Film review: ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’

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“गड आला पण सिंह गेला” ~Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

The above Marathi expression means that ‘although we won the fort, a lion-hearted warrior(Tanhaji) was lost’. When Sharad Kelkar (playing Shivaji Maharaj) uttered these words with teary eyes, a surge of emotion swept through the audience. It was a result of moving portrayal of the legendary battle of Sinhagad (named as the ‘fort of the lion’ after Tanhaji Malusare) in the movie under the scanner.

Although the story begins with Tanhaji’s childhood, the real plot starts with the treaty of Purandhar. Accordingly, Shivaji concedes 23 of his 35 forts to Aurangzeb. However, he slowly starts regaining them one after the other, with Kondhana being one amongst them. Kondhana was a strategically important fort near the modern-day Pune. It was administered by the Rajput commander of Aurangzeb named Udaybhan. Furthermore, it was technically difficult to lay siege upon. As a result, Shivaji needed his best commander, Tanhaji Malusare.

But, Tanhaji is busy with marriage preparations of his son Raayba. Thus, Shivaji decides against calling for Tanhaji. Nevertheless, the latter learns about his king’s dilemma and volunteers for the mission, thus postponing his son’s wedding (आधी लग्न कोंढाण्याचे, मग माझ्या रायबाचे !). This is followed by the siege on Kondhana where Tanhaji loses his life while Shivaji laments his death and utters the above words “गड आला पण सिंह गेला”

Also read: That 356 year old surgical strike: story of Shivaji and Shaistakhan

Highlights

The Bahubali series has raised the bar of ancient warfare recreation in India. However, Tanhaji is taking it to the next level. What makes it more interesting is the eclectic levels of archery on display in the movie since typically Maratha warfare is not known for the same. However, this does take it away from the much famous swords and spears.

The review would be incomplete without the mention of special effects; an outgrowth of advancements in technology. Yet, it will be grossly unfair to discredit the creativity of the filmmakers. Especially, recreating deep gorges and steep mountain slopes is a commendable job since, it is technically infeasible to shoot in such landscapes.

The dialogues are apt and the music is arousing. The song ‘Ghamand Kar‘ needs special mention as it might very well become a workout tune for modern-day youth. Last but not least, a movie cannot be successful without the involvement of its actors. Here, Saif Ali Khan’s portrayal of Uday Bhan(the antagonist) deserves accolades. He continues the legacy of powerful villains like Allauddin KhiLji (Ranveer Singh) and Abdali(Sanjay Dutt). However, that doesn’t take away the credit from other actors for their stellar performances, especially the protagonists Ajay Devgan, Kajol and Sharad Kelkar.

Critical review

I have seen media houses criticising this movie for a pro-Hindutva stance, thus displaying their own myopic perspectives. This is the story of a legendary warrior who prefered duty over his personal commitments. It is a tale of great sacrifice and immense valour while such greatness is imperceptible to the so-called ‘intellectuals’.

However, I have my own set of critical points about this brilliant movie. Inarguably, it’s a commendable job to create such a piece of art. But, from a historical context, this movie lacks completeness (do not mistake it for authenticity). Let’s go through a couple of missing nuances:

1. Tanhaji’s Resourcefulness

Marathas have been known for their resourcefulness; events like Shivaji slaying Afzalkhan and later on, his escape from Agra being classic examples. In the same breath, the battle of Sinhagad saw Tanhaji’s resourcefulness. To scale the steep unclimbed face of Kondhana, Tanhaji needed strong ropes tied at the top. To accomplish this, he used an animal called Ghorpadi which is the Bengal monitor lizard. This animal has a tendency to hold on to an object unshakably makes it a great hook/glue. Tanhaji tied a rope to the tail of his lizard (named Yashawanti) and made it hold the fort. This enabled them to negotiate a section of the steep climb successfully. However, they did mention two brothers named Ghorpade in the movie. To conclude, Maratha warfare was more about brains than brawn, which could have been highlighted better.

2. Suryaji’s courage and leadership

Another interesting incident missed out was Tanhaji’s brother Suryaji’s leadership. In the movie, it has been shown that Tanhaji holds the siege right till the end. Historically, this is not true. To the contrary, both Uday Bhan and Tanhaji died in the middle after a gruesome battle. With the death of Tanhaji, the Maratha soldiers lost heart and began fleeing. At this juncture, Suryaji cut off the ropes tied to the fort and asked the soldiers to fight back. The Maratha soldiers fought back with renewed vigour and conquered Kondhana, thus giving a befitting tribute to their leader Tanhaji.

Conclusion

Personally, I prefer a nuanced take on historical accounts. Having said that, the filmmakers did make a disclaimer regarding the historical completeness of the story and I respect their creative liberty. Moreover, it is an achievement of the movie fraternity to get people interested in a less known local legend and that effort deserves accolades in itself.

P.S.

  • Image credit: Wikipedia .
  • I am deliberately using the word Tanhaji instead of Tanaji to keep uniformity with the movie name.


Prasad Kulkarni is a Data and Analytics professional. At work, he analyses historical data and ponders over historical events otherwise.


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