Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Bajirao Mastani is a beautifully woven tapestry of relationships and their complexities. It is a tale that embraces the various layers of relationships and the burden & beauty that come with them. Each of Bajirao Mastani’s characters is formidable and generous in their way.
Mastani draped in the vibrant colours of love is inherently a warrior whose sword and senses are equally sharp. Her strength as a woman is visible from the very beginning when she chooses to build a relationship with Rao, thus writing her fate. She isn’t afraid of declaring her love to Rao in closed chambers or the royal court amidst a dozen people. She refrains from bowing down to any conformity while loving and living on her terms – unafraid, ferocious and fostering a slow-burning flame inside her.
If Mastani is fire, Kashi is water, as strong and resilient, just in a highly different manner. Upon first glance, Kashi is submissive, but there is real strength within her, for her servility as a devoted wife and mother is a choice- a choice she sticks to despite a broken heart and marriage. Unlike Mastani, Kashi isn’t fierce, she can’t wield a sword, but in the process of being kind and gentle, she doesn’t let go of Rao’s betrayal. Instead, she breaks her marital relationship with Rao when she asks him to leave her room. She expresses her agony and pain to both Rao and Mastani unabashedly while also being one of those few people who stood by them.
Mastani’s and Kashi’s relationship is a strangely enchanting one because it is an exciting grey space. They understand each other’s hurt pride and sufferings as women themselves and seem to be revolted by each other’s presence in Rao’s life more Kashi than Mastani. Even though diametrically opposite, both are connected forever through Bajirao, something neither can deny. One of the most beautiful scenes from the movie is when Kashi goes to Mastani’s chambers to invite her to the festivities and tells her that “Rao ko tumhari zaroorat hai, aur Rao ki zaroorat ka Dhyan rakhna, yeh meri zaroorat hai”.
Even with the dramatic complexities of their relationship, Kashi is oddly like an elder sister to Mastani. She understands that Rao needs her, and merely because of that, she is almost protective of Mastani, even to her disappointment, but that is who Kashi is; selfless and solicitous. Simply put, Kashi acknowledges Mastani as a woman, a human, but refuses to do so as the Peshwa’s wife because is there anything that hurts more than being left behind? — a feeling that Bhansali beautifully depicts. Mastani, on the other hand, has accepted that she’ll always be the second wife, the other woman, and maybe the world has no right to think that, but Kashi certainly does. Mastani and Kashi are real; they are women like you and me in the times where women like you and me couldn’t exist.
Finally, Bhansali’s male protagonist Peshwa Bajirao is a force to reckon with, mainly because of the gentleness he is painted with. Bhansali portrays him in the grey shade for falling in love with Mastani despite Kashi. However, we see him love both his wives equally. He respects both of them unequivocally and never questions their actions. He tries his very best to maintain a balanced relationship with both of them, and when he can’t, there is no one more agonised than him. He readily accepts Kashi’s punishment regardless of the sorrow it causes him because he recognises the grief he has caused her. Alas, he’s the exact link between Mastani and Kashi, the thread that keeps them together and yet very far from each other.