Legendary warrior Peshwa Bajirao battles Mughals but falls in love with half-Muslim Mastani - what happens when Bajirao's family declares war on his love?
Straight away, Bajirao Mastani is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's most gorgeous - and most political - movie. Peshwa Bajirao (Ranveer) stretches the Maratha empire across 18th century India, fighting Mughals and rivals for Chhattrapati Shahu (Mahesh). Suddenly, Bundelkhand requests protection, Bajirao approached by its half-Muslim princess Mastani (Deepika).
As Bajirao-Mastani fall in love, how does his wife Kashibai (Priyanka) react? And can Bajirao-Mastani battle the bitter opposition they receive?
Bajirao Mastani's most outstanding star is its cinematography. Every visual resembles a grand painting - courts with shadows and chandeliers, courtiers with tilaks and teers, chambers gleaming with mirrors, skies blushing with passion. Certain shots - Bajirao leaping up an elephant - stamp themselves onto your memory.
The movie's battle scenes are grand and complex while its family battles - led by Bajirao's Ma Sahab (bitterly good Tanvi) and brother Chimaji (Vaibbhav, whose nervous spite impresses) - are acrid and intense. With his faithful friend Ambaji (Milind) and acidic rival Pratinidhi (Aditya), the story takes twists and turns like Bajirao's Shaniwar Wada palace,' etc., where corridors resound with whispers, bedrooms with sighs, courtyards with clashing tempers and swords.
Ranveer pulls off Bajirao with chiseled muscles and glittering eyes, a Marathi lilt that delights, balancing vulnerability and vivaciousness. But Deepika's Mastani remains muted - you occasionally glimpse dark eyes drunk on love, the fire of a fighter-princess, but you miss the full-blown passion of this lead pair. In contrast, by the end, Priyanka impresses as quiet Kashi conveys the sorrow of a wife, a lover, a friend, forgotten.
The end, by the way, is marvelous. Where the first half looks fabulous but slightly far-off - like watching an opera from seats high in a theatre's skies - the second half mesmerizes. Post-interval, Bhansali imbues every frame with epic, precise passion. His question - what should religion do? Tear us to bits? Or bring us closer? - frames an end that is frightening, beautiful and powerful.
Bajirao-Mastani resembles Jodhaa-Akbar with teeth that bite, Mughal-e-Azam with shades of philosophical grey. It rediscovers roots to Maratha pride - and bravely confronts one of India's most crucial questions now.