रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

It would be an understatement to say that this is one of the better and popular plays in Marathi, of all times.

Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete is the play that explores the relationship between a Shivaji – A king as well as a father, and his eldest son Sambhaji – the natural successor to the throne. The play tumbles through the relationships and the roles of these two great personalities, the misunderstandings that distance and time had caused between this father and sun duo. For good measure, the key  character turns out to be the second son of Shivaji – Rajaram – the younger step-brother of Sambhaji.

रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

रायगडाला जेव्हा जाग येते; वसंत कानेटकर | Raigadala Jevha Jaag Yete; Vasant Kanetkar

Court intrigues and scheming for the succession struggle play an important part in this wonderfully crafted play. While a large reason of the popularity of this play may have been due to the characters in the play, that’s only the skin: the meat, bones, and the nerves of this play are in the exploration of the raw emotions and exchanges between a father-king and a prince-son (who have been estranged by distance and time) come to experience: partly because of the actions of the prince, more because of the schemes and the intrigues of the court.

The aphorisms and metaphors are a readers’ delight. The writing is pacy, even if you imagine the mighty Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar on stage delivering the performance, with his signature pauses and voice modulation. The event of the escape of Shivaji from Agra is used to perfection as a presentation of perspective; the text for each of the perspectives, of Shivaji and Sambhaji, are very compelling.

“शेकडो कोसांची पायपीट बिनतक्रार करणाऱ्या पोराचे पाय ओसरीवरून माझघरात जाईतो पांगळे होतात.”

The language employed is “Olde Marathi”, if I can call it that; the medieval usage of certain words, which have now, unfortunately fallen out of favour, is enriching to the entire context of the play. For a person, who is not well versed in Marathi, it was relatively easy to read (with some help from my mother, who was referred to throughout the two days that I took to read the book.

If you read Marathi, this is highly recommended.

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Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015)

Potential “influencers” ahead. AKA Spoilers.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie. If you do not want to be influenced with what I think, read this after you have seen the movie. You have been warned.

*

I cannot write the review of this movie without invoking three other movies which I have watched, enjoyed, and respected. Sardar (1993), Rang De Basanti (2006), and Lincoln (2012). All in good time, but first things first. I hardly ever say this; I highly recommend Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015).

Lokmanya-Ek-Yugpurush-Marathi-Movie-Poster

In recent times, this movie has to rank the highest, as far as performances go. Subodh Bhave, who plays Shri BG Tilak, brings to you, an outstanding performance. To play Tilak’s role is automatically a challenge. To see a historical character come to life, in the way that the actor has, is a revelation. It is a stellar performance and more adjectives will follow. None of us alive will ever know how Tilak lived. Of what we know of Tilak, Bhave does due justice. To glean a character from flat documents and give us a sense, meaning, and a visual is a daunting task. Bhave does it, apparently effortlessly. The actor may have gone through much effort; nothing shows on the screen. Here, I invoke the first of the three movies I mentioned above. In terms of a powerful performance, Bhave is akin to Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012). As enraptured as you are, if every other scene is giving you goosebumps, and you know it has nothing to do with the AC in the cinema hall, that is a powerful performance. I cede, that part of it has to do with my love and respect for Shri BG Tilak.

The production quality is outstanding. I am glad that Marathi movies are embracing production quality as an essential aspect of film-making. Art direction, equally is worth all that meets your eye. When possible, light has been used to dramatic effect. Angles of the camera are often philosophical. While I may have missed things, there’s nothing jarring, in the creative department.

There is no reason you would not want to watch this movie in a theatre. I highly recommend it. Especially for the performances.

*

All, is not good, however.

And this ails the industry more than it ails this movie. Consider Sardar (1993) — a biopic on Sardar Vallabhai Patel. It starts with a contemporary event (just like in Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush, but gracefully gives way to the biopic and respects the audience, right until the movie ends). Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush insists on violating the biopic. That is jarring. If you aren’t alert, you will miss that you will see two movies for the price of one: one an extremely high-budget, production and performance focussed movie on the life and times of Tilak, and the other a low-budget, shoddily directed, low-budget contemporary confusion of the new generation. The second movie is embedded to insult you — the audience; shooting from behind Tilak’s shoulder. The difference in the quality of the two films indicates two directors (although I don’t know it for a fact).

I am not against non-linear presentations. In fact, I love them. I finally invoke the third film I mentioned above: Rang De Basanti (2006). Period-shifting was done tastefully in Rang De Basanti. It perhaps had to do with the reuse of the cast. Irrespective, the time shifts in Rang De Basanti were not jarring.

