stuns…period! She is a warrior and fights tooth and nail for her right as Bajirao’s second wife. She’s insulted by the Peshwa’s family, called a prostitute and sneered at, for her Islamic faith. She hangs on for scarps of love she receives from Bajirao.

Vida Manejo, Bajirao Mastani Review, Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Credit: DNA India

The sheer strength of Mastani’s character seems so out of world. She fights beside her man, she bears his child without the royal support, and dies a miserable death in captivity awaiting his return. But she fails to see the misery she has caused Kashi as she vehemently pursues her passion for Bajiro. She continues to remain married and reside in Bajirao’s kingdom despite the incessant insults hurled at her.

Though true love may be supreme, but bearing insult for a man who would not fully commit himself as a father or a lover sets an anti-feminist tone. I wonder if the women’s dignity took a backseat given the high political stake and cultural oppression. I doubt these issues even phased Bhansali, who seemed obsessed with justifying the love between Bajirao and delivering the emotional saga slyly. 

The Love Triangle – the Feminist Concerns

The jilted Kashi Bai, the love-struck Mastani, and the aching Bajirao are trapped in a mutual admiration and love fest. Granted the movie was not crafted for feminists, but the movie is a clear reflection about the social acceptance of men’s transgressions, and the women’s acceptance of men’s transgressions despite their social status.

Deep in my heart, I just secretly wished that either Mastani or Kashi would leave the high and mighty Peshwa – not because of concerns around polygamy – after all, to each his own – but his inability to stand up for either women and do justice to their stature. He tries to abdicate his position but is lured right back to war with desires to expand the kingdom. He aches and yearns for Mastani with his last breaths – an emotion all lovelorn lovers can relate to, but isn’t able to save her from the conniving Peshwa family.

In all, I strongly feel that had Bajirao really loved either of the women – especially Mastani, he would have ensured she and his son were safe, alive, and well taken care of. Instead, he left the women in his life to fend and fight for themselves – which was not particularly becoming of a Peshwa or even a common red-blooded man.

Final Thoughts

Despite my viewpoint, I loved the passion with which Bhansali delivered the movie. You can imagine the director living and breathing his characters, war settings, courtroom drama, and the theatrical performances. No detail is missed – the Marathi costumes and the Mughal costumes and jewelry are right on mark. The subtle greens (depicting increasing influence of Islam in the kingdom), and the saffron (depicting the tensed Hindu kingdom) perfectly juxtaposition in this sepia toned movie. The social commentary surrounding intolerance shown from warring parties is impactful – the Peshwa’s desire to establish Hindu supremacy in the country and Mughal’s love for war and carnage.

The movie is must watch for all Bollywood fans and worthy of a discussion over coffee…

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3 thoughts on “Bajirao Mastani – the Feminist Review

  1. think I would like this movie if Kashi had decided to stay married (as Bajirao) but took a lover. Had this movie been about a Princess who had a husband and a lover, how many people would refuse to watch it out of self righteous fury.

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