What do you know, you catch more flies with honey! My loving and detailed and caring summaries of Dilwale got so many more views and (more importantly), were much more fun to write. My painful venom filled hate-watch of Bajirao, not so much! (part 1 here, part 2 here, and the bullet point version here)
So, where did I leave off? Let me check my notes. Oh, right “green-orange”. Still so angry about that! But I will try to cope, because the next scene is actually a lot nicer in terms of religious tolerance message.
Ranveer (ha! I almost wrote Ranbir! Must be because he is playing a naturally talented but also blessed by his parentage guy who is in love with Deepika but also incapable of being totally faithful to her) has called all the neighborhood Brahmins to his throne room to ask them about scheduling a naming ceremony for his son. Do the Brahmins do anything for this kingdom besides hanging out at Ranveer’s palace? There’s like 50 guys here, just to have a conversation about scheduling a Christening.
So, head Brahmin guy is like “uh, but the baby’s mother is Muslim. Which is a genetic condition, of course.” Ranveer is all “But so is Hinduism! And he got my Hindu gene from me, and the father’s religion gene is dominant in Hinduism [which I mentioned in my previous summary when Dips and her parents were having this fight]” But, the Brahmin points out, that only works if the parents were married. Since they weren’t (in the eyes of Hinduism), this child has no father.
Okay, side note, this is actually one of the really interesting things about Hindu marriage laws. In this film, it is used to jettison an illegitimate child, but it can also be legitimize a child conceived outside of the marriage. For instance, all the Pandava brothers had Gods as their biological fathers. But, since their 2 mothers (again, plural marriage is totally a normal thing! This movie is crazy to pretend otherwise! And also super communalist, since the common argument now is that Muslims are “bad” because they take more wives, unlike the noble Hindu) were married to their father at the time of conception, their father is their father, full stop, no argument. In the more historically literal interpretation of this story, the wives may not have laid with Gods, so much as with priests of those Gods. It is actually an instance of an accepted practice among the upper classes (and possibly lower, who knows, the lower classes aren’t in the history books) when dealing with issues of infertility. The wife is sent off to “lay with” a priest and/or hermit. The idea being that a priest has no worldly concerns or interests, and will not cause any future problems with the marriage or the child’s life, and will have nice genetic traits to pass on. Basically, like going to a sperm bank and picking out the sperm of an Ivy League graduate. I read about this in some respectable history/religion book, but I actually found out about it first from Eklavya, which is a surprisingly good film, and which deals with how this practice might function in the world today. I won’t say any more, because the revelations and emotional confrontations are awesome.
(anyone of one these characters, on their own, is more realistic and sympathetic than the entire cast of Bajirao)
Anyway, priests are being jerks. Ranveer’s response is to say “Fine! Than I will go to the Muslim community and have him named there!” Which is really nice, that Ranveer doesn’t even consider, but immediately accepts that his child should be raised in the group that will welcome him fully. That part of this scene, I actually whole-heartedly approve of (yes, it’s true, there is one thing in this movie that I actually like).
But I do have a couple notes. First, I would like it more if he had discussed this with Dips first. Back in the weirdly romantic birthing scene, she was the one who picked the baby’s name, and purposely picked a Hindu one. If I were her, I would be a little snippy about my choice being set aside! Of course, if I were her, I wouldn’t have put up with a lot of this stuff. Second, I would like it if this caused Ranveer to consider whether he himself wants to be part of a religion that would reject his children, and even more if it made him consider using his power to confront these practices and perhaps save other children like his. And third, I would have really liked it if we could have seen the naming ceremony! Can you imagine the power of the image, if we saw a Mullah lovingly holding this child, and welcoming it, and blessing it? If we saw any Muslim male in this whole film who was not killing, being killed, or being threatened with death? If we saw the Muslim community that existed peacefully within this kingdom, acknowledging their presence in Maharashtra even 300 years ago?
But, beyond those 3 things, I do think it was a nice message and a nice moment, that Ranveer didn’t even think twice about rejecting (on behalf of his son, if not himself) a religion that would not accept him.
