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Sarsenapati Hambirrao review: This bland historical action drama is stretched till breaking point

Release Date: 27 May 2022 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 38min

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Suyog Zore

While the film's melodramatic moments increase its length, they lack the depth that was required to leave an emotional impact on the viewer.

Pravin Tarde's Sarsenapati Hambirrao (2022) must be the 177th historical action drama from the Maratha cinematic universe. Frankly, I have lost count and have no desire to crosscheck.

Given the plethora of films on Maratha history over the past few years, this film on Hambirrao Mohite, a truly unsung warrior of the seventeenth-century kingdom, was, perhaps, inevitable. Yet, inevitability does not guarantee creativity. If you have watched at least a couple of the recent films on Maratha history, rest assured you have watched Sarsenapati Hambirrao.

A Maratha super warrior whose life revolves around his god and king, a few loyal soldiers whose main job seems to be to praise the lead, unnecessarily loud background music, cruel Mughal (or Adilshahi) troops scared stiff of Maratha soldiers outnumbered five to one, rousing speeches on swarajya (independence) every few minutes, Bahirji Naik's musical exposition using the 'lok geet' form to explain a plan, laughing as loudly as possible even during a simple exchange, we have seen all this in the recently released flicks. And we get to see it again (not for the last time, I am sure) in Sarsenapati Hambirrao, with the bonus of some excruciatingly loud melodrama.

That is not to say none of the above ever happened. While actor-director Tarde, who has also written the story, screenplay and dialogues, has added an element of fiction to make it more palatable for the audience, the film is based on historical events. But the question is why filmmakers are unable to come up with innovative ways to show these incidents. How many times do we have to watch the same tropes being employed?

Tarde's film covers a period of nearly 13 years from Shivaji's coronation in 1674, when he officially took the title Chhatrapati, to Hambirrao's death in 1687. Hambirrao served under Shivaji as well as his son and successor Sambhaji after the founder of the Marathi kingdom died in 1680.

The film begins with Hambirrao being conferred the post of sarsenapati (commander-in-chief) by Shivaji (Gashmeer Mahajani) and moves from one big military campaign to another, with the occasional melodrama when the general is interacting with his wife.

Hambirrao Mohite remains a mostly forgotten hero, though he played a major role in securing the nascent Maratha kingdom against attacks by the Mughals and the Dutch. Unlike Tanaji Malusare and Baji Prabhu Deshpande, Hambirrao's heroics never made it into pop culture. The character has never been part of any famous television show or film on Shivaji's life.

This meant Tarde had a golden opportunity to offer a riveting saga of an important leader of the Maratha army who had never got his due. But the filmmaker wastes the opportunity by giving us another bland historical action drama that fails to create its own identity in a sea of similar films. The film could have given us something we had not seen before and underlined Hambirrao's personality. Instead, it sticks to all the clichés of the genre.

Tarde's script does not highlight any traits that could make Hambirrao stand apart from Tanaji or Baji Prabhu. He reduces the general to just another sincere commander of Shivaji's forces who is ready to sacrifice his life for his king. That's it. In fact, but for the names, there is nothing to distinguish Hambirrao from Tanaji in Om Raut's Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (2020, Hindi) or Baji Prabhu from Digpal Lanjekar's recent Pawankhind (2022).

In the quest to cover 13 years of Hambirrao's life, Tarde skims over several important historical events that could have made for riveting set pieces. As a result, despite several cinematic liberties, the film fails to keep the viewer engrossed.

Gashmeer Mahajani in the film Sarsenapati Hambirrao (2022)

Despite a decent-sized budget, the film's technical aspects are also not up to the mark. Everything here is in close-up, boring coverage with no effort at making the visuals appealing. Unnecessarily dramatic dialogues and overdramatic scenes give it the feel of a daily soap. The action is worse. It’s often hard to tell what is happening when things get intense. The director and his cinematographer Mahesh Limaye fail to give the viewer a sense of the geography of the location where the action is set. There are also some logical lapses but I will skip them as they are also spoilers.

At 2 hours 40 minutes, the film is too long and moves slowly despite skipping several incidents. Tarde should have curbed his urge to spend too much time on melodramatic moments. Without the depth that was required to leave an emotional impact on the viewer, they only end up increasing the film's length.

The acting department alone saves the film from becoming an epic mess. Tarde brings his usual swag to the titular role and gives the viewer something to cheer for the uni-dimensional, overly dramatic character. Gashmeer Mahajani, who plays both Shivaji and Sambhaji, brings the poise and sternness that was required for both characters.

Shruti Marathe, who plays Shivaji's wife Soyarabai, shines despite her limited screen time. Other artistes like Upendra Limaye, Kshitish Date, Suresh Vishwakarma and Raqesh Bapat don't have much to do.

Sarsenapati Hambirrao was released in cinemas across Maharashtra today.


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