Every year, twice, I visit Mumbai to spend time with my family. Along with the visits and momments with my mother and brother, I also get to be a part of the Maharshtrian culture (food, theatre, movies…). So this time when I visited nearing the new-years-eve, I was lucky to get to watch Natsamrat. My first week of 2016 has given me plenty of reason to rejoice. And if you want proof of how many light years ahead of Bollywood, regional, especially Marathi cinema has gone, then go watch Natsamrat. At a time when you forget most films soon as its pre-release buzz is over, this one grips you from the first frame and stays with you long after it is over.
Even the most hardened and cynical moviegoer would find it hard not to be moved by the plight of Ganpat Belwiker, a theatre actor par excellence who foolishly believes his children will look after him after retirement. “Be careful of what you give away,” warns Ganpat’s sensible wife (Medha Manjrekar, suitably subdued serene and subtle) a little too late. By then, the floodgates of ingratitude have already opened up in Ganpat’s life. With heart-wrenching resonance we hear his heart being broken time and again.
Abandonment and abuse of elderly is not a theme new to the silver screen. So yes, there are throwbacks to Baghbaan, Amrit, Avatar and Bidaai here but what set Natsamrat leagues ahead is the more-than-able help it receives from its namesake classic play by V V Shirwadkar. Kudos is also due to Abhijeet Deshpande and Kiran Yadnopavit who have while keeping the core of the classic intact judiciously used cinematic licence to ensure the film works independently as a movie too.
Given its theatrical base, the film is heavy on words. But both how powerfully they were written four and half decades ago by Shirwadkar and the life that Nana pours into every syllable never once makes it seem wordacious. His soliloquies leave you hypnotised and I must admit that I broke down when a broken-hearted Belwalkar pleads, “Kuni ghar deta ka ghar?” (Will someone please give me a home?)
Vikram Gokhale, who plays Ganpat’s best friend in Natasamrat, is another powerful actor, who gives a solid performance. Their interactions throwback to what brilliant cinema and acting are all about. The twitch of a lip, the quiver of an eyebrow, Gokhale says what pages of dialogue can’t in one look. The last scene where Nana and Gokhale go through a conversation between the Mahabharata warrior Karna and Krishna leaves you hungering for more. Though the focus is mainly on Nana, supporting actors: Medha Manjrekar, Neha Pendse, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Ajit Parab and Sunil Barve play their part well.
In the film, through his strong performance as an actor Nana becomes King Lear, Othello, Prataprao and most importantly, Ganpatrao on screen. We forget Nana Patekar while watching him playing the Natsamrat. And, that’s the success of any actor. Also, this is the same reason why, any strong actor must have a theatrical base. Theatre is the tool that hones a mimic into an actor.
The problem with any superlative art, even cinema is that when something (however small) goes wrong it becomes horribly magnified. For the second film in a row (after Katyar Kaljat Ghusli), the subtitles are done really shabbily. In this day and age of auto-correct, poor spelling and grammar are unpardonable.
I am going with four-and-half out of five stars for Mahesh Manjrekar’s Natsamrat. This is the kind of cinema that leaves your eyes moist and your soul cleansed. Watch it as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.