And cut to 3 years later! Okay, remember how I said in another post this movie was “unIndian” in structure? This is one of those things that feels unIndian. Put the time jump at the intermission! My goodness, even I could figure that out, and I haven’t even had a film accepted at Cannes, Sanjay. Oh, and also, Ranveer is holding both boys while standing in some sacred water thing (I would say Ganges, but that wouldn’t make sense geographically). We can see that one boy has the shaved head of the Hindu child, while the other has a full head of hair to indicate he is Muslim-Muslim-Muslim. But he is also standing in holy water, being held by his Hindu father. So I guess he is mostly an aesthetic Muslim, like his mother before him.
Anyway, Brahmin confronts Ranveer, with support of widow mother (I guess she gets to go out of Purdah to visit the temple? No wonder she is so religious! It’s the only way to get out of the house!), and asks when he will next do Big Religious Atonement Ceremony that he has skipped the past few years. Ranveer’s like “yeah, I’m not doing that any more.” So I guess one of my points above is taken care of, post the rejection of his son, he really is rejecting Hinduism as well! Good on ya, Ranveer!
Brahmin is not happy about this. Brahmin is also kind of muscular and scary for a Priest. Ranveer also takes this opportunity to announce that he is going to officially settle lands and palaces on Dips, so she never has to worry about being thrown out of her home. What a nice thought! That you are having about 3 years too late and it kind of seems like your main concern is insulting the Brahmins rather than helping Dips! But still, nice thought.
So, he draws up the papers for this (oh look! He actually knows how to read and draw up papers! Based on what we have seen up to this point, I thought ruling just involved sitting in a noble manner and making big declarations and not following up on them!), and his steward/brother objects. Which leads to the cool knife thrown in slow motion shot from the trailer. The brother ducks at the last minute, and the knife hits the wall. Brother says, “you missed” and I, having seen a movie before IN MY LIFE, know that Ranveer is going to say “No, I didn’t” in a dun-dun-dun kind of way. And possibly add, “next time, I won’t!” So yeah, he is getting people mad at him left and right.
When Dips arrives at her new house, Piggy Chops is the only one there to welcome her! Okay, that’s nice, but again, Ranveer! Get your house in order! If your Mom and brother won’t do what you say, exile those suckers! That’s what I would do, were I a super warrior who was also passionately in love with a forbidden person and my family was actually causing issues with my kingdom in protest.
So, yeah, Piggy Chops blesses them both, together, thereby acknowledging their union, but she refuses to let Dips touch her feet and thereby get her personal blessing. I think we are supposed to be like “this is such an awkward situation! It’s weird because she is technically Dips’ elder, but why would Dips ever think she could get a blessing from her?” Except that, again, plural marriages are very common, and often the oldest wife does act as a sort of mentor and sister to the younger ones. I’m not saying all the time or anything, but that is the ideal. So Dips was acting in a socially acceptable and regular manner (and in fact has been all along), while Priyanka’s character is the one who is breaking all the social norms, and this film seems to want us to think it is the other way around. And again, there is that tinge of “the Hindu woman is doing the right and normal and empathetic thing, while the Muslim woman is doing the crazy society breaking weird thing” to it.
(Here are the 1st and 2nd wives in the Mahabharata TV serial interacting appropriately)
So, yeah, Dips is home! In a house that has furniture, but still that yuchy weird lighting! Oh, also, we don’t see handmaiden in this scene or, I think, ever again. I’ve decided she saved up enough money to marry her nice guard and is living on a farm somewhere entertaining her new sister-in-laws with stories about that nutty lady she used to work for.
And then we see Piggy Chops crying in a garden thing. I think maybe the same set where she told Ranveer she was pregnant? But from a totally new angle, which means they would have had to reset everything to film this, so it is still super expensive. If it were me, I would have re-used it the exact same way for this scene, since there’s no real good reason not to, and I would have also used the same sets, but with camera angles changed, every time I needed to film a “new” room. I mean, did you notice that whole “Sheesh Mahal” room they made such a deal about, was only used 3 times, once for the big song number and twice for like 30 second dialogue scenes? Why couldn’t this confrontation take place there? Or the meeting with the Brahmins from two scenes ago, or the meeting with the Brahmins from a scene ago? It’s not just expensive, it’s also a little confusing, I am having a hard time with the geography of this castle, and the geography of where everyone is living right now, because practically every scene takes place in a totally new location.
