“Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero” takes place in the 17th century and tells the story of the Maratha warrior Tanhaji Malusare – a trustworthy help of the Maratha emperor Shivaji, who denied the battle of Kondhana to protect the dead from the Mughal invasion. Shivaji was reluctant to hand over 28 of his forts to Aurangzeb, but four years later he promised to take back Kondhana because of its strategic location. Aurangzeb sent his most trustworthy warrior, a Rajput named Udaybhan, to conquer Kondhana (now Singhgarh) with a large army, a mammoth cannon called ‘Nagin’ and a lot of artillery. Compared to the Mughals, Tanhaji leads a colorful group of wild maratha warriors and one night conquers the fortress in a long battle. Raut uses enough creative freedom to tell a story that may not have been taught to everyone in school.
While the clashes between Shivaji and Aurangzeb are known, the story tries to go deeper and talk about the warriors of both sides who fought for their kings. Elaborate sets, smooth camera work, great stunts and great CGI dominate every image of Tanhaji and make the film a visual spectacle. The technical finesse is visible to everyone and while the film takes you into the past, the film has a state-of-the-art CGI that makes the fight scene particularly lively. Each of the stunts is well done and the film was shot with the 3D aspect in mind. The pictures of the cameraman Keiko Nakahara are impressive. While the film is technically very solid, it is also driven by great performances. Ajay Devgn shines the most in the action sequences. Sharad Kelkar, who plays Shivaji Maharaj, has a limited screen time, but leaves a lasting impression. The bubbly Kajol only appears in a few scenes as Savitri Bai, Tanhaji’s wife, but simply illuminates the screen with her presence. It is a pleasure to see the real couple play the role pair after so many years. However, the star of the film is Saif Ali Khan, who brings a certain amount of chaos as Udaybhan Rathod. Saif is an eccentric who has a sly smile on his face and makes evil look good. Again and again Saif has proven that he delivers with a good screenplay and in Om Raut and Prakash Kapadia’s detailed screenplay gives the actor enough scope to demonstrate his talent. The scenes near the climax in which Ajay Devgn and Saif Ali Khan compete against each other are the highlights of the film. Although the film is technically flawless and has excellent performances, it takes a lot of freedom in terms of historical facts. The creators try to project Mughals as the oppressors from which the Marathas seek freedom and live in a Swarajya. The film begins in the 17th century with Bharat – which is historically not true when you consider that the concept of a nation never really existed at that time. Each emperor was only busy consolidating his kingdom, there was no concept for a nation. The actors speak a mixture of Marathi and Urdu laced Hindi, which is somewhat ironic. I often found myself lost when the actors spoke a line here and there in Marathi. Maybe subtitles would have helped. When you’re ready to overlook the facts and history, ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero’ makes for an exciting watch. There is not a single boring moment – especially in the second half, when the war scenes come to life. The film has sleek action, well-filmed scenes and a very threatening Saif Ali Khan who more than makes up for any shortcomings.