- Movie Name:Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior
- Critics Rating: 3.5 / 5
- Release Date: January 10, 2020
- Director: Om Raut
- Genre: Period Drama
The rebirth of epic war dramas in the modern-day Indian cinema (largely due to Sanjay Leela Bhansali) has brought along a refurbishment of the typical villain in Hindi movies. In here, not only is the antagonist powerful and evil, he also has to his credit certain quirks that make him a little funny, a little interesting, and more than that, a little layered.
Saif Ali Khan, in 'Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior', by that measure is the right person in the right film -- and that too, after years. During the course of climax, Saif's Uday Bhan Rathod pulls off a milder version of Alauddin Khilji, quietly taking you back and forth Bhansali's period dramas. What Saif, however, brings to the table here is an uncanny madness only he could manage -- a certain extension of 'Eik Hasina Thhi's Karan or 'Race's Ranvir.
It's often said the villain makes the hero. To that end, with Saif Ali Khan, half of 'Tanhaji's job is done. That THE other half is the proverbial achilles heel of the movie is a different tragedy altogether.
The movie indeed is different from SLB's dramas or the December release 'Panipat', helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker -- that is, in terms of its treatment. Debutant director Om Raut has taken a masala potboiler-esque route for a narrative that strictly speaks about a part of history only a few may know, leave alone remember. This may work for the movie. And this may go starkly wrong for the entire narrative. For instance, a joke about 'daant khattey karna' [a Hindi idiom referring to scaring away your enemies] with a splash of lemon juice is not funny. Period. Neither is the name sounding similar to a popular Hindi abusive slang amusing.
Set in the 1600s, 'Tanhaji' tells the tale of heroics of a lieutenant in Shivaji Raje's arsenal, Subedar Tanhaji Malusare, an unsung hero, as the title says. History hasn't been all that kind to Tanhaji as his ultimate sacrifice got overshadowed by his mentor's grandeur. The movie hence take an over-compensatory route -- for it takes too many creative liberties all at once. 'Tanhaji', thereby, is one of the movies for which the things that work in its favour totally go against it too in the course of the runtime.
In the opening scene, Tanhaji is supposed to be hiding in an alley, and the way he brings his opponents down is breath-taking, but a little too unrealistic. The sequence of events that follows the introduction of Saif Ali Khan as the conniving invader is a visual delight -- to say the least. The scene in which he slashes the head of an elephant does look a bit overdone though.
The film opens to the "Bharat" of the 17th century Bharat -- where all the Marathas wanted was Swaraj. The historical correctness of the concept of one nation cannot, however, be traced back to the time. But in 'Tanhaji's defence, the movie opens with a disclaimer saying the makers cannot vouch for the accuracy -- sending the historians to relax.
The well-choreographed climactic sequence is what the film should boast of instead. The techniques of war used in the medieval times, the war formations, fortification, and the artillery make for a good know in the fight sequence of 'Tanhaji'. Even for those who do not care much about the medieval Indian history, the action-packed battle sequence serves as an introduction to ancient war techniques used to annihilate the enemy camp.
What also works for the film is the stellar act by its lead stars. Ajay Devgn is in top form. His eyes have always spoken for him, and 'Tanhaji' is no exception. He fully justifies the faith he had shown in a period drama script.
Kajol does not get many scenes to perform, but she does more than required in whatever chances she gets. Her chemistry with Ajay Devgn is one of the high-points of the film.
Saif Ali Khan -- as stated earlier -- brings mayhem to the screen. His eccentricity, and his ruthlessness make one hate him, and that's where he scores. Watch him out in the scenes where he deals with his subordinates -- in the most savage way. How we missed this Saif! It is, however, almost impossible to not think of Ranveer Singh's Khilji when Saif breaks into his evil laugh or an amusing dance at his own wedding ceremony.
Luke Kenny as Alamgir -- Aurangzeb -- is impressive. The biggest takeaway from the film, however, is Sharad Kelkar, who plays Chhatrapati Shivaji. His portrayal of the Maratha warrior is so nuanced, so restrained that it won't be an understatement to plead for a rule to henceforth cast only him as Shivaji Raje.
Director Om Raut, considering his debutant status, manages to handle three big stars on the scale pretty well. He goes formulaic at places, and prefers to remain subtle in many. Raut has a flair for storytelling, and that shows in how he manages the balance between heroism, emotions, and war drama.
The music is forgettable, but Sandeep Shirodkar's exemplary background score adds to the narrative and accentuates the storytelling.
'Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior' is not a perfect film, but it does deliver on what it promises -- entertainment and visual delight, laced with a poignant history lesson. Watch it for Ajay Devgn's stellar act, Saif Ali Khan's villainy that he wears on his sleeves, Sharad Kelkar's stand-out performance, the brilliant CGI effects, and most importantly, for the lesson in history we deserved to know but nobody cared to impart.
IndiaTVNews.com verdict: 3.5 stars