This is in continuation to our last week’s post (Revival of Marathi Cinema: Best Films to Watch – Part I) on Marathi films worth watching since Shwaas (2004), the film that sparked a revival of sorts for the Marathi film industry.
4. Natarang (2010) | Director: Ravi Jadhav
Every artist at some point in life has to let go of ego to make great art. But can an artist sacrifice every last smidgen of self respect in a patriarchic society for the sake of art? Ravi Jadhav’s debut film examines a passionate Tamasha (a popular Marathi folk art) artist’s classic struggle to strive for excellence v/s self demolition.
Atul Kulkarni loses himself in the role as Guna, a strong well-built poet who transforms into a Nachya (a “pansy” character, a man who acts in an effeminate manner) owing to his obsession with Tamasha. Atul Kulkarni takes it to a whole new level as his manliness is dismantled slowly and completely by Pandoba, played by the brilliant Kishor Kadam.
Guna dressed as Nachya sings the following lines on stage performing a Tamasha:
नकोस फोडु कान्हा माझी घागर आज रिकामी
हसेल सारी गोकुळ नगरी होईल रं बदनामी
आज दिली बघ नंदकिशोरा हाती लाज तुझ्या रे
रितीच घागर नशीबी माझ्या, शरण तुला मी आले
देवा शरण तुला मी आले
Don’t break my pot Kanha, it is empty.
Whole Gokul will laugh at me, I will be shamed.
Today I have given my self-respect in your hands.
Empty pot is in my fate, I am taking refuge under you.
I am taking refuge under you.
On the face of it, it’s just a plea by Radha to Lord Krishna. Underneath, though, it has a huge subtext. Guna in a gender reversed role is giving up all self-respect to the lord of art and asking to be accepted even though the society ridicules him.
These lines encompass Guna’s pain and loneliness as even his family doesn’t understand his sacrifice for the sake of art.
Natarang’s music is as much the hero here as Atul Kulkarni. Ajay-Atul and Guru Thakur (lyricist) provide a genius score with tracks like Apsara Aali, Wajle ki Bara and Khel Mandala all of which became chart busters, placing the composers in the league of legends.
This film is Ajay Atul unleashed as they seamlessly tackle folk art while keeping their own artistic sensibilities intact. The music and choreography were the primary reasons Natarang was a huge commercial success.
On Pandoba’s insistence, Guna dressed as Nachya, seduces a local minister. It is a highly repulsive moment in the film. The exploitation of Guna’s love for art by the people surrounding him gives you a visceral disgust. It is another brilliant moment of subtext where the audience knows that a lot more is happening than just seduction.
5. Balgandharva (2011) | Director: Ravi Jadhav
From Natarang we move to another film of male stage actors dressed as women but in completely different circumstances. Bal Gandharva (Bal=child + Gandharva= Singer of heaven) was an iconic stage singer/actor who ruled the hearts of audiences and still continues to be a legendary figure.
Set in the early 20th century Maharashtra, where women were not allowed to work on stage, actors dressed in sarees was an accepted norm. The central conflict shifts from male ego to the limits to which art needs to be pushed in service of the audience.
Throughout the film, Bal Gandharva who is as obsessed with his art as Guna in Natarang tries to enhance his audience’s experience beyond what is required. He goes broke, sometimes due to his colleague’s betrayal and sometimes due his own volition.
Bal Gandharva did not understand economics and that is precisely what made his art much ahead of its time. The luxury shalus and jewelry made him a fashion icon among women. The grand beautiful sets on stage he created were a delight to the audience but bankrupted his savings.
It’s the classic contradiction where an artist must sacrifice his present life to make his art immortal.
Is the thought of being remembered by posterity enough to let go of worldly pleasures? And what does the family of such an obsessed man go through?
In a wonderful moment, Bal Gandharava’s mother explains to his wife that all of us tried to enforce the rules of this world on the singer of heaven. These rules will never be understood by Bal.
I am not an expert in Sangeet Natak so I can’t really explain the beauty of the music. I fell in love with its gorgeous art and National award winner Nitin Chandrakant Desai’s set design. The art work coupled with Subodh Bhave’s superb acting brought Bal Gandharva to life.
Subodh Bhave carries the film and every emotion of Bal Gandharva’s life. From his early days as the most sought after artist, to the revered but inconsequential old man, Bhave never misses a beat. It is a riveting performance which pays perfect homage to the greatest stage singer of all time.
Despite everybody’s protests and pleas, Bal Gandharva insist on performing just moments after he hears of his baby daughter’s death. He immerses himself in the performance and pours emotions into the role even as his colleagues start crying on stage. Eventually he breaks down when he turns and sees himself dressed as a woman in the mirror. He remembers his wife who is left alone in her sorrow. It is a beautiful moment where we see that even his love for art is not impervious to the grief of losing family.
6. Aga Bai Arrecha (2004) | Director: Kedar Shinde
The cinema snob in me says this is by no definition the greatest Marathi film. But the child inside me loves this film. And you can clearly see who won the conflict. Loosely based on Hollywood film What Women Want, Aga Bai Arrecha is adapted to Marathi sensibilities and we can relate to the middle class household.
Sanjay Narvekar plays the perfect responsible Marathi man irritated by the opposite sex. It’s a hard life to be the sole breadwinner of a middle class house and Sanjay perfectly blends emotional vulnerability with helplessness. One day, God gives him the power to understand women. He can hear every single thought of every woman he ever encounters.
While the concept is not really original, the treatment certainly is. The film is a light-hearted take on women’s issues, but never goes the full feminist mode. Our protagonist understands that man is not the only victim here. Economic stress, divorces, daily traffic, annoying customers and introversion are issues that affect women equally.
In a beautiful song sequence with the lyrics of Durga aarti, Shriranga treats all women with dignity and tries to make their life better with even little things. He helps an old lady cross the road, a couple of little girls make a sand castle, and talks with his mute grandmother since he can now exactly understand her thoughts. All these acts of kindness give him a sense of calm and internal satisfaction. The beautiful thought is conveyed in the simplest language of great visuals and amazing music.
But Aga Bai Arrecha never falls in the trap of ignoring men completely. It is as much a dissection of the male psyche as it is of understanding women.
Dilip Prabhavalkar’s unsaid words go a long way in telling the tragic story of a man affected by the 1980’s textile mill workers strike.
The director seems to have had great fun making it and that translates into an endearing film.
Shriranga (Sanjay Narvekar) comes home after a bad day at work. Every time he tries to take a bite of the food, the women in the house bombard him with issues and complaints. The scene starts out funny as Shriranga doesn’t get a chance to speak or eat, and quickly snaps. A middle class man’s frustrations couldn’t have been better conveyed.
By Shridhar Kulkarni
PS: This is an ongoing series where we’ll bring you the best of Marathi films post the release of Shwaas. Look out for fresh recommendations every week.