Bajirao Mastani Synopsis from someone who hated it (Spoilers): Part 1

(part 2 here)

So, I just finished a 7 part summary of Dilwale, with images, references to film history, star personas, the director’s previous work, the deeper meaning of certain lines and acting choices, and what it all might mean in terms of the careers of the stars.  Read it!  I had a lot of fun with it!

In contrast, Bajirao, eh.  I’m guessing I can knock this thing out in like 3 parts.  There just isn’t as much there to talk about.  I mean, it’s pretty?  If you want just the high points, I already put up a bullet point version of the plot.  If you want details, and political-historical-social analysis, keep reading.  And if you actually really liked this movie, DO NOT READ.  I basically rip it to shreds.  And if you haven’t seen the movie, PLEASE READ.  If you are like me, you will have a lot more fun reading this than you would watching the picture.

So, let me look back at my bullet points.  Right!  The first thing I saw, was horses.  I came in 20 minutes late, after getting stuck in traffic, having the ticket machine reject one credit card and then eat the tickets I bought with the second one.  These should have been signs that this movie was not going to be for me.  And I wasn’t that excited to begin with, Dilwale I was there opening night, with 7 friends, in my nicest dress, hair done, make-up, and jewelry (I ALWAYS dress up for Shahrukh).  Bajirao, I’m stumbling in to a weekend matinee after it’s been out two weeks, in sweatpants and a day old braid.

And then I come in 20 minutes late, and I actually missed stuff!  As I said in another post, this is basically unIndian!  If the movie was truly meant to be watched in the theater (as Indian films usually are), then nothing should have happened in the first 20 minutes, just fun filler.  So right away, I am feeling unwelcome and incorrect, and also like I really should have just waited  until it was streaming on Eros Now to hate-watch it while answering emails (like I did for Ram-Leela).

So, right, horses!  Dips and Ranveer are riding horses, both in full armor, in profile, and making lovey eyes at each other.  And Dips has HER HAIR DOWN!!!  This is so infuriating!  I mean, it’s always infuriating when actresses are forced to have pretty pretty hair in jobs in which it would be impractical (I just finished a re-watch of the first few seasons of ER, and as the quality goes down, the practicality of the female character’s hair does as well.  You’re in an ER!  Wear a ponytail!).  But in this case, it is particularly infuriating, because it tells us what the director’s priorities for this character are going to be.

First, she is allowed to be a warrior, only so long as she is still super pretty and romantic while doing war stuff (I understand I missed her intro, where her hair was hidden by the helmet, allowing for a dramatic reveal.  But that just makes this worse, we know previously she had practical hair, but now that she is in luuuuuurv, it is all down and flowy).

Second, this is a social statement.  In India, traditionally, unmarried women have their hair down and loose, or braided.  Only married women wear it in a bun, and only dirty rotten feminazis cut it short (“short-haired women” is actually a slur conservative politicians use).  Through out the film (Spoilers!), Deepika will continue to have her hair mostly down, and long, while Piggy Chops (Nickname Piggy Chops comes from here.  I use it not as an insult, but just like I use Dips, because it is an accepted nickname which is easier to spell/type) always has hers up.  Which tells you what the true attitude and politics of the filmmaker are towards the validity of Dips’ character’s marriage.  And her feminism.

So, right, battle.  Next bullet point in my notes, “flags”.  I found this really really disturbing.  They are going into battle under a saffron flag, while the “enemy” fights under a green one.  Okay, maybe this is historically accurate, but I don’t care about history, I care about the present day, where mobs under saffron flags carry swords and kill people, claiming that they owe their true allegiance to the green flag of Pakistan.


(notice that the Aamir effigy’s head is wrapped in a green flag.  I’m not going to put up pictures of the actual riots, because they are way too much of a downer for a Monday!)

Anyway in the film, the saffron flags kill all those horrible people under the green flags!  Woo!  Including the head bad guy, who is on an elephant directing his troops, instead of down there in the muck like our good saffron flag leader (Muslim rulers=effete and elitist and cowardly).  Bajirao, in that cool thing from the trailer, has his men create step stools by holding up their shields, so he can climb up to the height of the elephant and knock down the head green flag guy with his big fwippy sword.  Woo, the Hindu common man knocking down the elitist Muslims!  That’s right, put them right in the dirt, below our heels, where they belong!

And then, battle over, Dips and Ranveer find each other in the battlefield, surrounded by their falling enemies, her unmarried hair flying in her face, and make more love eyes at each other.  Suddenly!  A green-flag enemy comes at Ranveer from behind (tricky, that’s what those green-flag people are!).  Dips rushes forward to save him, and gets hit (also, not respecting of women!  Unlike us good saffron flag types!).  Ranveer kills the guy, and then rushes over to pick Dips up in his arms, lifts her onto his horse, and personally carries her back to the safety of the palace.  Okay, that’s a pretty cool shot.