Anyway, Piggy is crying. And her son shows up and catches her. She is all “nice to see you! But I am having a hard time setting aside my romantic angst to focus! Even though, according to the dialogue, I haven’t seen you in like years and you have been spending that time at court, the seat of power! I have no interest in you, personally, or in the greater world around us, because my Tru Luv doesn’t want to spend time with me anymore.” The son sees through her terrible terrible acting and is all “Mom, I am so mad at Dad! Because you guys are terrible parents who never talk to me or explain what is happening, which leaves me to create my own narrative of your break-up! Maybe family counseling would solve all our problems?” But he doesn’t say all that. Because Sanjay Leela Bhansali has no idea how healthy family dynamics should, or could, work, and chooses to blame all the misery of these people on fate instead of on an unwillingness to TALK TO EACH OTHER!
Oh, also, obviously, the only possible purpose of this scene is to set up future conflict, since their oldest son, or really any children, are not mentioned unless they will have an effect on True Love. PLOT POINT, REMEMBER THIS, Sanjay is screaming at us. Yes, Sanjay, I hear you, you can relax a little with the on the nose dialogue.
So, following that super exposition filled scene, we have one that doesn’t give me nearly enough information. Piggy Chops is walking through a corridor (where? See, if we re-used more sets, I could recognize it!) when she is stopped by a Brahmin, who warns her that during the Ganesh ceremony today, there will be an attack on Dips. And the subtitles helpfully clarify that Ganesh is the “God of obstacles and removing obstacles”. They do not clarify that the Ganesh celebration is something that still happens in Maharastra today and is a huge local thing, BOMBAYITES COME SEE THIS MOVIE AND ARTIFICIALLY INCREASE OUR INDIAN BOX OFFICE.
(same celebration in Agneepath in modern Maharashtra, where the violence was much more satisfying and morally unambigious)
So, Ganesh ceremony, intercut with Dips carrying her child in one arm and fighting off attackers with a sword in the other. See, if handmaiden was still there, she could carry the child for you. Oh, and also, Dips has her hair down again and is wearing a big flowing Churidar. So everything looks all nice and floaty in slow motion, but also it is undercutting the
“warrior woman” effect a little. Back in Ganesh land, Piggy Chops looks disturbed and Ranveer looks at her questioningly. Then back to Dips, fighting fighting fighting, realizing she is going to lose, clasping her son to her (he looks sleepy, probably one of those kids who never really wakes up if you try to wake them in the middle of the night. I had a roommate in college like that, we had a whole fire drill, including standing outside for ten minutes, and she didn’t remember any of it the next morning). Anyway, just as some guy is going to bring his sword down on them, a big blade goes smoosh through his chest and pokes out the other side, because Ranveer has arrived! He also has some blood on him, which is actually subtle for once (Thanks SLB!), implying that he fought his way through more attackers to get here, he wasn’t just hanging back waiting for the most dramatic moment.
And then Piggy Chops come sneaking through the door just in time to witness blood spattered Ranveer and Dips embracing with their child between them. And I get it, it’s supposed to be the moment that she realizes they really are a family, and they really love each other, and etc. etc. But I have two problems with it, one philosophical and one practical.
Practically, how did this work? Ranveer leaves the Ganesh ceremony, fights his way through the attackers, and kills a guy who is about to kill Dips, and Piggy Chops just sort of strolled along in his wake? Isn’t she supposed to be super delicate and feminine and not used to battle? And also, somewhat restricted in her movements (as a proper Hindu wife)? Also, wouldn’t she be so shaken by seeing her husband stab a guy that she wouldn’t really be looking pained and thoughtful, but more in shock and vomiting?
