“You Belittled Rajputs and Disfigured Mastani” – An Open Letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali

My dear filmmaker,

                                  Congratulations on successful release of the film! You are one of the few filmmakers who fans of period films like me expect a lot from. I have watched your Hum Dil Chuke Sanam, Black, Devdas and Ram Leela several times. These films are among my favorites. I am glad to see the cinematic version of an age-old love saga like Bajirao Mastani. At the same time, I am disappointed to see how you twisted the history, changed the facts, belittled Bundel Rajputs and distorted the character of Mastani in the name of cinematic liberties.

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You portrayed Mastani as a mere lovesick damsel with no self-respect. You made a Rajput girl dance in the Peshwa court at Shaniwar Wada which, for your information, was built after Mastani came to Pune with lots of dowry. Did the Peshwa stoop so low to be entertained by a Rajput girl in the court? Was Mastani so impatient to be united with Bajirao that she put herself at the mercy of Radhabai, bowed to the latter’s whims and visited Satara to objectify herself as a professional dancer in the court of Chhatrapati Sahu Maharaj?

In your version of the story, you belittled the Rajput clan of Bundelkhand by showing that Maharaj Chhatrasal sends his daughter alone to Pune without a talk with Bajirao. Mastani seems to force herself upon Bajirao and his family by traveling alone all the way to Pune at the cost of her self-respect. In fact, Maharaj Chhatrasaal presented Mastani as ‘dola’ to his rescuer, but Bajirao deliberately accepted her as wife in order to cement a long-lasting relationship with Bundelkhand for political gains. Maharaj Chhatrasaal ceremoniously sent Mastani off with Bajirao (ruksat or bidai), with lots of dowry in form of cash, jewels, lands, and a share of his diamond mine. There is no reference to it in the film.

Mastani was not only a good singer, dancer and horse rider but also a good storyteller and diplomat with political acumen. Many of her qualities and exceptional traits are neither highlighted nor referred to in your distorted version of the love saga. She was envied and resented not only for her beauty, prosperity and qualities. Mastani’s diplomatic prowess was another reason of her growing influence on Bajirao, which inflamed Kashibai, Radhabai and Chimaji Appa with animosity towards Mastani. Unlike Kashibai, Mastani used to stay out of the Peshwa’s family politics. Whenever Bajiroa was upset over family issues, Mastani’s love and affection balmed his agitated mind, which widened the gap between him and his first wife.

You put a new wine in the old bottle. You might have tried to recreate the Madhuri magic of ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe’ in Devdas, with Deepika in Bajirao Mastani. Don’t mind me saying that Mohe Rang Do Lal with Deepika’s impassive moves is a disappointing replica of ‘Kaahe Chhed Chhed Mohe’ with Madhuri’s classical dance full of eloquence. Only Madhuri justified Pandit Birju Maharaj’s choreography.

Pairing of Paro and Chandramukhi in Devdas and Mastani and Kashibai in Bajiroa Mastani is nothing but commercial add-ons to your movies offering more food for entertainment. A fiction like Devdas can be fictionalized to some extent while going through adaptation for celluloid. Taking unjust advantage of cinematic liberties in adapting a real story / event for the reel is an act of defiance to history, which often distorts the original picture and leads to historical inaccuracies. That is what happened to Bajirao Mastani.

You made Kashibai and Mastani dance together to entertain the audience, thinking that the audience might expect something like ‘Dola Re Dola’ and denying the fact that Kashibai could not dance because of a limp in one of her legs. The Pinga Re number is out of sync with the frames right before and after it in the film. Was it meant to be a temporary relief in the tempestuous atmosphere rife with angst and hostility towards Mastani, or make Priyanka Chopra happy with one dance sequence while Deepika has two dance sequences in the film? Or, did you intend to glorify Kashibai by making her dance with her pet hate? Do you think that Radhabai would allow Kashibai to dance with Mastani in the courtyard of Shanivar Wada?

Your cinematic depiction of the Maratha history shows only that Mastani for being a Muslim in maternal origin was not welcome to the Peshwa family. There were a few other reasons. The Peshwai was transferred from the Deshastha Brahmin community to the Chitpavan Brahmin community which Bajirao belonged to. Radhabai did not accept Mastani apprehending that the Deshastha Brahmins would take advantage of this in order to get back the Peshwai. William Shakespeare rightly says in Macbeth, “Security is men’s chiefest enemy.” The same was Kashibai’s. She was gripped by fears that Mastani would not let her son Nana Sahib inherit the Peshwai from Bajirao.

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