The recently released ‘Tanhaji – The Unsung Warrior’ has set the box office on fire. Based on strong word of mouth, as well as critical appreciation, the film has earned an impressive total of Rs. 35.67 crores in merely 2 days. From screenplay, to cinematography, to VFX, music, acting etc., audiences as well as critics are almost all praise for ‘Tanhaji’.
While there is no doubt on the fact that Ajay Devgn has done a great service to the country by bringing forward the untold story of Subedar Tanaji Malusare, who gave up his life in the pursuit to win back the fort of Kondhana [later named Sinhagad in his memory], we can’t thank enough a man for doing what nobody else in Bollywood even dared to essay the role of the Maratha braveheart, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, with absolute finesse.
Yes, you’re absolutely right, we’re talking about Sharad Kelkar, who has stood out with his portrayal of the Maratha Emperor in ‘Tanhaji – The Unsung Warrior’, setting an impressive benchmark for anyone who wants to portray the immortal warrior on the silver screen. Having mesmerized the audience with his impressive baritone in ‘Baahubali’ franchise, wherein he gave the iconic voiceover to Prabhas in the Hindi dub, people were naturally delighted when it was announced that Sharad Kelkar would bring forth Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on the silver screen. The dedication to this legendary warrior in Sharad’s role was also imminent from the fact that he politely suggested a journalist to address him as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj instead of just Shivaji.
While Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj needs no introduction, he was rightly described during the film promotion as one of the most influential freedom fighters against the Mughal imperialism by military historian cum author Major General GD Bakshi. To quote his address at the second trailer launch, “From the nadir of defeat, our revival began and you know who started it? It was Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the south, Guru Gobind Singh in the north and Lachit Borphukan in the east. I thank you, Ajay, for bringing forth the portion of history that was deliberately left ignored.”
However, nothing can be more outrageous than the fact that a man, who liberated us from the horrifying Mughal imperialism, a man, who set infinite ideals for millions of Indians did not get even one memorable portrayal in Bollywood. Leaving aside the 1952 movie, wherein Chhatrapati Shivaji was essayed by Prithvi Raj Kapoor, there has not been a single historical movie in Bollywood that was ever made on the Maratha braveheart. Though Chinmay Mandlekar did justice to the eponymous role of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, as portrayed in the 2018 Marathi historical drama ‘Farzand’, as well as the prequel ‘Fatteshikast’, his popularity was unfortunately restricted to the state of Maharashtra due to the linguistic barrier.
However, Sharad Kelkar not only portrayed the role of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj with absolute brilliance in ‘Tanhaji – The Unsung Warrior’, it also looked like he was the spitting image of the actual warrior in some scenes. Be it maintaining the robust physique, or showing the emotional turmoil within the Maratha braveheart as he sends one of his best men in the form of Tanhaji to win back the fort of Kondhana, or slaying the demons standing in the way of reclaiming freedom from Mughal tyranny, Sharad Kelkar has hit all the right notes in his portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. When he quoted the iconic dialogue of ‘Gad Ala Pan Sinha Gela’ as Tanhaji breathes his last, it seemed as if the entire hall was as choked as Sharad Kelkar was on screen.
Whether someone will come up to portray Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on screen again is something only time can tell. However, there is one thing for sure: whoever will essay the role of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on screen for Bollywood, he will have to do complete justice to the ideal benchmark as set by Sharad Kelkar with his excellent portrayal of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in ‘Tanhaji – The Unsung Warrior’.