The Trailer of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior was an aversion. With its references to ‘aurat ka ghoonghat’ and ‘brahman ka janeu,’ and its bold proclamation about Tanaji Malusare’s capture of Kondhana fort being a ‘surgical strike,’ it appeared like yet another hyper-masculine exercise playing on the toxic pseudo-nationalist fervour that has grasped our nation. (Plus, Ajay Devgn can spell his name and his ‘film’ production company any way he wants, but in our history books, the warrior’s name has constantly been spelt as ‘Tanaji’.)
Regrettably, big Hindi films appear to be the most comfortable item to pull into a useless political controversy. Tanhaji also got into one because of the film it was released with Deepika Padukone’s Meghna Gulzar directorial Chhapaak. The two films were automatically pitted as judgments against each other depending on who you side with politically.
The most striking features of the film are its action. It has, by a distance, some of the best-choreographed action sequences in a Hindi film ever. It has also been shot rather well by Japanese cinematographer Keiko Nakahara. (She also shot the Sonakshi Sinha-starrer Noor, which has gained current-day Mumbai better than most films in recent times.) The film has frequently been shot on green screen sets, which shows. But it does not jar and looks better in 3D. (I watched the film in 3D, and saw the trailer on the big screen a few days earlier in 2D.)
Massively inspired by the action in Zack Snyder’s 300 in terms of style, but given its unique spin in terms of shot-taking and combining the action with the story, the film does not overdo its set-pieces, spacing them out with the plot and its dramatic graph. Whenever they are used, they are administered well, with the ones in the climax of the film being quite innovative, reflecting that Tanaji was indeed known for being adept at innovative guerrilla warfare.
The film also takes into account the fact Shivaji had nothing against Islam as a religion. His grouse was toward the rule of the Mughal empire, which he struggled with all his might, inspiring thousands of others to fight for their freedom. Indeed, the Maratha society and army under Shivaji was a composite one, with all faiths being granted a part of his people.
The other force of the film is the character of Shivaji, played by Sharad Kelkar. I cannot think of a better-cast role in recent times. His voice and his character go well with the faith around Shivaji, even though he is half a foot taller in real life than the legendary king was supposed to be. Tanhaji’s commitment to his king thus hardly seems accidental. It seems like a genuine reason for his absolute commitment to reclaim Kondhana fort.
Khan’s appearance is worthy of a precise piece all by itself; not because the actor has pulled off something remarkable from an acting prospect, but because he seems to have figured out the exact pitch of a commercial ‘performance’ in a film like this. So Khan’s urban savvy is still there to see just under the Udaybhan exterior, but it only helps the film, distinguishing with the stoic Devgn’s intense-but-one-note Tanaji.
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