Film: Balgandharva (U) (Marathi)
Director: Ravi Jadhav
Cast: Subodh Bhave, Suhas Joshi, Vibhavari Deshpande, Prachiti Mhatre, Kishor Kadam, Avinash Narkar
“?????????, ???? ???? ?? ???? ????. ?? ??????? ?????? ????,” says V Shantaram to an ageing Narayanrao Rajhans in the latest Marathi film Balgandharva as he tries to persuade him to act on the big screen. With that one line, the film validates its existence.
Balgandharva revolutionised Marathi theatre. A phenomenal singer and fabulous performer, the female characters that Balgandharva played have been immortalised in history.
Natyasangeet, a popular art form back in the early days of the 20th century, lives today largely in the form of nostalgia. The intention behind making this film, the director said in an interview with DNA, was to pay a tribute to the legend and to get the younger generation acquainted with him and his art form. But the film, in all its grandeur, might not succeed in doing so.
The film runs in a linear narrative that explores the rise and fall of the legendary singer, his relationship with his art form taking precedence over his relationships in the real world. While he stages ambitious, grand plays, Balgandharva accumulates tremendous debt.
The film focuses on villainous financial advisers who swindle Balgandharva’s money, his sheer bad luck with Keshavrao Bhosale’s death, and wrong judgement to prove why Balgandharva never enjoyed financial well-being. Though the narrative tries to subtly suggest that his artistic genius prevented him from understanding finance, the film ends up portraying him as a mindless philanderer.
While the biopic’s narrative fails to hold your interest, the grand, breathtaking art direction keeps you captivated. The camerawork by Mahesh Limaye (Dabangg, Natarang) captures these sets in great detail while Kaushal Inamdar’s music sets the mood just right. Neeta Lulla’s costumes for the films are gorgeous, but the jewellery seems OTT for Marathi theatre of that era (some pieces have a Jodhaa Akbar hangover).
The characters deliver a very theatre-like performance, which is a huge letdown. Bhave, who apparently spent the last nine months only listening to Natyasangeet, is enjoyable and plays the humble, elegant young Narayanrao with panache, but as the character ages Bhave seems uncomfortable and tries too hard. Mhatre, who essays Gohar Jaan, is blessed with a pretty face but fails to emote.
While the film is amazing to look at, it fails to connect with you on an emotional level. While grandeur of this level hasn’t been seen in Marathi cinema (it is labelled the most expensive film Marathi cinema has seen so far), one does wish that the director would have focused on delving deeper into Narayanrao’s soul through the screenplay. It does play on the nostalgia factor and you will hear ample claps and ‘wah wahs’ from the audience, but anybody without a connection to Natyasangeet will find the film, there’s no soft way of putting this, boring.
After all, gorgeous costumes and vibrant sets can only entertain you so much.
“??????? ?????? ????.” Balgandharva’s story had to be immortalised on celluloid for the generation that tells his tale is fast nearing extinction. But this film doesn’t do the job efficiently enough.
Our verdict: Watchable if you love Natyasangeet. You could take your parents/grandparents for this one. Just don’t walk in with too many expectations.