Director: Om Raut
Bollywood and its love affair with historical heroes has given us many films in the recent past. While films like Padmaavat and Jodha Akbar made us feel awed of our grand and magnificent history, cinematic experiences like the recent Panipat compelled us to question the filmmaker's motive behind making such films. Ajay Devgn and Kajol's film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior falls in the second category. Based on the life of Maratha warrior Tanaji Malusare (stylised as Tanhaji in the film), who was the Subedar in the army of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Om Raut directorial film is an exaggerated and slow-paced ode to the great warrior.
It is the 17th century when Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (Luke Kenny) is ruling the northern parts of India from the banks of Yamuna. He aspires to expand his empire down South by defeating the Marathas, who are determined to bring back Swarajya under the leadership of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Aurangzeb, the shrewd Mughal emperor also known by his regal name Alamgir, sets a Rajput General, Mirza Raje Jai Singh, against the Marathas. To save his people and his kingdom, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Sharad Kelkar) surrenders 23 of his forts, including the Fort of Kondhana, under the treaty of Purandar. The Fort of Kondhana has a strategic importance through which Aurangzeb wants to rule the southern part of India. Four years after capturing the fort, the Mughal emperor sends his Rajput fortkeeper Udaybhan Singh Rathod (Saif Ali Khan) with a special cannon, named Naagin, which has the calibre to destroy an entire fort. The Marathas plan a muhim (campaign) to recapture the Fort of Kondhana and are led by Tanaji Malusare (Ajay Devgn) in this struggle.
While a lot has been written about the Battle of Sinhagarh, which took place between the Maratha army led by Tanaji Malusare and Mughal fortkeeper Udaybhan Singh, the film presents it with interesting twists and turns. Tanaji Malusare is a brave Maratha warrior trained in the art of war skills. Remember Bajirao Singham in Rohit Shetty's Singham and Singham Returns? Ajay Devgn's Tanaji Malusare is the 17th-century Singham. With over-the-top dialogues exhorting Maratha masculinity, Ajay Devgn appears to be trying really hard to MAKE Tanaji a hero, which he indeed is in reality even sans all that pomp and show: "Jis tarah mitti ke har kan main pahad hota hai, har beej main ek jungle, har talwar main ek sena, ussi tarah har ek Maratha main chhupa hai lakh Maratha."
Kajol is reuniting with her husband in the latter's 100th film. It's been almost a decade since we last saw them together on the screen. The actress is seen playing Tanaji's wife Savitribai Malusare. Kajol's Savitribai is an 'adarsh' Maratha wife who stands with her husband in pain and in sorrow. While there is not much for the actress to do in the film dominated by male valour and patriotism, Kajol's chemistry with husband Ajay is refreshing.
Saif Ali Khan's Udaybhan Singh is the only treat you are taking out of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. In his anti-hero avatar, Saif yet again proves his versatility. The character is evil and blatantly unpleasant, but it also hides several layers in it. While there are several historical loopholes in this character, and his mannerisms which appear to have been influenced by Afghani culture more than Mughal, Saif Ali Khan cannot be deprived of the praise he deserves in choosing to portray such a complex character. The actor's expressions and acting talent will make you detest Udaybhan Singh for life.
Om Raut's Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero is a weak attempt to glorify the Maratha warrior. The director takes a lot of CGI help, which makes the film a grand affair, but poor writing and its slow pace make it unbearable in parts. The action sequences have been shot with absolutely zero consideration for basic Physics. Men are walking on the walls parallel to the ground and there's no logic behind how the ropes are able to pull the men by just being hung on the sidewalls of the fort. We understand that Issac Newton was a few years late in discovering gravity (he discovered it in 1687 and the Battle of Sinhagarh was fought in 1670), but then again, gravity always existed. No?
The frequent references to bhagwa (saffron) and patriotism is again questionable. In the trailer, the makers introduce the Battle of Sinhagarh, which was fought on February 4, 1670, as the 'surgical strike' that shook the Mughal empire. Exactly what the makers are trying to draw parallels with is an answer you get no prize for guessing.
The extremely talented Sharad Kelkar as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj appears to have been wasted in the role. He doesn't have much meat to his character.