T-Series and Ajay Devgn Films’ Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (UA) is a period drama set in the 17th century. It is a historical about the battle between the Marathas and the Mughals over Kondhana in South India.
Kondhana, over which the Marathas ruled, was taken over by the Mughals. Maratha leader Shivaji’s mother, Rajmata Jija Aau (Padmavathi Rao) had vowed never to wear footwear till Kondhana was won back by the Marathas. The opportunity of winning back Kondhana comes when the Mughals are trying to capture the whole of India.
Shivaji (Sharad Kelkar) hides the fact that the Mughals are preparing to wage a battle against the Marathas, from his most trusted warrior, Tanhaji (Ajay Devgan), because the latter’s little son is due to get married soon (child marriage). Knowing how sincere and passionate Tanhaji is about his motherland, Shivaji fears that he would postpone his son’s wedding if he got to know about the impending battle. And that’s exactly what happens. Tanhaji forces Shivaji to send him to war because he is keen to win back Kondhana and also keen that Shivaji’s mother wear footwear once again. The Mughals have appointed Udaybhan (Saif Ali Khan) to lead the army in the Kondhana battle. What happens in the battle forms the crux of the drama.
The story, based on the real battle and on true incidents, is written by Om Raut. Of course, it is a fictionalised version of the happenings, and cinematic liberties have been taken but the essence is about the battle. While the story is good, it is a fact that a chapter of history which dates so far back may not interest too many people, especially the youth. The screenplay, written by Prakash Kapadia and Om Raut, is interesting in parts. Although the parts which are not interesting do not bore the viewers but it is also a fact that they don’t involve the audience as much as they should. In that sense, the pre-interval portion is not as engaging as the second half. The pace of the drama also picks up after interval. The writers have not been able to make the battle appear as a question of life and death for Tanhaji. Because of this drawback, the audience does not feel the significance of the battle. Further, there is absolutely no dialogue-driven confrontation betwen the protagonist (Tanhaji) and the antagonist (Udaybhan). Their only face-off is the battle. That’s a major weak point of the film. Another weak point is the casting of Shivaji. Although Shivaji is the leader, and Tanhaji is his trusted lieutenant, the actor who has been cast in the role of Shivaji is Sharad Kelkar. This is a casting blunder. Since Ajay Devgan was cast as Tanhaji, the role of Shivaji deserved an actor of the stature of an Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt or Amitabh Bachchan. Also, although Shivaji is around in the drama, hardly any importance has been given to him in the sense that his role is quite less and insignificant in comparison to the role of Tanhaji. No doubt, the film is about Tanhaji, but the Hindi cinema-going viewers are used to a pattern in which the leader gets his due importance. In this screenplay, Shivaji does not get as much importance in the scheme of things and also gets limited footage. Also, many characters have been sketchily defined as they don’t have more than one or two scenes. There are too many characters (that too, with difficult-to-remember names) and they aren’t too well-defined. This, coupled with the fact that the actors playing such characters are mostly unrecognisable or less recognisable faces, irritates the audience. The patriotic flavour, so necessary in a film of this kind, is not as pronounced as it ought to have been. If one were to consider the ingredients of a commercial film, this one lacks in comedy and romance, and it has very few emotions.
However, the last few reels, after the battle starts, are interesting and also quite engaging. The battle scenes are exciting but what the viewers miss are exchange of heavy-duty dialogues between the protagonist (Tanhaji) and the antagonist (Saif Ali Khan). The last scene of the drama is one of the best scenes and will move the audience, especially the weak-hearted, emotionally. Prakash Kapadia’s dialogues are good but they should’ve had more punch and more patriotic emotions in them.
Ajay Devgan does a very fine job and gives a mature performance. He is fantastic in action scenes and also shines in the others. Kajol, as his wife (Savitri), acts with effortless ease but she gets very limited scope. She is mesmerising in the last scene. Saif Ali Khan plays to the gallery and also evokes some laughter at places. He is lovely. Sharad Kelkar makes his presence felt but since he plays Shivaji, his long periods of absence look a bit weird. Neha Sharma looks beautiful but gets minimal scope to perform. Padmavathi Rao is okay as Rajmata Jija Aau. Ajinkya Deo is alright but his role is hardly substantive. Luke Kenny is so-so as Aurangzeb. Shashank Mahadeo Shinde (as Shelar Mama), Vipul Kumar Gupta (as Jagat Singh), Deodatta Gajanan Nage (as Suryaji), Kailash Waghmare (as Chultiya), Nilesha Lalwani (as Tatya), master Ranav Sharma (as young Suryaji), Dhairyasheel Tukaram Gholap (as Shirubhau), Pramod More (as leader of Gondia), Yuri Suri (as Mirza Raje Jai Singh), Nissar Khan (as Beshak Khan), Jagannath Shashikant Nivangune (as Tanhaji’s father), Trisha Patil (as Tanhaji’s mother), Bhagyashree Nhalve (as Suryaji’s wife), Arush Nand (as Raiba), Harsh Sharma (as young Tanhaji), Devendra Gaikwad (as Raiba’s father-in-law), Rajesh Ahir (as Raja Sangram Singh), and the others lend routine support.
Om Raut’s direction is fair. While he has concentrated heavily on the technical side, he seems to have lost grip on the human drama that the battle was. Therefore, his narration does not make the viewers go ga ga over the drama. Music (Mehul Vyas-Pritesh for ‘Shankara’ song; Ajay-Atul for ‘Maay Bhawani’; Sachet-Parampara for ‘Ghamand kar’ and ‘Tinak Tinak’) is a plus point as the songs are entertaining. However, it must be added that the songs have not been popularised enough to become chartbusters. Song picturisations (‘Shankara’ and ‘Ghamand kar’ by Ganesh Acharya; ‘Maay Bhawani’ by Bosco-Caesar; ‘Tinak Tinak’ by Ranju Varghese) are eye-filling; the dances are good. Sandeep Shirodkar’s background music is nice but could have been more impactful. Keiko Nakahara’s cinematography is fantastic. The huge canvas, the dim lighting scenes, the battle scenes etc. have all been captured effectively in the camera. Ramazan Bulut and R.P. Yadav’s action and stunt scenes are exciting but it is also a fact that they look as if they’ve been done through computer graphics. The action has been designed by Bullet Action Design of Germany. Production designing (by Sujeet Subhash Sawant and Sriram Kannan Iyengar) is rich. Dharmendra Sharma’s editing is quite sharp but could’ve been sharper.
On the whole, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is an ordinary fare. A costly film (made at a budget of more than Rs. 100 crore), it will not be able to do admirable business at the box-office. It will do excellent in Maharashtra due to the Maharashtrian story, characters and flavour but despite that, it will not be able to recover its heavy investment. …..The film has also been dubbed in Marathi, and the dubbed version has opened simultanrously in Maharashtra.
Released on 10-1-’20 at Regal (daily 4 shows) and other cinemas of Bombay thru AA Films. Publicity: very good. Opening: excellent. …….Also released all over. Opening was fair to good at most of the places.