(I know I hit the stereotype button pretty hard there, but when you have constant shots of the green flags versus the saffron flags, that’s where my mind, and the minds of most audience members, I think, are going to go.  It’s like saying, in America, that the Confederate flag is just historical.  Sure, it has a historical meaning, but it also has a contemporary meaning, and those two can’t really be separated.)

So, next bullet point, “Water-fountain”.  By which I mean, we see Ranveer cleaning up after battle in an anteroom of the palace, and I am sure it is some historical accurate water source, but it really looks just like the water fountain in the hallway of my elementary school.  Is it possible they filmed this whole thing at Butler elementary?  Were there elephants hiding the swing sets?  Probably not.

So, at the water fountain, he asks about the condition of Dips, post romantic wound, and is told that she is romantically wounded (so, painful, but not life-threatening or unattractive).  Cut to Dips, lying (laying?) in her chamber, looking artistically weakened.  So, big loose white clothes and a sort of delicate flopping on her bed.  Her handmaidens giggle about, all “oo, he’s so handsome!  Let’s not talk about how we were just saved from a siege in a terrible battle where hundreds died because we are girls and don’t think about things like that!  Or really think about anything at all!”  And then Ranveer shows up!  Giggle giggle giggle!  He asks to enter, and Dips makes him wait until she gives permission, and then immediately gives it.  Because when checking on the health condition of someone who saved your life on the battlefield, the most important thing is coy flirtation.

Dips gives her handmaidens permission to disperse.  And Ranveer comes in.  He insists on seeing the injury for himself, and she turns her back and loosens her robe so he can look at the big red slash that highlights the elegant line of her back  (Dips has a really long torso, doesn’t she?).  He pulls out his dagger, heats it in a flame, and then presses against the wound.  Okay, I feel like there is a metaphor here?  What could it be?  She has a gaping red hole, he has a hot pointy thing that is going in it?  Sanjay Leela Bhansali, you are just too subtle for me!

Metaphorical virginity taken, he leaves immediately.  Just like a man!  But he still has  chance to see her again, because her father insists that she perform for The Men that night to celebrate Holi.  Which she does, and it is very pretty and on a stone pavilion with big thrones at one end with big fans.  Its one of those sets (and there are many of them over the course of this film), that we only see once and which must have taken thousands of rupees, and thousands of man hours, to create.  And I don’t think it was worth it.  I mean, they are all very pretty, but SLB could have gotten the same effect by re-using the same sets over and over again.  It just feels like expense for expenses sake, and I don’t know why people keep giving him the money to waste.

So, song, “red-hands” is in my notes.  Dips keeps moving her hands and showing that the palms are red, and so do her handmaidens/back-up dancers.  It is Holi, so that makes sense.  But I’m also getting a kind of dirty handjob vibe from it, possibly just as an after effect of that metaphorical sex scene.  But I am also getting sort of a vibe that they wanted to use the courtesan hand decoration style, but couldn’t because this is all Hindu-Hindu-Hindu, and that would be Muslim-Muslim-Muslim.  Oh, also, I am reminded again that Dips has really really big hands.  I noticed it in “Ajab Si” in Om Shanti Om, and I can’t unsee it.  I mean, they are pretty and graceful hands, but they are huge!)

(as you can see here, a traditional courtesan hand decoration would be the fingers painted red all on both sides, and a big red circle in the center of the palm.  It kind of looks like they did a really bad job putting on red nail polish, but once you get used to it, it is actually a cool way of highlighting hand movements during a performance.)

Post dance, Dips and her head handmaiden are talking while she looks in the mirror.  You know, about politics and trade treaties and religion and literature and stuff.  No, of course not!  It’s about boys.  Ranveer has asked for some post-dinner Paan to be brought to him in his chamber, and the handmaiden suggests that Dips does it as an excuse to see him again.  Dips points out that she doesn’t need an excuse, because she is “married to his dagger”.  I think this is a really explicit euphemism to tell the audience that they had real sex, not just metaphorical.  But then she pulls out an actual dagger (still not a euphemism), and explains that he gave it to her, and in their local custom, that means they are now married!  Head handmaiden points out that he may not be aware of their local custom.  Dips argues that doesn’t matter, she considers them married.

Okay, I said earlier that I don’t like this movie because it is un-Indian.  But the whole “our obscure local custom means we are married!” thing is super super Indian filmi!  From the classy films like Parineeta, to the massy films like Chennai Express, to the sexy classics like Beta.