I have to make special mention of a few things about this movie. Veer Savarkar was badly cast. Swami Vivekananda could have been better. Khudiram Bose was wonderfully cast and cinematically presented. I would’ve like to see at least one shot in which “Lal, Bal, Pal” — the triumvirate of assertive nationalists — were seen together.

If this is the harbinger of what we will see in the days to come from the Marathi Film Industry, I am mighty proud.

Do us, one favour, ye mighty producers and  storytellers. Spare us the social messages. The fact that you have to spell it out to us means two things: (a) you assume your audience is idiotic, (b) you have no faith in your craft.

Here goes my **SPOILER**

3-odd minutes before the end of the film, when Tilak replies to “what next” is the perfect time when the movie should have concluded. We don’t need a very well-defined, vocabularised, trivialised, dumbed-down version of Tilak’s legacy.

Dear director, from the moment when, I think, you should have shut down the film, (and you didn’t) you undid everything that could have qualified as the classiest film ever. It never is and never will be easy to capture the life of such a great personality; hats of to you, nonetheless

*

Watch this movie. If you love a performance, this is a must watch.

Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero (2014)

What do you call a cross between a biopic, documentary, and a feature film? Well, whatever you call it, that is what Dr. Prakash Baba Amte – The Real Hero is. Someone on Facebook or Twitter reviewed this movie in a single sentence, a phrase almost: Great movie, bad title. (Or something to that effect, It is a big pain to search in Facebook, so, I will not try). The reason I put up that phrase is that I agree with it. At the same time, I cannot, in the absence of any authority, tell you what it should have been called.

I loved the movie.

Dr Prakash Baba Amte The Real Hero

Somewhere in my head, I loved it even before I entered the theatre. The lead role is played by Nana Patekar; I have great respect for that man. Very few people can make their presence felt without saying a single word. As far as intense performances go, he is one of the best. I am not a big fan of Sonali Kulkarni; I have always thought she has a tendency to over-emote. Note: I said over-emote, not over-act. After this movie, I have changed my opinion about her somewhat; except for a couple of scenes, she has done a good job. She feels real.

There is obvious dramatisation in the movie, but it has been used for good effect. That effect, is, however, to dilute the stark reality of the life of the protagonist. In its raw form, I doubt if we city-dwellers could have digested it.

Marathi movies and production quality: If I ever review a Marathi film, production values have to account in the review. US location and you use the Kohinoor hotel, in Andheri East, Mumbai? Fair enough, lack of budget, I am OK with it. Take some effort to mask the obvious. That’s my only peeve about the movie, really. The only reason, why I took away one star in my IMDB rating.

I will not even begin to question how Dr. Prakash Amte lived his life; I accept the hanging of saline bottles on tree trunks because I have no idea about how he lived his life. This movie gave me an insight into his life. The fact that I know that Nana Patekar is good friends with Dr. Prakash Amte, I took up the entire film on face value. And while I am an otherwise stoic person, I experienced the travails and cried in this movie.

There. I said it.

Something has to be said of the tears, though. They were never gushing; the eyes were swollen on continuous basis, even when I laughed during some scenes. The movie is a festival of faces. The protagonist’s faces and those that keep making their way in and out of the movie, lending credence to the protagonists. It’s a festival of places. It’s a festival of emotions. Not the festival of fire-crackers; however; a quiet one — one of emotions, motivation, and resolve.

Parts of the movie are gory. If you have young children, avoid taking them to the theatre. Your children might ask questions, you may not find it easy to answer. But the gory-ness is in perfect context and adds useful meaning to the film. And because it is the truth, more so.

The following note has nothing to do about this movie, but about Marathi movies in general:

I have no idea why, but this movie has English subtitles. (At least at INOX, where I saw it). That was a master stroke. Non-Marathi audiences can enjoy the film in almost the same way that Marathi audience can enjoy it. There is so much more in this film than meets the eye, but it cannot be included in this review.

Definite watch. It’s tax-free (if it matters to you). These are the filmmakers I would want to become wealthy and cross the magical Rs. 100-crore mark.

If nothing, it is an insight into a wonderful and an inspirational life. But do not attempt to live such a life; one thing that will become obvious after you see this film, it takes much more than simple motivation to live such a life.

These movies are not descriptions of social markers. They are a life-size question marks that we often see in mirrors. Enough said.

