Directors – Om Raut
Producer – Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Ajay Devgn
Director Om Raut crafts the perfect tribute to Shivaji’s right hand man who finds scant space in our history books.
Weaned on warfare by his father, Tanhaji Malusare was the warrior who wrested the Kondhana fort from Mughal occupation and helped stem the expansionist dreams of Aurangzeb.
But all those who feared that this would be another jingoistic Hindu-Muslim showdown may relax. The larger confrontation may be Shivaji Maharaj versus Aurangzeb. But, by mounting this as a war between cruel antagonist Udayban Rathod and Tanaji Malusure, Raut steers clear of giving it religious fervour. And he scores.
Along with writer Prakash Kapadia, Om Raut gives Tanhaji’s story a sparkling energy. From the time Shivaji’s mother is forced to hand over Kondhana to the Mughals, swearing never to slip into footwear until their saffron flag flies there again, there’s an emotional connect in scene after scene.
The main equations are between Shivaji and Tanhajia as men of valour who live for the country, and the tenderness between Tanhaji and wife Savitri.
The grand manner in which Tanhaji goes over to invite Shivaji to his son’s wedding, the politics played by a barber, traitors on both sides who complicate every war, the first time meeting between Tanhaji and Udayban, the unique way Aurangzeb gives Kondhana to Udayban, 17th century ‘selfie moment’ where Tanhaji and Savitribai try to capture a moment together in the mirror, are all scenes that have an engrossing freshness. The screenplay does away with the expected, dispensing even with the legendary monitor lizard that helped Tanhaji scale the walls of Kondhana fort.
Udayban’s cruelty and cunning warrior skills that show up in different ways, cutting off an elephant’s trunk, roasting crocodile meat and unflinching sadism at all times, make him a wicked but delightfully colourful antagonist. But with all his cruelty, Udayban too is gentlemanly enough to wait for a ‘yes’ from Kamal, the widow he is in love with.
Aided by lavish production values, fine framing and cinematography,the rhythmic ‘Maay Bhawani’ with Tanhaji breaking a hot coconut with his bare hands and ‘Shankara Re Shankara’ which is choreographed splendidly, make it visually appealing too.
The nail-biting moment when Udayban has the canon aimed at Rajgad fort of Shivaji and the climax fight between Tanhaji and Udayban keep the action alive till the end.
Dialogues like Tanhaji gently telling his wife who’s tending to his injuries that her tears are adding salt to his wounds, are well written.
Ajay Devgn and Kajol as Tanhaji and Savitribai bring their real-life chemistry to the screen and are outstanding individually and together. It is to Devgn’s credit that he lets Saif Ali Khan walk away with a splendid performance as Udayban. Saif is twitch-perfect. Sharad Kelkar has the right personality and bearing as Shivaji.
Verdict: There will be a slim percentage of audience and reviewers who will see red over the victory of saffron or ‘bhagwa’. But this is a winner.