Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero movie review; Watch Ajay, Saif in their elements

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This is not the first time the Maratha warrior's story is being told on the big screen.

By Michael Gomes

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Published: Fri 10 Jan 2020, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Sat 11 Jan 2020, 3:24 PM

Ajay Devgn could not have asked for a better century celebration. Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero is not only the 100th movie in his nearly three-decade career, but also the beginning of, what Devgn mentioned in one of his earlier interviews, the first in a series of movies based on lesser-known historical figures.
History books mention Subedar Tanhaji Malusare as a 17th century Maratha warrior, who was one of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's most trusted generals and a close friend. He was most famous for the Battle of Sinhagad which was fought between him and Udaybhan Singh Rathore - a Rajput serving Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb - to conquer Kondana Fort.
While Tanhaji may be an 'unsung hero' that Devgn is trying to bring to light, this is not the first time the warrior's story is being told on the big screen. In 1933, the legendary filmmaker V. Shantaram made a movie on the Maratha titled Sinhagad and  there was also a silent film on the subject. 
Nevertheless, Devgn's attempt to resurrect chapters from history follows a pattern similar to earlier period dramas like Panipat or Bajirao Mastani. But Devgn begs to be different here as he does away with unnecessary opulence, bloodshed and overly done VFX (special effects). 
Though Tanhaji has been given a Bollywood treatment, Devgn has attempted to keep it more real by doing away with the grandeur associated with period flicks. The makers have also been honest by putting out a disclaimer right before the titles start rolling stating that they don't vouch for historic accuracies thus steering clear of controversies.
The narrative mainly focuses on Tanhaji (Ajay Devgn). Under a treaty, Shivaji had surrendered 23 forts to Aurangzeb (Luke Kenny), including the Kondhana (now called Sinhagad), which was of great importance to the Maratha empire. Tanhaji and his band of soldier have now been commissioned by Shivaji to engage in a guerrilla-type mission to reclaim the fort that is under the command of Udaybhan (Saif Ali Khan). What ensues is a fierce battle that takes up a major chunk of the second half of the movie, right up to the climax.
Acting wise, it's been almost a decade since we last saw Kajol and Ajay together on screen. They still look great as a couple on screen. Sadly, Kajol, as Tanhaji's wife Savitribai, hasn't been given much screen time nor the liberty to display her bubbly acting chops. With his brooding persona and action-flick background, Devgn is a perfect fit for his role.
But it's Saif who steals everyone's thunder. He is a treat to watch. His Udaybhan is not only menacing (you almost hate him), but the humourous touch he adds to his character is the sign of an actor who is so mature that he can make light of even the most fearful scene. His facial expressions, sinister laughter and dialogue delivery (attempting a Rajput accent) puts him a notch above anyone else in the cast.
Sharad Kelkar as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj doesn't have much to show in the few scenes he appears in. The rest of the cast, including Luke Kenny and Neha Sharma (Uday's love interest), have limited screen time.
Considering this is director Om Raut's debut Hindi movie he has done a good job by keeping the proceedings under control. He lets the narrative flow smoothly while making his characters, rather than his stellar cast, hog the limelight.
The storyline has concentrated largely on the battle and the central character. More depth should have been given to the characters, for instance, Tanhaji is introduced as a child who possesses warrior skills, but that's all we know about his background. His family life, how be rose to become a general in Shivaji's army and his friendship with the Maratha leader is not explained. Even Udaybhan's background is brief and sketchy.
The battle scenes are very engaging and interesting to watch, especially the guerrilla tactics of yore, which are in full display when the Marathas are shown trying to break into the fort. 
Music directors Ajay-Atul have done a good job by composing a background score that has strong Marathi influences, like the sound of the dhols (drums) or tutrari (Maharastrian trumpet). Thankfully, the movie has only four songs. Fewer songs help maintain the flow and the pace better. 
Watch Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior for the brilliant battle scenes and of course Saif Ali Khan (anti-hero) and Ajay Devgn's (unsung hero) performances. 
Tanhaji: The Unsung Hero
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Sharad Kelkar, Kajol
Director: Om Raut
Stars 3.5

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