Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior Movie Review - Ajay Devgn's Film Is A Treat For The Eye, If Not For The Mind
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
A treat for the eye, if not for the mind, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, co-produced by lead actor Ajay Devgn, is a 3D period biopic that gives historicity a wide berth and pieces together a dramatic enactment of a 17th century Maratha conquest of a strategic fort under the control of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The makers of the film do admit as much in an upfront disclaimer upfront to cover their tracks and assuage any outrage that might be caused by the liberties that they have taken.
The two principal stars of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, Devgn and Saif Ali Khan, in the guise of a ferocious Rajput fort-keeper who is unquestioningly trusted by Aurangzeb, are in their elements. It is another matter that the warriors that they play are shorn of authenticity.
Neither the hero Tanaji Malusare, an iconic Maratha military general who served Shivaji before he was coronated as the Chhatrapati, nor Udaybhan Singh (Saif Ali Khan), a brutal warrior, is human. The former is a paragon of rectitude and valour, a man so intrepid that he puts his son's wedding on hold to lead the assault on the hill fort of Kondhana. The latter is Devil Incarnate, a ruthless taskmaster who grandly declares that in his darbar pardon isn't an option, only punishment is. As a result, any nuanced portrait of a fierce confrontation is ruled out.
Director Om Raut, making his Hindi-language debut, confuses scale with cinematic finesse. To his credit, however, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is not devoid of visual flourishes. Most of them are a result of the work of the CGI technicians and the 3D cinematography by Japan-born, US-trained Keiko Nakahara. Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is impressively mounted and the climactic sequences are first-rate. But too much artifice and too little authenticity is the film's bane.
The storyline, derived from a chapter in the annals of the Maratha Empire and run through a blender devised by a blinkered Bollywood, is simple. The proto-nationalist is Hindu, a pious, God-fearing family man who thinks nothing of putting the empire (equated facilely with nation) before self. The antagonist is Hindu, too, but fights on the side of a Muslim emperor, which makes him worse, a traitor beyond redemption. Udaybhan is a Rajput, but the film makes it a point not to show him as a man who has anything to do with worship and prayer. He is Godless and, therefore, beyond salvation.
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior starts with a brief mid-17th century prelude. Tanaji is a boy but he is already a skilled swordsman and fighter. His doting father is impressed no end. The old man dies in battle, leaving his prized scimitar behind with his son. Jump to 1664. Under the treaty of Purandar, Shivaji surrenders 23 of his forts to the Mughals. The ruler's mother, Jijabai (Padmavathi Rao), vows to walk barefoot until Kondhana Fort is wrested back.
Four years on, Shivaji plans an attack on the fort but conceals the information from Tanaji, his most trusted aide, because the latter is preparing for his pre-teen son's wedding back in the village. It is a child marriage, but this is the 1660s, so let's refrain from calling anything into question.
Another warrior in the Maratha court, Chandraji Pisal (Ajinkya Deo), who envies Tanaji's clout, spills the beans when latter accompanied by his wife Savitribai (Kajol) travels to Raigad to extend a wedding invitation to Shivaji. Tanaji confronts Shivaji and requests him to let him lead the assault on Fort Kondhana. The fort first, only then my son's wedding, the general proclaims. Shivaji is forced to acquiesce.
Udaybhan Singh, Aurangzeb's former chief bodyguard, is now in charge of the impregnable fortress that stands atop a steep rocky hill. Here he holds a young widow Kamla (Neha Sharma) captive after dragging her out from her dead husband's pyre, but he does not force her in any way to surrender to his advances. I will wait until your 'no' changes to 'yes', he says. Udaybhan is an evil man but here we have him performing two acts of surprising 'nobility': not only does he prevent a Rajput woman from committing Sati, he also decides that consent matters.
