Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is synonymous with portraying strong women and their point of view. This is a tale which shows the heroics of Gangubai, a woman wronged by love, who rights the life of many as she fights the good fight.

SLB has struck to the brief. There is grandeur in the details, which form the backdrop for the talents of the entire cast. The highlights are Alia Bhatt, Seema Pahwa and Vijay Raaz. The performances grip you, the writing entertains, enlightens and jolts you, the songs and turning points give you hope in a world which has been cast aside.

We get glimpses of the lives of many such women, their back stories and tragedies, but the film doesn’t dwell on that. It’s always looking forward, as did the protagonist in real life, while imparting many life lessons, philosophies and truths in her candid manner.

Different from his earlier films but with his trademark for the dramatic, this one is another feather in his illustrious cap.

A must watch for its strength and dignity.

4/5

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Padmaavat (2018)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has attempted a film about a subject that should have been a matter of pride, but has now become a matter of protection.

Padmavati, rechristened Padmaavat, is a tale about an ethereal Queen, and everyone who saw her, or didn’t, was mesmerised by her beauty. Her marriage to the King of Mewar and the subsequent interest in her by Emperor Khilji show us the inner workings of politics, power and war.

The director is no stranger to scale, or aesthetics, and he has gone a step further than his previous epic Bajirao Mastani. The film needs atleast two viewings to take in all the details, metaphors, costumes, dialogues and expressions.

Deepika Padukone is the pragmatic Queen who represents not only courage and dignity, but rules of engagement as well. Though her physical beauty is striking, it is her resolute and visionary thinking that make her truly remarkable.

Shahid Kapur is perfect for the role of King Ratan Singh. He embodies the characteristics of Rajputs in every manner of his being, reserving his reactions to only necessary situations. He, like Deepika, speaks volumes with his eyes.

Ranveer Singh portrays every sin in one personality in a menacing and convincing way as Khilji. Achieving a spectrum of disturbing, violent, obsessive and repulsive actions and gestures shows his growth as an actor.

The Indian Republic Day is when India adopted the constitution 70 years ago, which is a living document. An opportune day to write this review. Let’s honour our freedom and those who fought for it by rebelling against forces who want to harm our country and it’s creativity.

It’s a film of pride, of choices, of honour, of valour and a celebration of everything Indian. Everyone must watch it, and exercise their democratic right to.

4.5/5

The breadth and depth of Love

Being a big fan of the opulence, drama and aesthetics of the eccentric director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I analysed his penchant for incomplete love stories. Being single himself (or unattached in public life) he probably has felt the despair of heartbreak at some point in his life.

No other director has shown us so many hues of this universal emotion. While his first film ‘Khamoshi’ achieved a complete couple, ‘Guzaarish’ united an unlikely pair. We saw the ultimate sacrifice in ‘Hum Dil de chuke Sanam’ in the traditional marriage. A courtesan was capable of love while childhood sweethearts remained unfulfilled in ‘Devdas’. Love broke all barriers of the senses and age, albeit for a second, in ‘Black’. Doomed were the lovers who belonged to warring families in ‘Ram Leela’ and taboo was the warrior princess’ devotion for her saviour, in ‘Bajirao Mastani’. The innocence of unrequited love in ‘Saawariya’ broke our hearts while the prostitute gave us hope in humanity.

This Valentines’, focus on the highest, most important form of love: the one for self. Only when we love ourselves are we capable to fully love another. And if you have attracted the right significant other, celebrate them, and yourself, ALWAYS…

Bajirao Mastani (2015)

Master story teller and aesthetic genius Sanjay Leela Bhansali finally presents his long nurtured dream on celluloid. For fans of the director, and the cast, the wait was worth it.

Bajirao is played surprisingly well by a solid Ranveer Singh, who has mastered the accent and developed a body language which is believable and appropriate. He balances being the deft leader of an army, a devoted family man and a doomed lover.