Duniyadari (2013)

Just when I was relaxing, feeling good about Marathi Cinema doing quality production and tangentially effective story-telling, along comes Duniyadari (2013). In less than five-odd minutes of the start of the film, the protagonist is supposed to go to SP College. You have the undivided attention of this movie-goer. SP College is my alma mater.

alma mater: noun (one’s Alma Mater) the university, school, or college that one formerly attended. ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (in the general sense ‘someone or something providing nourishment’): Latin, literally ‘generous mother’. [Italics, mine; just to give you a context of the post that follows]

Duniyadari_poster

So you are telling a story linked to my generous mother. You will of course forgive the current scandal – which I had nothing to do with – but my niece is affected and out on the streets, protesting and such; which, is a prerogative of every college student in India; and perhaps the world. I believe, that while you are in college, at least one such issue has to come up, where you can participate protest. When I was in SP College, the Mandal Commission had come out. We protested against that. Eventually, most of us will pay lip-service to social issues; but this is the time when you can express yourself as much as you can. Kudos to my niece! But, let us not talk about that for now, for this is a review of a movie.

So, this movie is about a few college going kids, who become friends due to certain unintended circumstances and towards the end of the movie – it all becomes quite lopsided and queasy. I’ll explain.

ENDNOTE:

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an “opposite” review. Read it before you read any further.

[FAIR WARNING: Guaranteed spoiler and influencer ahead]

Guy meets girl, falls in love, rest of his friends tease him. Standard. Some stupidity with a police officer and the revenge is to entangle the daughter of the police officer in a love game. [Long ago, we saw something similar in Tezaab] – the bet to entice a girl to fall in love. And of course, the bet works (with some implausible stupidity) and the protagonist is now conflicted between his real love and his wagered love. There’s some wishful slapstick comedy (which has been the survival mechanism of Marathi Cinema for a few years) that is extremely weak and in effective to buttress the plot. Because Marathi Cinema needs to be shown as progressive, there’s a small scene of physical intimacy – do not get your hopes up – you don’t get to see anything. The assumed prudery of the assumed audience is intact. I forgot to mention, this movie is set in the 70s apparently. The art director was probably born in the nineties. If you were 20-something in the 70’s, be ready for a shocker. In the late-eighties and early nineties, I often went to Alka Talkies – I can assure you – it was nothing like what has been depicted in the movie. SP College is along Tilak Road – and it could not have the amazing open space as depicted in the film. It is probably the same building that was used in Munnabhai MBBS. I don’t care. If you wanted to show SP College, and did not get permission to shoot there, call it something else! It’s fiction!

I’ll get back to my favourite concept that I use when I watch movies. Suspension of disbelief.

It didn’t work!

Let’s forget the art direction and the SP College and the Alka Talkies. Some repetition assured.

Dumb guy gets slapped because of mistaken identity – slapper eventually apologises for mistaken identity – slapped guy gets intimidated by rival gang – finds credo – and therefore finds place in slapper gang – falls in love with a medical student (SP College is and has never been anywhere near a medical college) – gets slapped by an inspector for a misdemeanour – gang wants revenge on inspector – entice daughter of inspector – she sees through the plan – yet falls in love [Erm. Where are the feminists?] – hero is conflicted – gang leader (non-hero) goes through love crisis – somewhere in the middle of the movie we get to know that hero’s nose bleeds “may” be life threatening [Prison Break?] – enticed daughter of inspector is advised to go find love elsewhere by our nose-bleeder with some heavy wordy dialogues (which none of us normal Maharashtrians use in our daily life) – in the meanwhile, just when the train is about to leave the station, you should have asked me to marry you, says the heroine (of course when he did try to ask, she didn’t allow him) – suddenly a guy [Who is called MK – and you will never know why; and BTW – he is some sort of professor] who commits suicide in a train is the hero’s mother’s lover, who, you have just learned that she sacrificed everything for legally sanctioned rape, i.e. marriage. [Topically speaking, very relevant] & [I assure you writing this is not easy] – and then, phew – our hero is dead all his male and female lovers [not homosexual @ men] are back on the stone benches [Flash-forward] where they smoked cigarettes (which I can assure you they did not do it very well, which anyway was ruined by the sub-titled warnings of how harmful smoking is; no mention was made by the surgeon general about how harmful failing in college and betting on enticing daughters of local inspectors is, which, if you ask me, is more detrimental than smoking). Friends getting together for a memory makes sense, but you know what gets to me? What makes me tear up the few remaining hair on my head?

I’ll tell you.