(sexy!  Thank goodness he blessed her in front of her whole village, so now they are married!  You know it’s real, because now she has her hair up)

So, Dips goes along the corridors of Butler elementary (probably not), to the room where Ranveer is staying.  He is sitting up, snoring, but snaps awake and grabs his sword a moment before she comes into the room.  Okay, that’s a cool “always a warrior!” character moment.  Anyway, she stands at the entrance and sexily offers him paan.  And then comes into the sleeping chamber.  He’s all “I will leave in the morning and never return.”  She’s all “I don’t care!  At least we have this night!”  That’s not a male fantasy AT ALL.

So, next morning, he’s leaving, while hundreds of people throw flowers under his horses feet, etc. etc.  If I were living in this kingdom, I would be so angry about having to do that.  My brother just died in battle!  I want to have the funeral and figure out the estate and grieve in peace!  But nooooooooo, I have to dress up and go stand on the city walls and throw rose petals and put a brave face on it all!  So, yeah, he leaves.  But Dips isn’t there!

Handmaiden finds her in her rooms, poking at fabric with a needle.  Lace-making?  And then they have a conversation about her craft project, and how she likes to feel she is contributing to the household with the work of her hands, and what design she is using, and so on.  No, of course not!  They talk about boys! (giggle giggle).  Handmaiden points out Dips didn’t go to say good-bye, Dips points out that that leaves her more open for a further communication, and means the interlude is not fully ended.  Women, with their psychological game playing!

So, back to Ranveer.  He is arriving in his kingdom, more petals before his path.  I’m getting worried about the agricultural policies of these kingdoms.  “No, we can’t use those fields for wheat, we need more roses!  What if there is a sudden visit from a hot guy?  We must always be prepared!  The people can starve, so long as there are still enough citizens left to throw roses as needed!”

And, Piggy Chops!  All married looking!  Hair up, jewelry on (including Mangalsutra), sari wearing.  She and her handmaidens are preparing puja trays to greet Ranveer (she’s Hindu, you know).  Ranveer arrives, giggle giggle, she goes to greet him.  Because even when your husband has returned from war, it is important to be flighty and flirty and not imply that a woman’s mind ever turns to thoughts beyond sex.  So yeah, giggle giggle, let’s go look at our bed-chamber!

So, apparently this is a new palace that was built in his absence?  I don’t know who supervised it.  Do you think Piggy Chops was smart enough to look at architects’ plans and arrange comfortable air flow and logical spaces for the hundreds of inhabitants ranging from servants to potential royal guests?  Naaaaaah.  There must have been a man about somewhere who did all that, and then just surprised her with the results, so she could jump up and down and clap her little hands in delight.

For just a moment, in the bed-chamber, Piggy dares to mention that it is kind of hard when he goes off to war, and she wishes he wouldn’t.  And then she immediately apologizes for ever daring to express a thought that isn’t somehow procreative sex related.  And lets him put his hand on her head while she takes off his armor so they can have sex in the new bed and make more boy children.

And then the scene that made the historian in me rise up in anger.  Post-procreational sex, Ranveer and his son are being taken on a full tour of the new palace.  Oh how nice, now that he has had sex, I guess he has time to be a father and a ruler!  Good to know his priorities are in order.  Anyway, his steward is showing him the fancy new performance space they made, all lined with mirrors, which is “as good as the Mughals”.  Okay, I get that the underlying message her is “As good as Mughal-E-Azam, that classic of Indian cinema which had the big dance number in a mirrored hall”.  And first, no, this is not as good as Mughal-E-Azam.

(notice how, in Mughal-E-Azam, you actually have sympathy for the characters.  That’s one of those subtle signs of a good movie you learn about in grad school)

But secondly, the other message is “See, our Hindu Maharashtrian Empire was just as wealthy and powerful and artistic as the Mughals!”  Which is just not true!  AT ALL!!!!  The Mughal Empire was one of the top 5 empires in the history of  the world!  It’s up there with the British, the Zulus, and the Romans.  Massive territory, massive artistic and scholarly advances, massive administrative advances (tax codes, law codes, that fun stuff), and also massive military advances.  The Maharashtrian kingdom was great, and we should talk about it and make movies about it, but it is ludicrous to pretend it is on the same level as the Mughals.

Oh, and there is also a plot thing in this conversation that I would have missed because I was still so angry at the Mughal comparison, except that Bhansali all but drew big flaming arrows on the screen saying “Plot point here!  Remember for later!!!”  So, yeah, the performance hall has this thing where if you stand in a certain spot it will activate a mirror which reflects into a pool in Piggy Chop’s rooms, and then if she lowers a cloth just right, she can see whatever is on that particular spot at that moment.  What possible purpose could there be in designing such a thing?  Beyond to set it up for FUTURE PLOT POINT, PAY ATTENTION HERE!!!

