You must al have seen or watched or at the very least heard of Bajirao Masthani. If you aren’t Indian or living in India, it is a film starring the magnificently moustached Ranveer Singh and the magical Deepika Padukone (can you tell I’m a fan?). It is based on a Marathi novel (Rau by N.S.Inamdar) that took that literary world by storm and had people weeping into their pillowcases at night.
Recently, it was translated into English by Vikranth Pande and published by PanMacmillan. I’d heard it was going to come out but wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy it because, you know, reading a book after watching the movie isn’t going to be as wonderful an experience as it would be otherwise. I was so wrong.
The original story is very different from the film. Bollywood has dramatized things (as Bollywood is wont to do) that the story read like a completely different, yet equally impactful, tale. Rau follows Bajirau, a Maratha Peshwa (prime minister), and Masthani, his mistress as they meet, fall in love and lose touch with reality.
‘My eyes, they rain all the time
My eyes, they rain all the time
Till I see him in mine’
This is the song she sings first while watching the Peshwa with her beautiful eyes and he falls head over heels for her. Everything changes and he is driven mad by lust. By the third or fourth time he sees her he cannot control himself anymore and claims her for himself. But this isn’t the beautiful tearful love story that you see in the film. This is a story of pure lust.
One cannot help but draw comparisons to the other woman in his life. While his wife is riddled with health problems, the younger(?) Masthani is sprightly and petite. While his wife cares about duties and appearances, Masthani only wants to be with him, in any way he wants. While his wife focusses on taking care of the festivals and the customs, Masthani helps him abandon all duties, doesn’t question anything he does and just accepts whatever he wants to do without objection.
It comes to a point where he cannot spend a night away from her bed or from his wine. He confuses the two and it seems that the second he sees her he wants her and he wants drink, something he will only get in her presence because he is a Brahmin and it isn’t allowed in his culture.
The part that struck me most was where his wife calls their son and asks ‘what is it that makes masthani so attractive to her husband, is she very beautiful?’ to which he replies, “She has skin so white and translucent that you can see the red of the paan as it goes down her throat.”
The book Rau isn’t a story of pure and innocent love but more about how a man can go mad with desire for things that are forbidden to him. And Masthani. Oh Masthani is so naïve that she cannot comprehend why Rau’s wife or mother don’t like her. She honestly believes; as he does, that they will bless this union and let them live together while he has a wife and a kingdom and children waiting for him to see sense in the very next building.
But this is what makes the story wonderful! The way Inamdar manipulates the reader into seeing both sides of the story. The side of Rau and Masthani where they believe they will die without each other and the other side, the side of the citizens where they believe their prime minister has gone mad enough to ignore his duties and focus only on alcohol and his mistress. It shows us the hope that the two lovers have that if they wait long enough the world will see that they are meant to be together and the other side where they look like two lunatics.
It was so well written, engrossing and captivating, with details where necessary. Not one paragraph felt boring or tedious. I’d recommend reading this after watching the film because in comparison the film seems like fluff. Go pick this up immediately.
*I received a copy for review from the publisher(thank you PanMac), but opinions expressed are my own.