Director Om Raut has kicked off 2020 in the most opulent fashion by making a period-drama which has you guessing till the last frame. Credit has to be given to the crew because they went ahead with a restrained runtime and that increased the impact of the film. Except for a few scenes, the film doesn’t feel patchy and has you engaged throughout.
Set in the late 17th century, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior starts by showing us the early years of the titular character where his father trains him to be a Maratha warrior. The ‘practice’ fights between the father-son duo set you up beautifully for what is to come next. After Tanhaji rises to be a Subedar (rank in the military) in the Maratha Army, there is a threat to their kingdom from Delhi where the Mughal king Aurangzeb (played skillfully by Luke Kenny) wants to capture the fort of Kondhana (present-day Sinhagad) and sends Udaybhan Singh Rathod (Saif Ali Khan) who seems to be his go-to man. Now Tanhaji has two choices to make- Family or the honor of the Maratha kingdom. He chooses the latter and ‘persuades’ Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Sharad Kelkar) into sending him to the battleground.
After Tanhaji steps into the war and devises strategies to win it, you’d be completely engrossed in the film. These kinds of films are the result of excellent storytelling coupled with even better writing. The cinematography is on par with any other top-rated period film in Bollywood. The VFX looks completely natural and doesn’t feel patchy except very few portions. The songs are visually stunning and wouldn’t bore you as it has a story running in its backdrop. The background score also elevates quite a few scenes but it’s not the best.
While everyone stepped into the theatre to watch Ajay Devgn, it was surprising to see Saif Ali Khan walk away as the best character in the film. His facial expressions and shrewd ways to win the battle are spine-chilling and you’d go on to develop a negative feeling towards anyone named Udaybhan. His character was sculpted that way and his performance lives up to the writing. I wished to see a better character development because we don’t know what happened to Kamla Devi (played by Neha Sharma), his love interest. The run time could have been extended by another 10 minutes to establish Udaybhan’s character in a better way.
Kajol plays Ajay Devgn’s wife in this film as Savitribai Malusare and their chemistry is endearing to watch even though it’s short-lived. Apart from this, there are certain high points in the film that include- Udaybhan’s quick rise from a soldier to a commander in the Mughal Army, The Delhi Darbar, Meeting of Shivaji Maharaj and Tanhaji and then the final battle itself. There are no words to describe the final battle as it’s one of the best in recent times. Sharad Kelkar doesn’t succumb under the pressure of playing Shivaji Maharaj and portrays the great king very effortlessly. His silence spoke a thousand words at times. Luke Kenny is absolutely terrifying as Aurangzeb even though the screen time is relatively less.
Tanhaji was a great person with supreme combating abilities. No one can have a dispute on that. The problem arises when the director shows him as a superhero with mind-boggling capabilities. If inspiring the audience into believing in themselves was the consensus behind making this film, they could have underplayed his super-heroic abilities by making him more natural. This movie could have struck a better chord with the audience if Tanhaji was shown to be vulnerable in a few situations. I understand that it’s a tough ask for a historical character to be shown as vulnerable but a more believable personality? Yes, they could have.
If you love opulent set pieces in a film with chest-thumping dialogues and love stories with a good-over-evil theme, then this film is a must-watch. Ignore the political propaganda surrounding this film and you’re set up for the perfect cinematic experience.