Meanwhile, back in Dips’ kingdom, she is telling her royal father and courtesan mother that she has to travel to Ranveer’s place in Maharashtra and see him again, because she is in “Luuuuurv”.  Mom points out that even in her home kingdom, she is not fully accepted, since her mother is Muslim and her father is Hindu and their union isn’t recognized.  I realize for the first time, seeing Dips and her mother next to each other, that Dips is always dressed in a very Muslim/Mughal style.  Long, loose, layered Churidar.  Why?  She was raised in a Rajput kingdom, where would she even get clothes like that?  Unless she makes them herself, is that what she was working on to distract herself when Ranveer left?  I mean, I know why, it’s because she is Muslim-Muslim-Muslim, and exotic, and courtesan-y, whereas Piggy Chops is all Hindu Married Woman.  But it is just so blatant!

(this kind of outfit)

Also blatant, this conversation!  In response to the argument from her parents that the union may not be recognized, especially since her mother is Muslim, she responds “But my father is Hindu!  And I worship both Gods equally.”  Okay, two things here.  First, thank goodness!  I thought this might be an inter-religious romance, but she’s half Hindu!  And, as we learn later in this same film, in Hinduism the religion/caste comes from the father.  And secondly, isn’t one of the 5 pillars of Islam “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet”?  So you can be Hindu and Muslim, but you can’t be Muslim and Hindu, if that makes sense.  Hinduism can live in harmony with Islam, but Islam cannot live with Hinduism.  So I guess she is Muslim in that she wears exotic outfits and and is “forbidden”, but not so much in other ways.  So, yeah, Dips is leaving.

Meanwhile, Ranveer is bathing and maybe thinking about Dips.  Piggy Chops is watching from a corner, trying not to interrupt him.  He sees her, and laughs at her attempt to respect his privacy and pretend she has a life outside of gazing at him.  Then, he goes over and corners her and pours water over her.  And then takes her over to the bathing platform and smears cosmetic mud-milk paste over her sexily while they have sex.  And I get that milk is all sexy and semen-metaphory (see also: conception of Ram), but you got that stuff in her hair!  And on her silk sari, and in the links of her jewelry.  It’s just inconsiderate!  Also inconsiderate, post-sex, she puts on his helmet (maybe to hide the gunk in her hair?) and pretends to be going to war with him.  That’s not the inconsiderate part, the inconsiderate part is that he laughs and laughs in response.  A woman!  Riding a horse!  Going to war!  Not like Dips, but like a real woman trying it!  You know, a Hindu one!

Speaking of Hindu women, cut to a traditional Hindu widow woman and young man in Maharashtrian court dress cataloging all the treasure sent in gratitude for saving Dips’ kingdom.  And, one more thing has come with the treasure!  A closed palanquin, from which steps Dips’ herself!  Oh my goodness, who saw that coming!  Not me, who just saw a scene in which Deepika says “I am going to travel to Bajirao’s kingdom!”

So, yeah, Widow lady says “who dat?”  And Deepika says, “I am a princess!”  Widow lady is all “oooo-kay, that’s nice, but a little weird!”  And Deepika is all, “No no, I am married to your son!  See, I have his dagger!  Which isn’t a weird thing to say at all!”  And widow lady takes a second, and then orders her taken to stay in the courtesan quarters, since she doesn’t actually recognize the validity of a dagger marriage.  Doesn’t she realize it is a local custom!  (can I say it is a local custom that I am married to Shahrukh because I saw Dilwale 5 times?  And then show up on his doorstep and make Gauri take me in?)

So, Dips and her poor head handmaiden are in the courtesan quarters.  For once, handmaiden is talking about something besides boys.  Practical stuff like “our escorts are gone, we are in great danger, and being disrespected by the lady of the house, and these quarters are gross, we should go home.”  Deepika, of course, ignores her.  Because she knows it is not her proper place to have a conversation with anyone about anything besides True Luuuurv.  Instead, she pulls out her sword and starts practicing with it.  It looks really cool, especially one shot when she pulls it out of the sheaf above her head, and the camera looks down on her upturned face with the sword overlayed on it.  But, what?  That’s what the handmaiden’s face says, “What the heck?  Sword practice?”.  I mean, I get what they were going for, the character is preparing for battle.  But maybe make it a little less literal, Bhansali?  Because this just makes her look nutty.

And, song!  That night, Ranveer has called the performers to entertain him, and Dips has taken the opportunity to leave with the other courtesans to perform.  And they back her up perfectly!  Did she spend the afternoon making friends and teaching them all the dance steps?  Why didn’t we get to see that scene?  Is it because it would involve women talking about something besides a man?

