Director: Abhijeet Mohan Warang
Cast: Prasad Oak, Samay Sanjeev Tambe, Ashwini Mukadam and others.
The Marathi movie Picasso is, by its own admission, a tribute to performers, singers, and artists, and specifically those involved in Dashavatar, folk theater practiced around South Konkan in Goa and Maharashtra, mostly in and around temples, and mostly by men. This tribute isn’t just lip-service to give the film a heft in the epilogue that it couldn’t muster in its run-time; the entire second-half of the film is set in and around the Dashavatar stage, with us, being both audience to the film and the stage performance.
The brief, 70 minute film follows Gandharva Gawde (Samay Tambe), studying in the 7th Standard, who is selected for the National level of the Picasso Arts Scholarship. He needs to cough up 1500 Rupees to participate in the Nationals. If he wins the scholarship, he gets to study at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona for a year. Years ago, one of the students from his school had won it, and had gone on to study and graduate as an artist from the JJ School Of Art in Mumbai. This is, thus, not unchartered territory, but it certainly is a swerve for him and his family. His mother needs money for medical tests to diagnose a pain, and his father is an artist, a Renaissance man — a musician, a painter, a sculptor, an actor — who constantly brushes up against his poverty and circumstances as the bread-winner. The tension of the film, set over a day, is to see if Gandharva and his family can get the money. It isn’t interested in asking questions beyond that, happy with a temporary solution to an immediate, specific concern, instead of a definitive, generalized happily-ever-after.
The film plays out through largely still frames. The most the camera moves is a spine-rotational swerve, lending the world a stationary quality—that it doesn’t matter where you are looking at it from, that you’re looking at it, is enough. In the first half, Gandharva travels to the next village on foot to tell his father, preparing for a performance, that he got selected to represent the state at the Nationals, and that he needs money. The travel itself is shown in great detail — the lush green fields he passes through, the pregnant lake pockmarked by light rain, the rivers, the rivulets; a sense of place, and a sense of stillness is established.
The film begins with a conversation between a dejected Gandharva and his father, with red, welled up eyes, before we get a flashback of the day that led to this moment. There is a very staged, stiff, and rehearsed feel to this interaction. We loop back to this conversation mid-way through the film, when Gandharva comes to tell his father about the scholarship, and his father notes his lack of money, and the lack of money in the arts. This time round, when the same conversation plays, the stiffness, somehow, doesn’t feel odd. Backed by an immersive first half of quiet moments, where even mundane speech feels like a performance, the interaction is now more built-in.
The second half is almost entirely a showcase of Dashavatar, where between scenes audience members walk up to characters they like and give money as a sign of appreciation, i.e. live patronage, live reviews. The stage space, inside a temple, unspools a mythological story of Good VS Evil; how Evil tries to seduce, literally, Good; how Good succumbs; how Good triumphs anyways. It isn’t great art, with the garish makeup and shrill, obvious distance between the actor and the mythological character they’re playing. But it’s immersive, and congregative, a monument around which the entire village mobilizes.
The still frames make us feel like we are the audience for the theater performance, but with special green-room access, where the artists’ egos clash, but not in dramatic gestures, but subtle shuffles of pride. There isn’t any poignant moral that comes out of the performance or the film. There are overt changes of heart in the second half, but these feel like extensions of the theatrical performance—staged, shrill, but you just can’t take your eyes off it. When Shakespeare said “All the world is a stage”, he perhaps didn’t mean entire lives are lived as performances, that we can’t and perhaps shouldn’t be able to differentiate our performance from our personality. Or perhaps, that’s exactly what he meant.