Rating: Three stars:
It is time for producers with deep pockets to bring out unsung heroes from Indian history. It is also obvious that these characters and events are coloured by the mood of the nation today, so history can be altered to suit that, and everything from the dialogue to the action be designed to be thunderously patriotic.
Even in the seventeenth century, the protagonist of Om Raut’s film—Tanaji Malusare (Ajay Devgan) harps on swaraj. The background of the story is the expansionist plan of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (Luke Kenny) to rule over all of India, with only Maratha warrior-king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (Sharad Kelkar) standing in his way.
It is when the crucial Kondhana Fort is to be wrenched from the control of Subedar Udaybhan Rathore (Saif Ali Khan), does Tanaji abandon the wedding of his son and go into battle against a better-equipped army, that even has a canon called Naagin.
The action sequences are thrilling—more so in 3D—but the build up to the climax is unclear; there is little attempt at character development—noble Tanaji always speaks in a declamatory style, while Udaybhan, clad in black, is the revolting eater of crocodile meat, kidnapper of a Rajput princess, and bloodthirsty slasher of random minions. Khan channels the evil leer of Ranveer Singh’s Khilji (Padmaavat), and the slight ridiculousness of Batman’s Joker.
Tanaji’s loyalty to his king and the Maratha cause is justified, but Udaybhan’s motive in being on the Mughal side is not explained. Anyway, this is cinema not a history lesson and if the aim was to give the audience a spectacle. Om Raut has succeeded—the sets, costumes and action set pieces are undoubtedly grand.
Sharad Kelkar makes for a handsome and dignified Shivaji Maharaj; the women—Kajol as Tanaji’s supportive wife, Padmavati Rao as Shivaji’s mother Jijabai, and Neha Sharma as Udaybhan’s helpless captive, have little to do, but they are okay in their parts. It is Ajav Devgan’s film after all, and he does everything from sword-fighting to dancing and playing at disguises with gusto.
For all its scale and scope, Tanhaji is not very entertaining—at least not in the sense of offering an exhilarating high that an epic of this nature should have presented to the audience. It may be a watchable film, but not one that will go on to become a memorable historical.