Devashish Makhija's Bhonsle stars Manoj Bajpayee as Ganpat Bhonse, a retired police constable in his mid-sixties. Bhonsle lives alone in a Mumbai chawl, where an RSS-style Marathi gang plans to use the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi festival to spark a hate campaign against Biharis in the chawl. Co-produced by Manoj Bajpayee, Bhonsle had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, before travelling to multiple festivals around the world. The film is streaming exclusively on SonyLIV.
In 2016 Bajpayee collaborated with Makhija on the celebrated short film Taandav, which served as a kind of showreel to sell the long-in-the-making idea of Bhonsle. Taandav also starred Bajpayee as a constable during Ganesh Chaturthi and follows an honest-to-a-fault policeman who – when confronted with a spat between a Marathi manoos and migrant rickshaw driver – has a tragicomical meltdown that goes viral. Taandav is in many ways the spiritual predecessor to Bhonsle.
A note from director Devashish Makhija on the relationship between the two films.
"Both films were conceived in 2011 when I was bedridden for months, recovering from swine-flu, back – literally – from the dead. 'Bhonsle' was a tough screenplay to write. In it we were exploring what NOIR would mean to us. The film has most of the archetypal elements of Noir.
Yet we've tried to subvert the exploration of these elements from the traditional ways they have been explored in Hollywood, by infusing the story with intensely local textures, politics and mythological referencing.
In the midst of the bleakness of Bhonsle I wrote Taandav, perhaps as a protest against the sickness and depressive decay that Bhonsle wrought upon me. In Taandav a quintessentially Noir protagonist in an archetypal Noir world goes against the formula of Noir itself.
At the beginning of Bhonsle an aged cop loses his job – the only thing that brought his life any meaning – and has to find a new way to navigate his life. It pushes him to a place where he finds love and honour and hope, things he otherwise would never have found. But the path to them is brutal
At the end of Taandav a young cop too loses his job. But in the process he discovers a deeper freedom, and perhaps a new way to navigate his life.
Whereas in Bhonsle the titular character gradually BREAKS DOWN, in Taandav Tambe eventually BREAKS OUT.
Both Bhonsle and Tambe – constables many years apart – revere their uniforms and are thus blinded by the codes and rules that govern them. But both their stories are journeys of questioning Order… and surrendering to Chaos.
This destroys Bhonsle.
But this sets Tambe free.
By this perverse logic both Bhonsle and Taandav are companion pieces in as they were explorations of the same 'what would happen if…' but taken down divergent paths… Bhonsle down the path of bleak Noir… and Taandav down the path of Anti-Noir.
I couldn't have written one without the other.
Yet one is NOT a version of the other.
60 year old Bhonsle is who 40 year old Tambe (of Taandav) could've been 20 years hence, in a parallel reality. It made the storytelling journey juicier for me to have the same actor – Manoj Bajpayee – play both parts!
Through these two films I have explored two diverse possibilities of the same character. Such an opportunity doesn't come a storyteller's way often.
Its also most interesting that I undertook this journey with the same producers, lead actor as well as the core crew. I hope viewers of one get to watch the other as well, and draw their own parallels. Its what we often do with our own lives when we think about the years we've lived. We're haunted by a thousand 'What if's.
Bhonsle and Taandav together are a metaphor for all our thousand own private 'What if's."