Rediscovering Marathi Cinema through Natsamrat

Aakash Karkare watched the Nana Patekar starrer in a Mumbai single screen. Here’s what happened next

As a result, in the early goings of the film, I was finding it a little difficult to decipher the intricacies of the language. It reminded me of the time I first seriously began watching movies. I had to watch English films with English subtitles to help me decode the subtle difference in the accents. But slowly as the film went on, the language began coming back to me and I was sucked into the world of the movie.

Released on January 1, the film stars Nana Patekar as Ganpat ‘Appa’ Belwalkar, a King Lear-like figure who was once a renowned stage actor. Superbly acted and directed, it is made in the vein of films like Ravi Chopra’s Baghban (Natsamrat is the better film by quite some distance) by leaps and bounds that explore the relationship of aging parents with their children.

Adapted by Abhijeet Deshpande and Kiran Yadnopavit from famed Marathi poet and playwright Kusumagraj’s Sahitya Akademi award-winning play, the film has gone on to become one of the highest grossing films of Marathi cinema. Also starring are veteran actor’s Vikram Gokhale as Rambhau, Ganpat’s friend, and Medha Manjrekar as Kaveri Belwalkar, Ganpat’s devoted wife.

I saw the film at Plaza Cinema in Dadar, a close to century-old cinema theatre, at a short distance away from my house. When Plaza was being renovated, I felt a tinge of sadness as modernist designs in black and white on the facade replaced the beauty of the orange-coloured carvings of chariots and elephants. But some vestiges of the old still remain, the seating is divided into stall and balcony (I chose balcony to experience the film as a spectacle) and it still has the gigantic single screen (perfectly suited to a larger than life viewing experience).

Despite it being three weeks since Natsamrat’s release, the balcony was at capacity and even the stall section was two-thirds full. There was a palpable excitement in the air. Like me, the audience too had heard of the acclaim this film garnered and were waiting in anticipation for the film to begin.

Walking to the theatre, I had been skeptical–Would I be able to stay interested in a film that was two hours and forty-six minutes long? Surely the filmmakers must have stretched the story somewhere and crammed it with superfluous material. How wrong I was! If this is the quality of most popular Marathi films, boy does mainstream Hindi cinema have quite some catching up to do. I had forgotten what a magnetic screen presence Patekar was. He carries the film and every moment that Gokhale and him are on screen, one can only marvel at the level of acting talent on display.

Not only that, surrounded by an audience of sniffling people, I began to do something I had never done before in a cinema hall. Tears began streaming down my cheeks as Patekar delivered one heartbreaking Shakespearean soliloquy after another. At the end of the film, one or two audience members were so awestruck by what they had seen, they even attempted a slow clap, hoping it would turn into a standing ovation.

It is easy to be suspicious of films that provoke a physical response. Don’t be. Natsamrat earns its tears backed by Manjrekar’s even-handed direction, no scene is stretched on for too long, nor do you ever feel manipulated. Coupled with that is V. Ajith Reddy’s lighting of interior scenes (where most of the action takes place) which brings alive the complex interplay of the Indian family dynamic. A brilliant examination of the tenuousness of familial bonds and an aging actor’s relationship with the stage, Natsamrat showcases the best that Indian cinema has to offer.

(Aakash Karkare is a writer and filmmaker)

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