Bajirao Mastani

The spectacular historical drama based on real events takes us to the first half of the 18th century when much of the Indian sub-continent was ruled over by the Maratha Empire led by commander Bajirao. Bajirao is torn between a campaign against the Muslim dynasty of Mughals and a romantic relationship with his second wife Mastani, rejected by his closest relatives for her mixed IndoPersian ancestry.

2015 – 158 min – historical drama, romance
language: Hindi, Marathi, English
subtitles: Czech, English
directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra

The fact that there is only very little convincing historical evidence on the relationship between Bajirao and Mastani provides a favourable environment for legends, some of which have been made into works of popular culture. The story of Bajirao, the most prominent Peshwa (in the Maratha Empire, this title was awarded to commanders-in-chief who later became political leaders as well), is captured in a number of novels, theatre plays, TV series and films. Their popularity, however, has not gone far beyond the borders of the state of Maharashtra, the home of the present-day Marathas. Bajirao Mastani, directed by the acclaimed director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is therefore the first modern attempt to present the legendary Maratha story to a wider Indian audience.

Although some Marathi nationalist feared that the Bollywood version of Bajirao and Mastani’s story would be degrading and insensitive to their culture, Bhansali tried, in turn, to follow the conventions and canonical interpretations of history. The film is based on the novel Raau by Nagnatha S. Inamdara, an important Marathi writer. Furthermore, the director consulted the historical facts with the conservative historian Ninad Bedekar.

One could say that Bajirao Mastani does accommodate the modern nationalist myths about the Maratha Empire as a proud and universally developed Hindu superpower. These myths are actually a direct counterpoint to the previously dominant views of the British colonial historiography which saw Marathas, above all, as cruel invaders. The film presents a picture of the Marathi court as a centre of noble culture with exceptional aesthetics and a sense of balance between warfare and strict ethics. Rather than being ideologically biased, Bhansali lays emphasis on the artistic side of his films. It can be justifiably assumed that the inspiration was drawn, inter alia, from successful Chinese historical epics that also evoke a mythologizing image of their own culture.

It should also be said that from the very beginnings of Indian cinema, filmmakers have considered historical movies as a tool for making allegorical comments on current affairs, providing space for creative imagination.

Author: Miroslav Libicher / Translated into English by: Matouš Hájek

Trailer  Bajirao Mastani