Mastani, a warrior princess, an ethereal beauty of Persian descent, who else could play it but the girl with the magical touch? She can do no wrong, and this time, Deepika Padukone mesmerises us with the grace of royalty and the fierceness of a soldier. A talented danseuse aside, she emotes mainly with her eyes, speaking volumes on love, strength and pain. Kashibai, full of dignity that befits the ‘First Lady’, has the trickiest role.

Priyanka Chopra has the edge of a senior artist and shows us another mastery of accent and gestures, the other side of the spectrum from ‘Quantico’. She has a tough act of balancing herself in the face of her husband’s new love and political turmoil, which she does with a stoic humility.

The director has used dialgoue sparingly in the film, as actions and ambience speak the unspoken. Great care is taken for no scene or emotion to be melodramatic. Instead they are understated to make a far greater impression.

Costumes by Anju Modi weave their own story, while the sets and the mood is earthy, opulent, muted yet grand. The Aaina Mahal will be remembered for the resonance with its historic counterpart and its spellbinding magnificence. Bhansali has stepped way out of his comfort zone with his colour pallette. His adept treatment of war, romance, drama and politics, and the music as well, makes him a complete director.

A supporting but stellar cast comprises of many members, but the one that shines the most is Tanvi Azmi, who plays Radhabai, Bajirao’s mother, who has an impact with just her presence. Her actions are pivotal and her acting is flawless. Milind Soman has a short but important role, with one influential speech which he delivers effectively. Mahesh Manjrekar, Aditya Pancholi, Vaibbhav Tatwawdi support the drama.

Undoubtedly this year’s best film, it ticks all the boxes. It’s not heart wrenching like Mughal-E-Azam, but will choke you for sure. To be enthralled by music, grandeur and emotion, witness a movie which recreates history to become part of it.

4/5

Bajirao Mastaani…
Two lovers united by one sword…
Touching the breadth and depth of cinematic extravagance…
Will share more once I have processed the beauty and majesty of my experience…

Mary Kom (2014)

Attempting a biopic for ‘Magnificent Mary’ was a bold move. It is about a girl from Manipur who became a boxing legend against all odds and made the country proud. Not only following her professional career, the director, Omung Kumar, has given us equal insights into her personal life. He makes a thumping debut after being art director for projects such as ‘Black’, ‘Saawariya’ and many others.  

Her struggles seemed difficult as a single person, as wife and mother, they increased ten-fold. But our Mary Kom is a fighter and we have only one talent who could portray her. Priyanka Chopra. From the first scene, to the last fight, she embodies the spirit of Mary Kom and all Indian women who fight to pursue their passion, raise families as well as be dutiful daughters. A constant battle inside the ring and outside as well! The result? Two hours of pow wow that will knock your socks off!

Priyanka is not the big star, but the ‘angry young girl’ with an endearing accent and speech, who stumbles upon ‘Coach Sir’ who reluctantly trains her. Noted Nepali actor Sunil Thapa plays the stern coach who whips her into controlled action. Onler Kom is her supporter, admirer and eventually her husband. The role is confidently played by debut actor Darshan Kumar, who was every bit the ‘man behind the successful woman’. The old adage goes to show that either gender needs the unending support of their spouse to succeed.

Of course such a story needs an ensemble cast to succeed. Her parents, siblings, peers, friends and town folk create a space where we root for every fight and share her every struggle. They walk the tight rope when they show her relationship with her father. Never becoming melodramatic, they show her angst and frustration beautifully.

Parallels will be drawn to ‘Chak de’ and ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, but besides getting a new ‘sports theme song’ we see some excellent shots in the ring and very crisp editing by Rajesh G. Pandey and Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is also the creative director. If you thought he always needed larger than life sets and costumes to show his story, here you will see his trademark style in the most humble backdrop.