Philosophically-THIS is when she realizes attacking a woman and a small child is wrong? Do we even know how long it took her to tell Ranveer about the attack? We see her thinking about it, and with the subtitles helpful reminder that Ganesh is the god of removing obstacles, the implication is that she was tempted to let the attack go through. And we are supposed to sympathize with her? Is there anything more evil, on this earth, than killing a baby? By allowing it to be cut in half by a sword? I’m sure there is, but that’s got to be in like the top 5, right? I get that it is tempting to think about the Other Woman being out of the way, but when you are told “a bunch of guys are about to attack and kill her and your baby stepson”, wouldn’t your over-whelming human instinct, especially as a mother yourself, be to protect them? Picture it if the scene had played out as Piggy Chops being told, looking shocked, then slow-mo running through the ceremony, knocking puja plates out of the way (indicating her disgusted rejection of the religion/her priorities of human life over appearances), and grabbing Ranveer and starring at him in horror). Cut that with Dips’ desperate fight, suddenly we have the tension coming from whether Piggy Chops will get there in time rather than whether she will say anything at all, and we have a real, believable, sympathetic character moment. We have Piggy suddenly and graphically realizing that her own pettiness and self-involvement has lead to real, violent consequences, and that she has to get over herself. And we have the two women finally being united in a common cause, both of them trying to save an innocent child.
What we get instead, is the idea that women are so shallow, and so self-involved, that they won’t even recognize the immediate evilness of killing a child, that it is only when they see Their Man embracing someone else that they will be forced to reconsider their actions.
Anyway, back to plot-y stuff, the next day Ranveer comes into the courtyard to see the good Brahmin who warned them lying there dead and the Bad head Brahmin standing over the body. Evil Widow Mom and brother are also watching. Oh, and it’s raining, for extra drama. Ranveer is furious, and orders the head Brahmin arrested. At which point Mom steps in front of him to save Ranveer from committing a “sin.” Ranveer is furious! But not furious enough to publicly call out Brahmin and mom and hypocrites and their religion, as they practice it, as a terrible terrible thing.
Instead, he waits until they are in private where it will have less of an effect and yells at Mom and brother. And declares that if they won’t respect his power, he is taking his ball and going home! That is, giving up the thrown. Oh great, the message is, if you don’t like society, just give up and leave it! What about using your MASSIVE POWER to actually try to fix the problems? Is that not romantic enough, SLB?
And then we are back to Piggy Chops. Because of her whole “oh my God, he really loves her and can’t be happy with out her!” moment, she decides to go to Dips and invite her to the women’s party thing. And blesses her as a fellow married woman. And then they sing a duet all about how awesome Ranveer is, and how it ennobles them to share him, and how it’s too bad he needs both of them, but for his needs, they will mortify themselves and be more saintly for it.
So, you know Devdas? According to most interpretations of both the novel and the films, Devdas is a loser and the best thing about him is that he loves, and is loved by, Paro and Chandramukhi. The lesson is supposed to be “don’t be like this guy! He’s an idiot who never sees a good thing when he has it, and is incapable of taking a brave or self-sacrificing step until the very end of his life.” In SLB’s version, he inserted the whole meeting of Chandramukhi and Paro so they could have a conversation about how awesome Dev is, and how lucky they are to have him in their lives, and how they love sacrificing for him. And then the whole “Dola” song is just about how they worship him, even if they can’t have him, and this is how they serve God. To Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a woman sacrificing everything for the love of her man, suffering all indignities and pain, is the most noble thing possible. It is this way in all his films. Bhansali is supposed to be this big feminist director, because he spends so much time with his female characters, and makes them so “strong” and awesome, but in fact he is the worst kind of chauvinist, the one that says because women are so “wonderful”, they are capable of enormous challenges-so why make their lives any easier? Why should we help unwed mothers and punish fathers who abuse them, if they are strong enough to take the criticisms of society? Why should we treat a suicide attempt as a cry for help and talk through the needs of the survivor if all they really need is to be married off to the man their parents picked for them? And so on. Every one of his heroines represents a real social issue that women in India struggle with to this day, and the solution he offers them is “Endure, and you will be rewarded in heaven!”
(giving up your life to unrequited passion for a man is super awesome! Fa-la-la-la!)
Also, “Pinga” is kind of boringly filmed, with blah dark toned costumes, smoky lighting, and simple choreography. I hate the message of Dola, but it did bring together two of the best dancers in India today, whereas dancing is not a strong suit for either Priyanka or Dips.