So, the song is fine, whatever, I am once again distracted by her loose hair, and her super Muslim-y outfit.  For a movie whose supposed thrust is “see!  She wasn’t really a courtesan and an unmarried woman, she was a respected wife!”, they sure are making the character look like a courtesan and an unmarried woman.  Ranveer is transfixed!  Piggy Chops is mildly amused.  Song over, Ranveer leaves his throne to walk down to Dips on the dancing floor and hand her paan, which she receives with a silent salaam.  Oh how nice and romantical and symbolic!  Could she maybe have also said “hey, by the way, your mother stuck me in the courtesan quarters and I risked my life to come here and also I am married to your dagger”?  Or maybe instead of giving her paan, he could say “Wait, how are you even here?  And why did you come in with the courtesans?”  But that wouldn’t have been as romantic.

Cut to, a white purdah tent being moved along through the castle corridors.  I am forcibly reminded of how in British crime shows, they always put a tent up around the outdoor crime scenes.  Oh how happy I would be if I were watching Scott & Bailey instead of this!  Unfortunately, instead of a brutally killed murder victim, it’s Ranveer’s widowed Mom.  See, all the traditional trappings of Hindu widowhood do nothing to harness her strength, which has been perverted by lack of a manly presence!  We should do even more to isolate widows and remove their toxic presence from society!

So, yeah, she confronts Dips and is all “now that you have danced once, you must dance in public constantly!  Why don’t you just go home?  If not, here are some dancing bells to wear on your ankle.”  Dips is all “truly, being called a sex worker is the greatest insult one can offer a woman, because everyone knows only procreational sex is acceptable and prostitution is always the woman’s fault.  But I accept your insult because every torture I suffer in the name of True Lurv just serves to ennoble me further!  Abused wives, remember, stay with your husbands even if your mother-in-law tries to kill you, it is the Indian Way.”

And then the next morning, Ranveer is hanging out with his buddies, and they are talking about how the king has called them to consult, and also, how hot was that dance last night!  Wink wink, nudge nudge.  Ranveer immediately goes all macho and “don’t disrespect my woman!”  And then says “welp, no time to check on her well-being and find out why she was acting as a courtesan, I got to go talk to the Emperor!  And my big romantic macho gesture was probably more important than actually doing anything boring and tedious.”  And I’m just going to leave this video here:

(Not that Ranveer should wear a condom, although it couldn’t hurt, there wasn’t HIV in the 1600s, but they European ambassadors to the Mughal court might have brought in syphilis.  No, the point is that there is a difference between being all publicly macho about your woman, and privately considerate)

So, off to the capital!  There is a brief scene where Ranveer wants the Emperor to press harder against his enemies, and his cowardly steward protests.  And then Ranveer agrees publicly, and once the King has left, privately lays his sword against the cowardly stewards neck and breaks his string of pearls.  So I guess this is the “We could have won Vietnam if we really wanted to!” argument?  The only reason the Maharashtrian kingdom didn’t wipe all the Muslims out of India is because they just didn’t want to try hard enough?

Also, since breaking a string of pearls is a common symbol for taking virginity, I am getting a bit of a creepy male-on-male rape as a domination technique vibe from this scene.  But that is probably just me, and too many re-watches of “Kuch Na Kaho.”

(Wow, Manisha was pretty!)

So, domination scene over, celebration time!  Let’s bring out the dancing girls!  Because we respect high-caste married Hindu women, but everyone else is fair game!  And, it’s Dips!  Only, instead of dancing, she walks up to the King and lays (lies?) the bangles evil-Widow mother gave her at his feet.  And she says she won’t dance, because she’s not like those women who turn to prostitution because they have no other employment options, she’s one of those women who marries a dagger.  You know, classy.  The king agrees with her, of course, courtesans are just the worst!  Except when he orders them to dance for him and has a whole quarter just to house them!  But otherwise, yeah, just terrible!  Oh, and Ranveer finally manages to speak up and say that she saved his life in battle, so she really is kind of a classy lady.  Not classy enough for him to take five minutes on his way out of town and check in on her, but you know, classy enough for him to speak up for in public when it will make him look brave and chivalrous to the adoring crowds.

So, the King asks what Dips wants in gratitude for saving Ranveer’s life, and she replied “Ranveer!”  Oh my goodness!  How romantic!  Or not.  The king gets to decide who Ranveer marries?  Without asking him?  Because Dips is a pretty lady and he figures that’s all he needs to know to know that Ranveer will want her?  Also, Dips is all cool with knowing that Ranveer will never make any effort for her himself and it is up to her to make their dagger-marriage work?  This is a terrible basis for a relationship!  Have they even had a conversation before?

