It's that time of the year again – The Pune International Film Festival is in town (the 17th one no less) is underway. Kothrud is transformed into a film mela overnight. It feels like an all-you-can-eat buffet – the long lines, the palpable excitement and the strategizing on what to digest when. With over a 150 films to choose from and only limited screenings, it is hard to narrow things down to concrete viewing choices. The crop of Marathi films being screened made for brilliant entries as always. A collection of stories that felt embedded in the roots of Pune. As someone that is new to Marathi cinema it was refreshing to see filmmakers use their unique voice to give platforms to prevalent societal issues. Here are some of my personal favourites out of the seven Marathi films that were in competition this year.
Bodhi directed by Vinit Chandrashekharan – The story of a village mired in oppression, where religion is currency and resources are at a bare minimum – shouldn't make for an entertaining film. But Bodhi is so gripping that it's hard not to be transfixed. The film uses the conflict between a power-hungry pastor and a defiant Dalit leader to bring up conversations about the rusty mechanics of religion. The performances are stellar all round but it is Shashank Shende, inhabiting the role of a pastor slowly losing his grip on reality that stands out.
Dithee directed by Sumitra Bhave – Dithee is the tale of a gloomy village that is rocked by the death of the son of ironsmith/devoted pilgrim Ramji (Kishor Kadam). Sumitra Bhave's film is a labour of love that is visually breathtaking, right from its rain-soaked terrain to its grief-stricken dimly lit homes. The rain feels like more than just background noise, its lashing sound acting as a soundtrack to the pain that has permeated the village. Kishor Kadam as Ramji is at his most vulnerable, portraying the anguish of a grieving father in silences as well as through some genuinely searing dialogue.
Khatla Bitla directed by Paresh Mokashi – Two people are on trial for attempted suicides in a fast track court – and things quickly get out of hand. This is the plot of Paresh Mokashi's satirical comedy – a refreshingly lighter fare, but no less poignant. The movie moves from one comedic set piece to the next, threading it all together with over-the-top performances and witty punchlines. While the film lingers on for too long with a slightly anti-climatic end – it is still a fun fare that deserves to be viewed.
Mulshi Pattern directed by Pravin Vitthal Tarde – With a lenient use of slow motion, laughably villainous characters and dialogue that is constantly playing to the galleries – Mulshi Pattern has all the makings of a masala film. But underneath it lies a ruthless story about the plight of the farmers in the Mulshi region that have mired succeeding generations into a life of poverty and hardship. The lead actor Mohan Joshi, while playing the conflicted Rahul, juxtaposes his character's vulnerability with a terrifyingly raw hunger for power. Upendra Limeya as the ruthless cop jaded by a flawed system puts in a scene-stealing performance as well. As the tale hurtles to a close, you get the sense that the cynical and violent world of Mulshi Pattern has more stories to tell.