Mumbai: Hindi cinema loves revisiting India’s glorious past and telling the stories of heroism and bravery. After last year’s Panipat paid tribute to Maratha pride, 2020 has begun on a high note with the story of yet another unsung Maratha hero, Tanhaji.
With Tanhaji The Unsung Warrior, Ajay Devgn hits his century – this is the actor’s 100th film. A visual spectacle from the word go, the films boasts of a stellar cast including Saif Ali Khan and Kajol besides Ajay, elaborate sets, larger-than-life characters, quality special effects and edge-of-the-seat war scenes. Everything has been put together so beautifully that it belongs to the category India prizes a complete paisa vasool.
The basic premise is known: Tanhaji Malusare (Devgn) a trusted Subedar of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Sharad Kelkar) is determined to reclaim the Kondhana Fort (now called Sinhagad), which Shivaji had to cede to the shrewd Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (Luke Kenny) under the treaty of Purandhar. Tanhaji, with brave Maratha soldiers backing him, succeeds in capturing the fort that is being guarded by the emperor’s trusted aide and Rajput commander, Udaybhan (Saif Ali Khan) and a massive canon called ‘naagin’. A fierce battle ensues that leads to the ultimate yet known climax.
Makers here played rather smart by clearly stating in the disclaimer that they don’t vouch for the historic accuracy of events shown in the film, thus safely evading any possibility of flak from historians.
Tanhaji is mounted on a grand scale and its visuals do make you sit up and take notice. It is evident in Tanhaji’s introduction shot itself where he is standing on top of a cliff with ropes tied to his waist, waiting for his enemies to arrive. The excessive use of CGI (Computer Generated Images) is evident but it seamlessly blends in the narrative that you don’t find it awkward. The film fully relies on CGI and VFX and it could have fallen flat if it failed to create this impact.
The picturesque locations are a sight to behold as are the sword fights performed with finesse and perfection. In fact, these battles are as beautifully choreographed and synchronized as dance sequences. And here, full credit goes to action director Ramazan Bulut. Even the rousing background score by Sandeep Shirodkar is the film’s strength and amps up the mood during war scenes.
For a debut attempt in a Hindi-language film, director Om Raut has hit the ball out of the park. He has taken cinematic liberty to an extent that you know some parts are unreal and fictional yet his make-believe approach keeps you invested. Raut’s direction gets full marks for he lets his characters do what they’re best at.
Tanhaji is loaded with ace performances but it lets the special effect overshadow the characters at times. You want to focus on what the actor is doing but the in-your-face VFX and 3D effects are distracting. In fact, with actors that you can fully trust, the film would have had an impact even if it was not made in 3D. I mean experiencing arrows piercing through the screen and heading in your direction can get a little distracting after a while. Also, some special effects are stretched to the limit that it tests your patience. The one scene where Udhaybhan chops off an elephant’s trunk was a bit too much to digest.
Devgn is in his element. With that straight face, intense expressions and eyes that talk to you, the actor holds his ground. Complimenting him from real to reel is Kajol as she plays his onscreen wife Savitribai who impresses in the limited screen time she gets. She remains Tanhaji’s silent support and his pillar of strength. The portions showing Ajay and Kajol talking about their son’s wedding and expressing their love for each other is sort of giving a back-story to their characters.
Kelkar plays his part well as warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and with his voice and gestures, adds gravitas to the story. However, it’s Saif Ali Khan who outshines and overpowers everyone else. He reminds you of Ranveer Singh’s Khilji from Padmaavat, especially in one of the scenes where he is relishing roasted crocodile flesh. Call it Saif’s best performance till date in an antagonist’s role and it won’t be an exaggeration. He’s cunning, ferocious, ruthless, devilish and deadly and has a set of quirks, too. He plays an unhinged character, and manages to give you moments of mirth with his sinister laugh amid killing people.
Tanhaji is a complete package. It’s magnificent, high on visual effects and has powerful action backed by rock solid performances.