But that facet of the villain's personality is drowned out in the portrayal of an evil man who chops off an elephant's trunk, pushes a cowering guard over a precipice for a minor lapse and slaughters his adversaries without batting an eyelid. Saif's Udaybhan is Ranveer Singh's Alauddin Khilji revisited. In one scene, he feasts on a crocodile being slow-roasted on fire, which is meant to underline how perverse the man is.
The impulse to project Tanaji Malusare as a morally infallible man wedded to the cause of swaraj is easy to understand in the light of the glut of the Hindu-Muslim binary-pushing historical sagas that a segment of Bollywood is so in thrall of these days.
The emphasis on the colour bhagwa (saffron), too, is understandable - that was the colour of the Maratha confederacy's flag - but the constant reference to the adversaries of the Marathas as shaitaan (devil) and darinda (beast of prey) only serves to further a simplistic narrative that ignores the historical realities that obtained in this vast, diverse land of ours 350 years ago.
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, written by long-time Sanjay Leela Bhansali collaborator Prakash Kapadia with Om Raut, foists a terribly dull voice-over on the audience to guide it through a distorted history lesson. The best that it can manage, by way of an introduction, are cliched lines to the effect that in the mid-17th century India was a "sone ki chidiya" grievously wounded by a wave of invasions. Come up with something new, for god's sake!
On the positive side, for a swords-and-spears costume drama, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is pretty crisp. The performances breathe some life into the proceedings when the show threatens to turn overly stuffy. While Devgn and Khan deliver some neat blows on the way to the final face-off, the supporting cast members, notably Sharad Kelkar as Shivaji, Luke Kenny as Aurangzeb and, of course, Kajol, give a great account of themselves.
Watch Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior for its surface gloss: one attribute that the film has no dearth of.
Rajeev Masand :
January 10, 2020
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Sharad Kelkar, Kajol, Luke Kenny
Director: Om Raut
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior stars Ajay Devgan as the valorous hero of the film’s title, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s trusted lieutenant Subedar Tanhaji Malasure, who, according to legend, never backed away from a fight. Yet it’s Saif Ali Khan, playing the film’s villain, who appears to be having more fun.
Saif plays Udaybhan, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s Rajput general, who sports black robes, a thick beard, a deceptive smile, and an unending appetite for cruelty. Let’s just say he’s cut from the same cloth as Ranveer Singh’s Alauddin Khilji.
The film, directed by Om Raut, is set in the year 1670, and focuses on the Battle of Sinhagad between the Marathas and the Mughals. History has it that Tanhaji abandoned his son’s wedding to defend the Kondhana Fort near Pune from Udaybhan and his troops.
The filmmakers stick to the broad strokes of the story, but details appear to be cheerfully exaggerated and fictionalised. Characters, communities, and empires are reduced to archetypes. The Marathas are all noble, swaraj-worshipping warriors; the Mughals are opportunistic, deceitful, invaders.
Over nearly two hours and fifteen minutes the stage is set for a sprawling epic that is frankly less historical and more action saga. It is also the best way to enjoy this film. Tanhaji is first introduced in the film swooping down on the enemy in a ravine, his men and him vanquishing them with strategy and sheer daring. It’s a stunning entry.
The film is mounted on an extravagant scale, with massive sets, big action set pieces, booming background music, and elaborate costumes. There is more than a whiff of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and particularly Padmaavat in the film’s lighting and colour tones. The cinematography by Keiko Nakahara is sweeping, very much in keeping with the overall brief of aesthetics.
The action scenes are especially effective, and further enhanced if you choose to watch the film in 3D. Sequences depicting the guerilla tactics employed by the Marathas to scale the fort are excellently executed, and the final battle between Tanhaji and Udaybhan is nothing short of spectacular. With a deadly cannon aimed in the direction of Shivaji’s Rajgad Fort, the two men face off in a bloody fight to the finish.
Of the cast, Kajol shows up in the role of Tahaji’s wife Savitri, and the scenes between them benefit from the actors’ easy chemistry. Sharad Kelkar nicely channels Chhatrapati Shivaji’s nobility, and Luke Kenny is an inspired casting choice for the role of Aurangzeb.