So, “Pinga” over, Ranveer gets word that the “evil” Nizam is attacking, even though he promised he wouldn’t. Isn’t that just like him! Ranveer of course says it’s not his problem any more! He gave up the throne in that huge hissy fit because his Mom wouldn’t listen to him! Mom and brother give up and leave, but when one of his fellow soldier guy addresses him as a fellow soldier and reminds him of his responsibility to protect the people, he gives in. Which is okay, I guess, although I am a little disturbed that he has to actually be reminded that there are people who count on him and maybe he should try to save their lives. You know, people who he doesn’t necessarily want to have sex with.
Now that he has decided he actually wants to go to war, Piggy Chops and his mom are sewing him a new war flag. A huge saffron one, which is being made by two high-caste Hindu women. So this whole war-thing is feeling more and more religious and less and less patriotic. But whatever, only like half an hour left in the film, I can make it!
So, before he leaves, he goes to Piggy Chops for a blessing in her rooms, where she is blowing out a bunch of diyas. And she refuses. Okay, remember what I said about how Piggy Chops is ennobled by her constant moaning and groaning over not having Ranveer? So, now she is making the healthy choice and asking him to leave her alone so she can move on with her life. And blowing out the diyas (symbols of Hindu worship) and refusing to bless him before battle. And telling all this through a story she heard from a priest about how Rukmani happily shared Krishna, but she’s not like Rukmani. SEE! See what happens when Hindu women stop worshiping their husbands and making them the center of their existence! Yes, thank you SLB, I do see.
So, Ranveer goes to Dips for a blessing instead. Well, this isn’t going to end well! She’s your second wife, and a Muslim! So, she tries her best, and he embraces her, giving us our poster image, and then leaves. But first gives a lengthy doomsday-y prediction as to when they will meet again. I think “Oh god, are we going to have to wait while every single one of his predictions comes true before this thing is over?” And yes, we are.
So, he leaves, as soon as he is gone, his Mom and son (remember? Remember the hugely foreshadowing conversation where the son really hated Dips and Piggy Chops didn’t really help him get past it? Because she is a terrible mother?), anyway, they decide to arrest Dips. Which is where we get super Mughal-E-Azam-y! Here she goes, being brought off in chains, just like Madhubala. Oh, except with her son clasped in her arms, which is also reminding me of Queen Elizabeth I. Do you think SLB has been hanging out with Shekhar Kapur? Giving him advice on how to get people to throw money at you so he can finally make Paani and getting advice on how to film a young child-who-will-be-king/queen being imprisoned with their mother?
Back to War, Ranveer is heating his sword over a flame before battle (finally! An explanation for the fwippy sword technique besides being ripped off from Asoka! Totally worth coming back for the second half just to get this mystery solved!), when he is told that Dips and son have been arrested. He immediately leaves the tent, jumps on his horse, and starts riding towards the enemy, just one lone horseman. Which looks cool, but is SO STUPID! I get the suicidal need to get it over with so you can get home, but you realize you are also committing all your soldiers to following you into death, right? This is the kind of thing that in modern armies can lead to court-martials? And kind of should lead to court-martials? Because it’s basically murder by indifference?
(So, I think Shahrukh’s fwippy sword is better than Ranveer’s, but is his hair worse?)
But there is a cool shot, when the evil Muslims shoot a bunch of arrows at him, and he pulls out his fwippy swords and cuts the arrows right out of the air in front of him. Great, you have fwippy swords! You also have a bunch of struggling innocent young soldiers counting on your leadership to get them through this battle safely. If handmaiden’s new husband, ordered back into service for this battle, dies or is injured because of you, I will never forgive you!
So, cut from the fwippy swords, back to the dark stone prison where Dips is chained up with her arms attached to opposite walls, all Christ-pose like, and her son huddled up against her. How long has this been going on? Have they had any food? Baths? Toilet facilities? Anyway, “evil” teenage son who never got the family talk about how Mom and Dad don’t love each other any more but they still love you, shows up and orders her to give up her child. Before he leaves, Dips takes her son through a catechism about how he must be brave and fierce and all that because his father is a great warrior. Oh good, even as a mother her first priority is giving glory to her husband. And then the son is taken away, never to be seen again. I mean, historically, we know he survived, was raised in the palace with his ‘legitimate’ brothers, and became a great warrior. But SLB figures, out of sight out of mind, we don’t really care about kids anyway, just True Love.
