There is a pall of déjà vu shrouding this lavish though self-limited homage to a valour gone-by, renewed and validated by modern-day Bollywood visionaries, who believe in the power of the costume drama to invoke strong nationalistic feelings in the audience.
We’ve seen it all in Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat and the more recent Panipat. The brave Maratha warrior returns. This time it is Tanhaji Malusare (Devgn, dressed for the part), deputed by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Sharad Kelkar, powerful) to recapture the Kondhana fortress from Aurangzeb (Luke Kenny, breathing toxic energy).
It’s a ‘safe’ premise for a historical, given today’s climate of Hindutva in our country, where depicting Islamic invaders as anything but evil, avaricious, lustful and distrustful would be tantamount to sedition. In that sense, Tanhaji is truly a passionate and ardent nationalistic film with war cries against the enemy renting the air, as valiant (Hindu) men on valiant (Hindu) horses hurl across the (not so adept) 3D screen with a patriotic purpose and jingoistic fervour that insists on rewriting history by current definitions of nationalism.
Seen within its restricted, cultural and religious context, Tanhaji works fairly well, though the confrontation sequences between Devgn’s Tanhaji and Saif’s Udaybhan Singh Rathod lack the inner fire of true combustion. Both the actors seem to be holding back the implosive passion, Devgn because he always restrains himself, Saif because his co-star is doing it.
Saif’s Udaybhan is clearly modelled on Ranveer Singh’s Allauddin Khilji in Padmaavat. They are both hedonistic philistines with a leery glint in their eyes. Invaders whom we can’t trust with the womenfolk in our family, and probably some of the men too. Saif clearly has a lot of fun being wicked in a comic bookish mode. He chuckles, growls, scowls and sulks. There is a naughty child within this invader garbed in shrieking colours.
While Saif is fun to watch, it is Sharad Kelkar as a Chhatrapati Shivaji who dominates the proceedings. Kelkar with his imposing personality and voice takes over every scene that he figures in.
Ajay Devgn looks his part, but says his lines as though he were reading them from a teleprompter. Kajol has little to do. And the beautiful Neha Sharma even less. They both look like they could do with something more to do. Padmavati Rao as the Rajmata has more space and some token lines of empowerment. But women, it seems are not as empowered in this costume drama as they were in Bhansali and Gowariker’s pseudo-historicals.
While the earnestness of purpose and the scale of vision in Tanhaji are not to be doubted, the 3D format is just unnecessary, as it actually hampers the flow of the storytelling. The CGs are laughably bad with the flying horses taking the cake. Otherwise, all else is well in the Hindu paradise. Until the next invader crashes the party.