Ajay Devgan brings unmistakable earnestness to the role of the honourable warrior. It is to his credit that even while mouthing heavy dialogues loaded with repeated use of words like “bhagwaa dhwaj”, he roots the hero in a kind of relatable humanity. The scene-stealer, however, is Saif Ali Khan who sinks his teeth into the role of Udaybhan. His sadistic general is a man who throws cold water on sleeping prisoners, and in one scene sends a poor guard falling to his death after screaming in his face.
It must also be said that Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior speaks directly to our hyper-nationalistic climate. The history is dubious, the politics problematic. It feeds into what seems to have become Bollywood’s preferred stereotype of the enemy: all savage, brutal, ruthless ‘outsiders’.
If you can look beyond that, you’ll appreciate the robust filmmaking, the visceral battle scenes, and a delicious performance by an actor who’s seldom got his due. For some that will be enough. I’m going with three out of five for Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior.
(This review first aired on CNN News18)
Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior And Chhapaak First Day Business
Saturday 11 January 2019 11.30 IST Box Office India Trade Network
Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior collected well with 14.50 crore nett on day which is lower than the earlier estimates as North and East have come in with low collections. The film has still done well on day one but those North and East figures will have to improve as they bring the all India figure down. The film was also going to lead in Maharashtra but Gujarat could have helped it higher. Mumbai is around 50% of the all India number.
The collections in Maharashtra are very good but here the Gujarat / Saurashtra figure means Mumbai circuit could have been better also. It remains to be seen what sort of growth the film can get on Saturday and it should grow well in most multiplexes of the country though Maharashtra and single screens may not.
Chhapaak also came in lower than estimated at around 4.25 crore nett the film was failed to show any growth post 3 pm and which should have pushed the numebr to 6 crore nett. the collections are only in the big multiplexes and it has hardly collected outside the big multiplexes.
The film will struggle to collect from here especially with the competition of the bigger film but it has proved to be a bit of a nuisance film to Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior in North, West Bengal and Mysore as in these places Tanhji - The Unsung Warrior was going to be weak but with another film they get an option also.
Edited by shogun - 1 months ago
Loved this movie. Not a single ounce of fat on this lean and mean machine. Felt like I am watching a Hollywood sword and sandal epic like 300, immortals and 300 sequel. The vfx in this are really good barring a few elephant shots. The 3d is well used and accentuates the visuals.
I would love this to do very well so that Ajay can continue making films on a series of unsung warriors.
Om Raut is really talented and definitely knows how to make a thoroughly entertaining movie with great background music, action, visuals/vfx and emotional scenes.
I would love to see him do a big YRF action movie like WAR2 or even any big budget collaboration with Hrithik.
Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior Set To Emerge HIT
Saturday 11 January 2019 17.30 ISTBox Office India Trade Network
Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior is set to emerge a HIT film as it shows a huge turnaround on Saturday in key areas. The film has shown a huge jump in Delhi NCR and East Punjab with collections doubling from the previous day in many centres. Both circuits could be 70-80% from Friday which is a very good sign for the films especially as the other main area Mumbai is strong from day one.
The growth in Mumbai will be less but the film has a good chance to cross the 20 crore nett mark on day two which would mean growth of 40% plus which is very good for this type of film. It is early so collections could go even higher than 20 crore or remain a little lower like yesterday but what is there is a solid trend for the film which will mean a good run at the boxoffice. Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior should now work outside Maharashtra which was crucial with this huge jump in North but it will be the weekdays which will confirm this.
The other release Chhapaak is poor as the growth will be similar to Tanhaji - The Warrior but considering its a high end multiplex film for metros only and half the screens of Tanhaji - The Unsung Warrior it should be growing more.
The film could hit the 6.50 crore nett mark which is unlikely to be good enough as the first day did not come through. This sort of growth from a 6 crore nett day one could have been a different story altogether.
The WOM has kicked in. Going into the next gear.
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