Remember that inspector’s daughter who was a bet? And was eventually let go with some really complex word jumbles? She married another guy, apparently. Here’s the worst part:

That extremely mis-casted meatpack, who ended up being the husband of the better girl – **actually talks** to a stone bench at the end of the movie – thanking our dead nose-bleeding guy, that he let this wager-woman go. So that he could have her. Seriously. If nothing, for this one scene, you *have* to watch this movie.

So, let’s talk about the music. Rather, let’s not. I forwarded (not email, FF-button) most of the songs in the movie – they were in Hindi. The first one was, so I assumed the other’s were too. I fail to understand why we have Hindi songs in Marathi movies. Let me say that again. They were in Hindi. Why? I know the answer. Marathi poetry is dead. The acting was lacklustre, loaded with hamming for equal measure. The story has nothing to offer and mo message is intended. The movie completely fails to entertain and struggles pathetically between attempting to entertain or posting a message. The emotions are hammed, and at the end of it, the movie does one thing with great clarity: It does a dis-service to the audience that has evolved more than the industry has.

Duniyadari, the word, to my mind – is being worldly-wise. There were many worlds I experienced when I was watching this movie; I can assure you there was nothing wise about it.

How much do you value your 2-3 hours? If you really value them; avoid this movie. And if you are really set to watch a Marathi Movie, watch Ashi hi Banva Banvi, instead. It makes no excuses, unlike Duniyadari.

At least you won’t go to bed wondering what it was all about.

Jogwa (2009)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Marathi cinema is coming of age and Jogwa is a shining example.

Jogwa is a story based on the superstitious principle of enslaving men and (mostly) women to the service of God or a Goddess. This unfortunate practice continues to this date. In fact, I was at the temple of Yellamma (the Goddess) this March. It didn’t strike me then, about this practice, though I saw these people in the temple vicinity.

Jogwa can be a very disturbing movie. If you are like me, the kind who is city-bred and most of our knowledge is theoretical, it can be an almost shocking experience. For one, it is about a disturbing practice in our society, secondly, it is a very intense narrative. Importantly though, it has extraordinarily powerful performances. Needless to say, the most powerful performance is by Upendra Limaye. Mukta Barve’s performance is also impressive. Vinay Apte delivers very well, unlike his presentation in Raajneeti (Review).

One happy surprise of the movie is Kishore Kadam. He is proving to be the perfect part in stories like these (he has delivered very well in Natarang (Review Pending) to the same effect) where he provides just the right amount of tension that certain characters in a story create. The character that is both black and white but neither, yet not grey. A character that humanises the story. Very few are able to play this part – I think Kishore Kadam does this with ease. It will be interesting to see if there are any more flowers in his bouquet.

The execution and production values are very good. Though I’ll admit there is a Santosh-Sivan-like ghost that haunts the cinematography and most of the movie uses high-contrast and high-saturation. Why do most Marathi movies occur in the Sahyadris in the Monsoon or just after it? I’d like to believe that a high-level of de-saturation would have intensified the performances. The bright and rich colours seem to betray a need to soften the impact that this film can have on you.

Even the bright colours however, could do little to hit you in the head with a hammer, the way the movie does. To call this a serious film would be an understatement. If you get affected by a raw presentation of social issues, you may want to opt-out. I’d however recommend it for Limaye’s performance. He is well supported by a some very smart performances by the rest of the cast.

Gabhricha Paus (2009)

Movies based on social issues walk a very thin line. On either side of that line is a chasm of becoming a documentary or being preachy. Very few films are able to balance and keep to the line. Gabhricha Paus (2009) is one such film and very gracefully walked that line.

When you consider that this is the director’s debut, it makes it that much more impressive. Satish Manwar does not patronise the audience at any time, stays true to the subject and the story and guides you all along the narrative. There is a general awareness about farmer suicides and this film ran a good risk of being a documentary. However, the story makes smooth movements inside the heart of the farming family and the issue at large, with great ease. The presentation does due justice to the story. There are no jerks in the presentation and the performances support these very well.

The movie is not a documentary of the prevalence of farmer-suicides in Maharashtra, nor a backlash at the politics of the problem; neither does it offer a solution to the problem.

Girish Kulkarni is a treat to watch; he is in the league of those that are able to act without the need for dialogues or the need to make contorted faces every time an emotion passes them by. There is significant burden on the character, because the story relies heavily on him to manage the multiple transitions of the issue from the individual angst to the social problem. Sonali Kulkarni has done a good job, personally however, I cannot help but thinking that any role she does, there is a tad bit of over-acting and she is scared of completely becoming the character. There is an urban air to her which always hovers in her presence. The realistic of all performances however came from Jyoti Subhash and Madhukar Dhore. Jyoti merges into the role and the character as if you have mixed distilled water with distilled water. Madhukar Dhore (I haven’t been able to find much info about him) was my real hero, in the few minutes of screen presence he had in the movie.