So, dark and stormy night.  Ranveer wants to get a boatman to take him across the river, no one will take him.  So he offers the magic ring that Piggy Chops gave him, which is supposed to have her prayers for his protection in it (Hindu prayers, so you know they will work).  Okay, that’s kind of a cool Shakuntala reference.  So, in Shakuntala (fabulous ancient Indian drama, you should really read the English translation, it’s short and available for free on Gutenberg), the Prince marries a forest woman (don’t worry, she’s Kshastriya, so it’s okay), but then loses his ring, which makes him forget her.  Terrible things happen and other women try to ensnare him (including his first wife, who he ignores once he gets home.  See previous post about commonality of plural marriages in Indian texts).  And then he gets his ring back and all is good again and he remembers he loves his forest wife.

On the non-Shakuntala side of things, we have doom-doom-doom beating on the soundtrack, because he is giving up his good Hindu love token to go off and have sex with a Muslim woman (well, not too Muslim, but just Muslim enough).  Meanwhile, poor Dips and her handmaiden are struggling to set up for the night in a ruined castle?  Is this really where the King sticks his dancing girls?  He really doesn’t respect them, does he?  Also, the handmaiden is once again raising very reasonable points about the politics (no one respects them here and they are among enemies) and practicalities (it’s raining and there’s no roof) of their situation.  Natrually, Dips ignores her and keeps dreaming over Ranveer.

Can I watch a movie about the handmaiden instead?  Maybe she worked her way up from servant girl through her wits and loyalty and that’s why she is the only servant who remains with Dips?  Maybe she had an unhappy love story back home, and rather than swooning over it, she decides to get over it and get moving by traveling to Pune with Dips?  Maybe she falls in love with a handsome guard in Ranveer’s army and they save money and get to know each other’s families and get married once they can afford to buy a farm which will support themselves and their potential children?

Anyway, Ranveer shows up, and Dips leaves poor handmaiden to keep trying to create shelter and sleeping areas, while she and Ranveer get romantically married in the rain, in the presence of all the elements!  After all, isn’t marriage more about nature and a vow between two people and all that than any societal constructs?  Wait, no it isn’t!  Marriage is totally a societal construct!  If they just wanted to be married in the eyes of the elements, than what the heck is the difference between her being a wife and her being a courtesan?

Okay, I’m going to stop here, a little before intermission, because I want to have some space to talk about Mughal-E-Azam.  Because, hey, they brought it up!  Mughal-E-Azam has a very similar plot, powerful warrior falls in passionate love with dancing girl.  But the lesson of that film is, giving up everything for love is wrong!  I mean, by the end of the film, Prince Salim is going to war for his right to love a dancing girl.  Men are dying for him, so he can see his girlfriend.  Emperor Akbar, on the other hand, is going to war to teach Salim that he can’t do things like this, that there are more important things in the world, and way more important things to ruling an Empire, than romantic love.  And the end of the movie implies that, by finally learning this lesson, Salim became a better ruler.  The main goal is to be a better ruler, and a better person, for the improvement of society as a whole.  Not to be a more passionate lover for your own selfish enjoyment.





28 thoughts on “Bajirao Mastani Synopsis from someone who hated it (Spoilers): Part 1

    • Now I’m picturing Elmer Fudd playing Priyanka’s role. I think it would make an excellent Warner Brothers short. With Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck playing Deepika and Ranveer’s roles.


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  16. “can I say it is a local custom that I am married to Shahrukh because I saw Dilwale 5 times? And then show up on his doorstep and make Gauri take me in?”



  17. Hi. I’d like to start by saying that I am a big fan of your blog. However, reading this synopsis was quite disappointing. You’ve missed or misinterpreted some cultural aspects and honestly, been a little insulting and dismissive in that respect. I’ve read everything you’ve written that references this film (and a lot of your other work!). I especially take issue with your article of the film being ‘non-Indian’. Some of the points you argue are actually extremely Indian! You were actually arguing that it doesn’t fit in with what you’ve seen from Indian film. Two separate things. Not all Indian culture is represented in Indian film and in fact, some of it is idealised or misrepresented in film. I think your passion for, and knowledge of, Indian film is incredible but perhaps you could research more about actual Indian culture and avoid this in future. Not to say you haven’t researched some of it, just find out a bit more. It’s something I’ve noticed in quite a few of you posts, not just Bajirao related. Or, if you don’t, perhaps steer clear of questioning the practice or culture as it can come off as ignorant and insulting.

    Also, maybe your views on the film were coloured by the fact that it released on the same day as Dilwale but even if you would have hated the film regardless of when it released, you can express your opinion on something without putting sarcastic comments in almost every sentence. Try to discuss the actual proceedings without bias and then go into what you found unbelievable, unrealistic or annoying. It would just make the post more enjoyable to read.