But I have to admit, it does make for a nice cut, from little boy lisping about his father’s prowess in battle, to Ranveer standing on a smoky field covered with the bodies of his enemies. Anyway, chief assistant war guy comes up to him and says that the Nizam surrended and apologized, now what? Ranveer declares “Now they will declare war on his own kingdom! To free his True Luv!” Oh hey, isn’t that what Prince Salim did in Mughal-E-Azam? And wasn’t it totally the wrong choice? Anyway, we the audience are supposed to be as shocked as his chief war dude, because there is a pause for us all to go “No! Not war on a Hindu kingdom! Even though your son is revolting (in many ways) and your other son is in prison and your mother is acting as regent and ignoring all your orders! Sure, go to war with all the Muslim kingdoms you want just for ‘glory’, but not a Hindu one!”
Anyway, apparently God himself is also horrified, because he strikes Ranveer down before he can take more than a few more steps. Oh good! Bajirao the real person died of fever after battle! Are we finally there? Is death and the end of this movie imminent? Oh, and Dips, of course, senses his illness. Because that’s what’s most important, that we the audience get confirmation of their magical connection!
So, speaking of connections, cut between Dips being tortured with water to the face and told to renounce her marriage and agree to go back home, with Ranveer being gently swabbed with wet cloths to bring down the fever. Dips! Just go home! What good is this doing!
Back to Ranveer, the doctors say there is nothing more they can do the family should be called, maybe that will calm him. Cut to Grandma, praying, while grandson who never got enough love as a child comes to tell her that orders came through from the capital that Dips is to be freed (why does the capital care about this anyway?). Grandma keeps praying, grandson realizes she is afraid, and is scornful. Yep, that’s women, think they can handle power and authority, but then get all scared and need a man when the going gets tough.
Cut to Ranveer, looking at things all fuzzy and fevery, seeing a female figure getting out of a carriage and calling for Dips. We, the audience, are supposed to be uncertain ourselves, because we just saw that somewhat open ended scene about her pardon. But then it is Piggy Chops instead! This reveal didn’t land as hard for me as it was supposed to, possibly I had just been worn down by the this point. But, yeah, Ranveer still thinks it is Dips and Piggy Chops goes along with it, telling him she is fine, and their son is fine, and learning to ride. Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew whether or not that was actually true? If we had confirmation that the little boy had been taken to safety with Piggy Chops and she was over-seeing his upbringing? But I guess SLB decided the fate of a small child doesn’t matter as much as, once more, showing Piggy Chops being all punished and sad.
Back at the ranch, Dips is given one more chance to repent and go home, and refuses. Meanwhile, the people are told to pray for Ranveer because he is very ill. Which (spoiler!) ends up having no effect, and I would think this was a cynical slam at Hinduism and prayer on the part of the director, except that the WHOLE REST OF THE MOVIE buys into the magical power of the prayers of a Hindu woman, and in fact the only reason he is sick right now, is because he didn’t get the blessings from Piggy Chops before battle. And then things start cutting back and forth very quickly, and at the same time with deadening boredom, so I will just be zipping through to the end-end.
Piggy Chops insists that Dips be freed, going against evil Widow mother for the first time. Oh good, her character is redeemed in the last five minutes of the film! That totally makes her be retroactively sympathetic! Except not. Also, she does all this on the authority of being “Ranveer’s wife”. You understand, only now that he is incapacitated would it be right for her to take any kind of control over her own life, because she is doing it on his behalf.
But, before the pardon can reach her, Dips struggles against her chains and sees all the symbols from Ranveer’s super long prophecy come true. Sun and Moon in the sky together, clouds, rain, fire, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, Ranveer is having a super detailed and yet boring hallucination. Horsemen riding over the lake, he has to grab his sword and fight them, fire from the sky, and on and on. Oh, and the whole time he is crying out Dips’ name, because at the moment of death, he isn’t fighting for his kingdom, or his children, or a higher ideal, but just for True Love. And I know I am supposed to find this swoony and the culmination of the whole film, but I just find it super selfish and immature. Oh, and then he dies. And so does Dips. Whatever.