Sudhir Palsane has done a good job with the camera, without any distracting gimmicks. The light play is wonderful; interestingly for such a serious subject, a significant part of the movie is shot in bright natural light.

After a long time, a movie that made its way straight in.

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Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (2009)

After Valu (2008), this is the first (new) Marathi movie that I have enjoyed watching. The cinematography and the pace made it for me. The camera-work is practical and well-employed and the story progresses along a fine pace. However…

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead

… I did feel at times that the premise of the story was quite a bit contrived. Sachin Khedekar (playing Dinkar Bhosale) though doing pretty well in the role, is a character that you (or, at least I) cannot relate with. Attributing the weakness of the character to people belonging to a region seemed a bit far fetched to me. In telling the story (of how a community must rise to the apparent subjugation by extra-regional infiltration), the entire community gets defined by the lack of a particular person’s self-respect. To me, that is unacceptable. All through the earlier part of the movie the protagonist undergoes severe humiliation, which is fairly exaggerated. How the above-mentioned subjugation has occurred is pretty vague and (deliberately?) left to the imagination of the audience. Irrespective of the region you belong to — what kind of a person would accept the humiliation from a shop assistant and a fish-seller, as has been depicted in the movie?

I do not imply that such events never occur at all, however, they can never be the basis of defining a community’s ethos. The character suffers from a severe victim complex which is highlighted by his relatively difficult economic state. It is fine as a specific case.

When I think back on the purpose of presenting the character the way it was portrayed in Me Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (2009), I am forced to think that it addresses the ever-growing folks who do actually feel like the character in the movie. It is not addressed to the region at large. I take solace in that.

As the story progresses, the protagonist meets with the king and complains of how he has been continuously robbed of opportunities by people coming in from the rest of the world. The dialogue by Mahesh Manjrekar (playing Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) about how the protagonist wears his deficiencies as a garland of pride, really was the key to the entire movie, for me. (“What you should be ashamed of, you sound out as your pride.”). Chatrapati reminds Dinkar Bhosle of his lineage and kindles his pride. This part of the movie was most interesting, for me. I have always wondered, when someone evokes a sense of pride in us what do they truly intend? For us to make a show of slogans? Or to own the sense of pride itself? Pride is a characteristic, not an ornament. Most people, don’t understand that. As an ornament, it is something outside of you — doesn’t “belong” to you. As a characteristic, it is a part of you and you never have to try and express it. Your existence is a factor of that pride.

Towards the second half and nearing the end of the film, all interactions that the protagonist commits — with the film producer, with the police man, the BMC officials or the builder — are very fungible. They could be true of any community in any region. All communities carry their share of good and bad and mad. The terrace speech, in fact, has national appeal.

Technically, I wish the movie was slightly better edited. I think I remember seeing a TV tower as Chatrapati races down to Mumbai on a horse. It could have been avoided, but I guess there is an element of cross-over of time-spaces, so that could be forgiven. The repeated low-angle hooves are a bit overdone. Mahesh Manjrekar could do well with some make-up for the black circles, but he played the character well. Siddharth Jadhav (as Usman Parkar) is a treat to watch (you half-expect him to do something funny!)

All in all, an enjoyable movie (Marathi humour’s sensibility seems to have found it’s way back, a bit) with a message — but you will have to see the movie to decide what it means for you and what your take-away will be.

Vasudev Balwant Phadke (2008)

Vasudev Balwant Phadke (2008) was a much awaited movie given my love for historical movies. I have now accepted that most historical portrayals have a bit of a drama added to it; I have made my peace with that. I have learnt to ignore that from the story.

VBP however, had me falling off my seat. An item song? Lesser said the better. One day I decide that Marathi movies have come of age — the next day I see this. I reset my expectations. Save one, all performances were below average. Sharad Ponkshe helped me stay at my seat. The dialogues were over-simplified, and delivered without passion. Notice how they say, “Har Har Mahadev!”

Ajinkya Deo looks very good in the part, all phases of it. The moment he opens his mouth, however, all is lost. I have seen some of his performances earlier, and when I think back, this was never a role for him.

Sonali Kulkarni overacts, as usual. Interestingly, I think she does it only in Marathi movies. Ramesh Deo comes in a for a few minutes in the film and is a saving grace, even if miniscule.

Much, much could have done in this smart production and well thought of film.