    This is just some constructive criticism from my side. Please don’t take it personally.


    • Thank you so much for commenting and reading! As you’ve probably seen if you’ve read a lot of my writing, I almost always find something nice to say about a film. It’s very rare that I let myself go the way I did in this post. Some movies just make me so frustrated, I get kind of mean. But I usually feel bad afterwards, and I am glad to hear that someone appreciates the way I usually try to find something interesting or worthwhile in every film instead of just tearing it down.

      As you say, I am a film scholar, not an ethnographer or historian (although I have some minimal training in those areas, and I’ve taken some classes related to India). Which means I love it when my commentators or others give me some help! Can you give me some background on things I missed in this film? Or anywhere else? I want to learn more.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. “And the end of the movie implies that, by finally learning this lesson, Salim became a better ruler. The main goal is to be a better ruler, and a better person, for the improvement of society as a whole. Not to be a more passionate lover for your own selfish enjoyment.”

    Yes, that is why Mughal E Azam is today remembered for how Salim learnt his first lesson of being a good politician. Not for a silly love story. Not for the murder of his lover by his cruel father. Not for how they used “Greater Good” bullshit to take away the happiness of two people.


    • If you look at my Mughal-E-Azam review, that is in fact what a got from it.

      On Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 5:23 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:



      • Which proves that you don’t know what Mughal E Azam means to us in India. For the longest time I hadn’t seen it even but I knew it always meant that love doesn’t fear. Not even a king.

        (My previous comment was an attempt at sarcasm that obviously didn’t work. oh well )


