Bollywood has earned a huge name for itself on accounts of distorting history both factually and ethically, in the name of period cinema. The trend began with Mughal-E-Azam, a powerful effort to glorify the Mughals made by K Asif that was based upon an absolutely cooked up love story between Jahangir aka Shahzaada Salim and an entirely fictitious courtesan named Anarkali; in the backdrop of the clashes between the Mughal prince and his father, Akbar, in the wake of this romance. And it is still continuing, with the likes of Ashutosh Gowarikar (Jodha-Akbar, Mohanjodaro) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Bajirao-Mastani, Padmaavat) having taken charge of the things now. The priorities are clear — Islamic invaders won’t be shown in a negative light to the maximum, and portrayal of pinky romance will replace the valour of Hindu warriors who fought them tooth and nail. But here comes a brave, bold, kickass step from Bollywood this time in the form of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, a film dedicated to the bravest ally and most ferocious warrior of the great Shivaji Raje Bhosale: Tanaji Malusare.
When you visit Pune, rarely do you come to know that a fort named Sinhgad lying in the vicinity of the city holds a living testimony to one of the most important and valorous wars that were fought to save dharma from the brutal clutches of the Islamic invasion in Bharat. Back then, it was known as the fort of Kondhana and it bore very high importance in terms of controlling the political chess moves across south India.
Aurangzeb, the barbaric Mughal ruler of Delhi eyed upon this fort with a deep wish to bring entire South Indian regions under the green flag of his Islamic empire. Under some unavoidable political circumstances, Shivaji Maharaj had to hand over a few forts to him, one of which was this Kondhana fort. But he never left the determination to snatch it back off the hands of the Mughals. How things changed and one stormy night, Tanaji (spelt Tanhaji in the film poster) defiantly grabbed it from the jaws of Uday Bhan Singh, the mighty governor of Aurangzeb, forms the crux of this film, wherein Ajay Devgn, apart from having produced it, plays the titular role of Tanaji himself.
But there are many reasons that make Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior a really great effort in terms of both its cinematic grandeur, its fearless, bold attitude while being assertively pro-Hindutva and pro-dharma. The first and foremost among them all is the proud celebration of ‘bhagwa‘ or ‘saffron’ in Tanhaji… This has been unapologetically and unabashedly displayed at a number of times when artists portraying the characters of various dharmic luminaries such as Tanaji, Shivaji Maharaj and his mother Jijabai thunderously pronounce the word “bhagwa“. As a matter of fact, when you hear this word in the cinema theatre, it takes you no time to realise how acidulously painful it is going to sound to the ears of our eminent left-liberal intellectuals.
The film depicts how innumerable unsung Hindu warriors fought and relentlessly kept sacrificing their lives to keep the flame of dharma ablaze — the punyaphal of which is being enjoyed today by the Hindu population of the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, it also portrays how vulnerable, sensitive and morally ideal human beings they used to be. The film probably for the first time tells us about the amazing brotherly bonding between Shivaji Maharaj and Tanaji Malusare that they shared since childhood. In a few sequences of the film, you get moved deep inside with the kind of love and affection they shared. While the character of Tanaji is brilliantly enacted by Ajay Devgn, Sharad Kelkar does an amazingly fantastic job while bringing Shivaji Maharaj alive on the silver screen. So much so that by the time film reaches its end, you can’t help yearning to see him again in a full-length biopic on the great Maratha Hindu warrior. Padmavati Rao looks really graceful and convincing as Rajmata Jijamai.
A yet another great thing done in Tanhaji… is the portrayal of those treacherous Hindus who sided with the Mughals, due to petty selfish agendas or worse enough, for settling personal scores with fellow Hindus. Uday Bhan Singh, the governor of Aurangzeb is such a character that is brilliantly played by Saif Ali Khan. Interestingly, in a sequence he has been shown eating the meat of an alligator; and this is actually backed by the scholar H.S. Sardesai in his book ‘Shivaji, the great Maratha’ wherein he has explicitly stated that after siding with the Mughals, Udaybhan began consuming beef and followed their footsteps to abduct and forcibly marry 18 different women. Perhaps it says a lot how turning hostile against his own ‘Dharma’ thoroughly corrodes and vitiates the soul of a person; and also explains as to how the Hindu-hating left-liberals of today may be seen not only professing their taste for beef but also supporting its consumption in the nation both vehemently and violently.
Coming to the creative and technical aspects of Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, it’s a beautiful work of cinema crafted well by the director Om Raut, who earned accolades and a Filmfare Award for his debut film Lokmanya: Ek Yug Purush, a Marathi biopic upon the life and times of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The VFX and action effects are par excellence; and the emotive cinematography by Keiko Nakahara aptly captures the dark and shady hues of the film, which somehow denote the grave times both Hindu civilization and Saffron, its identity and saviour were going through during the 17th century India. Om Raut has collaborated with Prakash Kapadia to write the screenplay that has been smartly etched by to keep one’s attention glued to the screen throughout its entire duration that lasts around 2 hours and 11 minutes, and Kapadia proves his brilliance once again in the dialogues that capably echo the sentiments of that era. The duo seems to have devoted a lot of time in conducting fact-based research while writing the screenplay, as most of the instances depicted are at least factually correct, even if their portrayal has been slightly fictionalised to make it more effective as a story.
The film is adorned with praiseworthy performances by its entire cast featuring Ajay Devgn and his wife Kajol, Saif Ali Khan, Sharad Kelkar, Luke Kenny and Neha Sharma. To sum it up, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is a great watch if you want to introduce yourself to the true history of an unsung warrior hero who gave away his life protecting Dharma; and enjoy a well-made film along with your family at the same time.