Tanhaji is an accurate portrayal of the siege of Sinhagad; not just a fictional hagiography


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Bharatiya Cinema World especially the ‘Bollywood’ has been caught in many clichés and set of narratives to be successful. Not very long time ago making a movie on the subject like the story of Tanhaji Malusare, the brave and trusted lieutenant of Chhatrapati Shivaji was not just unthinkable but politically incorrect. Ajay Devgn and his team not only dared to make a movie of this but also defied the ‘Secular’ compulsions of making a movie on historical incidents.

Before the advent of TV, Siri and Alexa, parents and grandparents of Maharashtrian kids used to narrate the story of Tanhaji and his bravery while recapturing the inaccessible fort of Kondhana for Shivaji. He even postponed the wedding of his only son in order to fulfil his duty. “Aadhi lagin Kondanyacha mag lagin Raiba cha” (First the conquest of Kondhana and then the wedding (of my son) Raiba). Along with that were tales of Shivaji and his efforts to carve out his kingdom which was based on Hindavi Swarajya – which insisted on an independence from foreign rule. The film is an interesting interpretation of the story that we heard as children. At the end of the story, Shivaji Raje’s heartfelt – “Gad aala pan simha gela” – (We won the fort but lost the lion-hearted warrior) always moved us to tears.

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The 1670 battle for the fort of Kondhana and the story of Tanhaji may have been popular in the Maharashtra region through his tales of valour and the ‘powadas’ sung in his honour, but today this film has made his bravery famous all over the country. As one of Shivaji’s Sardars, he was infused with the same spirit of independence and did not want to live ‘sar jhuka ke’ as he tells a village that had turned against Shivaji after he made peace with the Mughals.

When Tanhaji says, “Jab bhagwa saaso mein sama gaya ho toh jaan ki parwah kaisi”, it quite aptly sums up the fervour with which the Marathas took up the challenge to defend their land and religion from the invading Muslims The ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’ became the sacred standard under which Shivaji was able to unite the Marathas and infuse them with a passion for safeguarding their homeland.

The film has to be viewed under this overarching theme of nationalism that pervaded the area of Maharashtra where people laid great emphasis on autonomy and independence. There was also a similar culture which had traditions and religious rites and ceremonies that bound the people together. The movie portrays the blood, valour and glory that was the pride of the Marathas in their aim to achieve independence for their own land where they could live freely and were not forced by the Muslims to live as second class citizens.

And to maintain this independence, forts were a symbol of power and extension of territory.  They were also a form of security to withstand the enemy siege. This film portrays the attack to get back one of Shivaji’s key forts of Kondhana which he had surrendered to make peace with the Mughals while seeking a respite from the continuous wars. There was a shrine to Goddess Bhavani in the fort and Jija Mata, Shivaji’s mother had refused to wear any footwear till she was able to worship there again. There was also news that Aurangzeb intended to make the fort his capital to rule the Deccan region and therefore there was an urgency to win back the fort. Tanhaji, from a family of warriors and being the most experienced of Shivaji’s Sardars insisted on leading the charge on the fort and therefore Raiba’s ‘lagin’ had to wait.

Shivaji’s principled fight against the Mughals and their vassals and his many victories is seen as one of the first serious challenges to the Muslim rule in India before the Peshwas extended the Maratha rule to large parts of the country. Aurangzeb described him as a pahad ka chuha (mountain rat) because of his guerrilla tactics of attaching his enemies with a small but swift force and then disappearing before they had a chance to recoup. Shivaji was a progressive ruler and able administrator and he was able to bring together a loyal band of followers and infuse the feeling of patriotism among them. These Sardars pitched in knowing fully well the sacrifices they would have to make of their lives during these campaigns.

Shivaji’s nationalism, bravery, sagacity, his hunger for swarajya – all of it was so infectious that it remained ingrained in the hearts and minds of the people of Maharashtra so that in the decades ahead, Marathas began to increase their power and territory and in the 18th century, we saw the Peshwas of Maharashtra rule major swathes of the country (from Attock to Cuttack) and the Mughals were restricted from ‘Delhi to Palam’.

While religion was an important glue that bound together the Marathas in their fight against the Mughals, the Mughals were not pariahs for the Rajputs, many of whom were loyal generals for various Mughal rulers.

The director, Om Raut has done a commendable job. The film develops gradually to gather all the threads of the story together. The actors are clued into the story and the acting is natural. The characters have been fleshed out and given appropriate importance. Ajay Devgn as Tanhaji, Kajol as his wife Savitri do justice to their roles and Sharad Kelkar is a sombre Shivaji. Seen with 3-D effects the film is a visual delight and has excellent cinematography. As its producer, Ajay Devgn, has taken a commendable effort to bring to life an important episode in our history.

Tanhaji Malusare Sinhagad

Sinhagad, earlier known as Kondhana near Pune considered as important fort to control the southern part of Bharat. By recapturing this fort for Shivaji the brave Tanhaji destroyed the dream of Auranzeb of ruling the entire Bharat

The villainous tones of the Mughal commander Uday Bhan Rathod enacted by Saif Ali Khan are excessive. His shades of villainy - ruthlessness, intelligence, cunning and debauchery are brought out in various sequences – including chopping off an elephant’s trunk, roasting a crocodile and abducting his childhood sweetheart from her husbands’ funeral pyre. But all these incidents help contrast with the characters of Shivaji and Tanhaji who are shown to be more humane and approachable and portrayed as showing concern for the well-being of their families and clans.

Tanhaji’s descendants have been involved with the film since its inception and have been credited in the titles too. They have acknowledged the veracity of the incidents and thankfully, the usual shenanigans of families protesting the film has been avoided. We must , therefore, accept that the film is not a fictional hagiography but historically accurate portrayal of the siege of an important fort in Shivaji’s reign seen through the life of one of his important Sardars. 

(The writer is Delhi-based journalist and author)