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  20. I was rather disappointed by your review.There were so many factual inaccuracies in your review.It would be a more appropriate choice to accept that you don’t know some of the stuff,instead of indulging in cultural appropriation.Belittling an empire to glorify another is cultural appropriation if you know nothing about the culture.And claiming to know doesn’t reflect in this write-up,so I am not going to call this as anything but cultural appropriation.
    Firstly,Mastani married Bajirao as Chhatrasal offered her hand to him,and he did not deny the offer.However the marriage was supposed to have taken place by proxy-Bajirao wasn’t physically present,his dagger symbolised the union.So yes,the dagger marriage as depicted in the movie is entirely inaccurate.
    But the way you fail to understand Mastani bai as a courtesan and princess clearly shows(and you blame it on the movie for not making it clear,while the movie is clearly not for you).She was a Rajput,from BUNDELKHAND,not Rajasthan and you are clearly misguided in your approach to her religion.Do you think Mughals and Nizams were the same as they were “muslims”?Bundelkhand had a much more mixed population-Rajputs,Muslims and Marathas.They were like Hellenistic rulers of Egypt,who had Greek lineages but their empires were Egyptian in culture.Mastani Bai was a muslim but she didn’t need to conform to a religion.Ever heard of courtesans of Benaras who would celebrate Eid and Janmashtami with equal aplomb?They existed,because they were smashing all conversations,and embraced all religions in practice(like celebration rituals)if not in spirit.You cannot be Muslim and Hindu,but their is no rule against celebrating a festival.Christmas is popular even in Islamic countries.Courtesans embraced the rituals of other faiths as they were the celebrities of their day.Courtesans weren’t just Nautch girls as the colonizers portrayed them as(no surprise a White American women with love for “Bollywood” has zero information about courtesans).Mastani would have had a position like Bahar Begum in Mughal-e-Azam.She faced rejection not because she was a courtesan,but because she was a Muslim and whether you accept it or not,people during the time defended her marriage only because her father was Hindu(even though she had very few supporters).The issue was polygamy-allowed in practice,but unanimously frowned upon in theory(this was hypocrhypocritical of the people).
    The red hands dance-her hands are covered in gulaal meaning she is playing holi.There is an artistic choice in the “red”being so subtle.Her love isn’t flaming at the moment,but in their final embrace we find her in a much more vibrant shade of red.
    Now your complaints about her outfits.Mastani is wearing historically accurate peshwaz/peshwaj(not peshwas,peshwaz has nothing to do with a peshwa)and Priyanka is dressed in historically authentic Marathi attire.What do you want them to be dressed in?That Kashibai wears a modern Nivi drape and Mastani wears historically inaccurate anarkalis?When a director tries to be historical,American audiences have to mock it.As it is enough of European history has been appropriated by America.Did you want that relatable “The Tudors”esque costumes?If they are wearing reasonably historically accurate stuff why to find patriarchy and exotic-ness in it.Amazing to see an American who knows nothing about Indian clothing talking about exotification.So you would be objecting to bonnets in the movies set in 19th century as they show hair up and patriarchy and blah blah blah?Besides Kashi wears her hair up as she is married,and all paintings from the era show MARATHI women wearing hair up(and men wearing it in a ponytail,historical accuracy in clothing is something that you can let people of a culture decide).Another reason for Marathi women wearing hair up is the fact that they never cover their hair with their saree,except if they were widow.While Mastani always has her hair covered in public.And Mastani wears her hair loose as there are several illustrations from the period that show Muslim women wearing their hair loose.But she continues to wear it loose in several scenes even after her marriage so your interpretation is pretty wrong that married-up-widow-down.And in case you are wondering why Mastani wears such clothing despite being half Rajput,it won’t take much time to know that her mother was Persian.Besides if you can afford to spend your time,a bit of research will let you know that courtesans dressed in the fashion of their circle of companions.Like Mastani’s mother was Persian,her servants are Muslim and they all have similar clothing styles with peshwaj and farshi ghararas.And do you have any India about the courtesan clothing of the era?For you every Muslim was a monolith-Mughals were NOT the only muslim rulers.Mastani’s golden dance outfit and hat is inspired from the only surviving portrait alleged to represent her.It is not courtesan outfit-seriously you have seen Mughal e Azam and think that her peshwaj and farshi gharara is same as a “courtesan” anarkali?No wonder there are American shows that literally dress up Shakespeare in tuxedos.
    The only place where you are right is the flags-but only the Muslim flags.The Maratha flag was depicted accurately in colour and shape.But if you think that a Maratha flag and Confederate flag as the same,are you trying to downplay the horrors of civil war?Shivsena is a dramabaaz party,but did it start an outright civil war?Equating communal riots and civil wars is expected from you.Maybe you are offended by actors playing Hitler in movies,so they should add a beard otherwise they look too Hitler?You don’t like the choice of the flag,so weigh in with your expert opinions and tell is if a black flag should be used.Or a rainbow flag if that pleases you(even though I would love a rainbow flag in a non-historical fantasy movie).Literally what flag will you use.If a confederate flag disturbs you,movies will not use a white flag with a mickey mouse print.What you get right is the green flag being wrong.
    However considering the many inaccuracies in the article,I would be hardly surprised if you just went with “how dare they use a green flag!Islamophobia!”without figuring out what exactly is wrong.The fact is Mughals did use green flags with moon.Except the moon was yellow,not white.And that was NOT a war banner The Mughal war banner was a right angled triangular moss green flag with a YELLOW LION AND SUN(ofcourse the propaganda spreading Bollywood would distort facts and present wrong flags)instead of moon.And they get the Nizam flag completely wrong-it was supposed to be bright yellow with navy blue stripes.
    Lastly,I am not criticising your interpretation of Mughal e Azam as everyone interprets it their own way.But in India,Anarkali is a symbol of resilience in the face of convention and judicial violence.This dialoge sums it perfectly-“shehenshah ki in be-hisaab bakhsheeshon ke badle me yeh kaneez Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar ko apna khoon maaf karti hai”.(this slave girl forgives the Emperor her murder in lieu of his previous courtesies).Atleast in India,Anarkali is seen as the real victor and Akbar had a pyrrhic victory by protecting the convention,at the cost of compromising his conscience as he knows he is punishing Anarkali wrongly.Hence the popularity of the song jab pyar kiya in the lgbtqia+ community in India.
    And lastly,your gripe against as good as the Mughals is baseless.Bhansali was unapologetically vocal of his love for MEA and created it as a tribute for it.And he did confess that he took liberty to make it more ballroom like than the actual courtroom.Either way it is a glorious tribute.Anyways the “as good as the Mughals” dialogues makes sense as the structure in the movie uses Mughal Arch instead of the Marathi flat ceilings,so it IS acknowledged in the movie as an imitation of the style(maybe I am dumb to expect a White American woman to know about Indian architectural styles).And the “stupid” bit about the mirror reflection on a curtain-Bhansali expressed it was a tribute to the fact that some of the earliest filmmakers in India had settled in Maharashra(hence Bombay based Bollywood).Don’t we all find homage to Mughals for shayaris and ghazals(even though it was a more Awadh thing a Delhi thing)?And when the movie is literally about Bajirao,who but the Marathas would be shown in good light?Spain doesn’t fume whenever Elizabeth I and the Armada is brought up(she attained her Gloriana status after that)or countless shows where Henry VIII argues to make English as fashionably dressed as the French(yhe field of cloth of gold).Whether you like it or not,it was a competition in those days-people rivalling French in fashion,and Marathas competing with Mughals in architecture.Or even the rivalry between the shayars of Delhi and Awadh.


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