Story / Screenplay writer Saiwyn Quadras creates a ‘square world’ where he doesn’t leave room for any competition for his team. Witty one-liners and serious dialogue by Karan Singh Rathore and Ramendra Vasishth give a balance to the tense audience. Team Mary Kom, this year will get you all the accolades, awards and maybe even medals. Priyanka will kick ass!

The content will punch you. It grips the breath, hearts and minds of the audience! Bravo!

4/5

Ram Leela (2013)

Guns blazing, Gujarati swear words, a 500 year old animosity of two warring sides and of course what blossoms between all this is: LOVE. An Eccentric, Sexual and Mad drama unfolds.

Not Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s (SLB) traditional film making style, he has stepped well out of his comfort zone of ‘tender love stories’, ‘social protocol’, ‘clear and slow progression’, ‘witty and U-rated dialogue’. Here the pace is fast, the language is harsh, many times lined with crass double meaning. Violence which was missing in most of his films is not only present but not easy to watch at times.

SLB is an unforgiving perfectionist. In the past we have seen beautiful sets and locations, which exude a dominant colour palette with undying symmetry. This time round, there is imperfection, a myriad of colours and an aesthetic sense that makes a scene alive without the feeling that you are watching a perfect set. He has done the music as well, and the songs are as always filled with metaphors, a visual treat to watch with some difficult dance moves. His direction makes all this seem as part and parcel of the film, but for once the story, songs or sets don’t dominate, its the acting of the 3 main characters that steals the show. We start with number 3:

Ranveer Singh is a director’s actor. He has manifested on screen what the director wanted him to, but somehow doesn’t seem man enough or strong enough to match up to his co-star, who seems to be wearing the pants. He is ‘supporting’ his female lead, a phenomenon which is usually the other way round.

Supriya Pathak Kapur is a spectrum of talent. To play Hansa Parekh in Khichdi and Dhankoraba ‘Baa’ in this film, you see the same eyes soften you in one, and terrify you in the other. Her restraint and explosions in the same sentence show you not only the character but her acting diversity.

Deepika Padukone has not grown as an actor. She has leaped to the moon. Her 4th big release this year (Race 2, YJHD, Chennai Express) she is the raw, sensual, hopeless in love energy which SLB has managed to capture on screen. You can’t take your attention off her expression, dance and threateningly seductive voice and body language.

A Ram Leela is traditionally performed on the street for all to see. Here as well, the story takes place in front of people at most times, for them to witness the tragedy.  This film is a tribute to the over the top rendition of India’s most famous story, with an ‘Adult’ SLB twist. An appropriate credit to Romeo & Juliet has been given right at the beginning, so either dance the dance while you watch Ram Leela or curse Shakespeare until it is over.

3.5/5

Lootera (2013)

Director of ‘Udaan’, Vikramaditya Motwane brings us a fine, period romance, set in the 1950s. Having assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali, you get glimpses of the aesthetics and detail which only SLB brings alive on the screen.

It is a delicate balance to make a film like this work on screen, and from the first frame onwards, the directors weaves a world, gently holding your hand, taking you along with his story. Once that is established, the story unfolds at a leisurely pace. I won’t call it slow, because it is appropriate for the period it is set in. There are dramatic and emotional high points in the film which are intense and heart wrenching.

Though I am not a fan of Sonakshi, I have to admit the girl looks the part, but more importantly does a complex role in an understated and confident manner. Ranvir Singh is in a very different avatar from his previous films, very soft spoken and restrained, which he does well.

The story is predictable but beautiful. Part of the plot is based on O’Henry’s short story ‘The Last Leaf’. The music is soft and melodious, supporting the plot well. Most times songs are part of the background and the expressions of the lead actors carry the tunes.

The locales that have been captured, the cinematography and the ‘visual story’ that runs parallel to the plot is the highlight of the film. The way the changing landscape and seasons have been presented shows the many levels this deep tale has.

Overall, it was a rich experience, definitely not for the masses. It would be like serving Creme Brulé to people who only like Jello.

3.5/5