'Tanhaji' Review: Youth-oriented motifs rule this period film

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Big budget period war dramas are in vogue. Tanhaji is the latest in the series. The credit for this recent trend of course goes to the success of the two Baahubali films as well as Bajirao Mastani and Padmavaat. We often trace this trend back to K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam (1960) when actually it was Sohrab Modi (who is often referred to as the Cecil B. DeMille of India) who pioneered it by making films like Pukar (1939), Sikandar (1941), Prithvi Vallabh (1943), and Jhansi Ki Rani (1953), among others. But evidently the period films of today are a lot different. The greatest game changer has been the advancements in the field of visual effects. Now, for creating the main fortress in Tanhaji, where a major part of the film takes place, writer-director Om Raut just had to collect images of the ruins of the actual fort. Everything else was created with the help of a computer. But, Sohrab Modi and K. Asif didn’t have the technology at their disposal. So they had to make things very differently. But what they achieved with their craftsmanship ultimately paved the way for future filmmakers. Similarly, Raut’s exploits will hopefully show the future filmmakers the way forward.
If one talks about entertainment for the new millennials the following things stand out: darker themes, strong aspirations, impulsive behaviour, insecurities, aggression, and toxic emotional drives. In order to understand this better all we need to look at are the most popular youth-oriented shows on air right now. Stranger Things13 Reasons WhySex Education, and You are some of the names that come to mind. Now, the second season of You is only just out and it interestingly has gone in even darker spaces this season. Set in the gloomy alleys of Los Angeles as opposed to the original season’s much peppier New York setting, the second season of the popular Netflix series exposes the flaws of parenting, abuse of power, money, and fame, and how vulnerable a child is in this world, among other things.
Now, what makes You unusual is that its protagonist “Joe Goldberg” is a psychotic killer who often thinks his actions to be heroic. As if he is killing people in order to make the world a better place. Given Joe’s ever-increasing popularity with the young audiences, one really wonders why today’s youth gets attracted to these bad guy characters. Perhaps, such characters are best able to ape their innermost feelings and desires and maybe that’s what attracts them to a Joe or a Dexter. Tanhaji too has a very dark character at its centre. His name is Udaybhan Singh Rathod. He is Tanhaji’s nemesis. The character is played with a menacing brilliance by Saif Ali Khan who is always at home playing these darker characters. His character is so imposing that the film could have been very well-titled Udaybhan. Credit must go to actor-producer Ajay Devgn for not flinching while seeing Saif get the meatier part. Gone are the days when films used to be about heroes. These days, it’s mostly the villain that captures the audiences’ imagination. That’s what happened with Padmaavat also. Other than having a villain that looks stronger than its hero, Tanhaji also marks the continuation of another trend—cinema with a strong nationalistic fervour that seems to have captured the youth’s imagination in the recent years. The film is best watched in 3D.
Rating: 6.5/10
A version of this review was first published in The Sunday Guardian
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