A young boy decides to escape from his boarding school. No money in hand, he starts to walk the 72 miles home. The film, adapted from a biographical novel by Ashok Vatkar, is the story of how the experiences on this journey changed the young boy’s life.
Chased by bullies, robbed by drunken gamblers, young Ashok (Chinmay Sant) starts his journey towards Kolhapur. The very people who seem pleasant, and invite him to ride with them turn into horrifying monsters as soon as they learn of his surname – the author belongs to a scheduled caste. Beaten to a pulp by the high-castes, Ashok is then rescued by Radhakka (Smita Tambe) who is on her way to Shigaon with her sick infant son, and three other children. There are various poignant moments in the film which mildly move you — Radhakka’s concern about Ashok’s injury while her own child lies dead in her arms, her daughters’ delight at finding a crop of tomatoes while their mother buries their dead brother and the hypocrisy of caste discrimination, the parting message that Radhakka gives Ashok. But something doesn’t work for the film. Firstly, I can’t understand what drove the young boy to escape from his school. Was it bullies? Strict teachers? The director Rajeev Patil attempts to establish the school trauma but ends up confusing the audience even further.
Successful film adaptations of novels (Duniyadaari, for example) translate the stories from the written word and retell them in the language of cinema. However, the problem with most film adaptations of novels, especially in Marathi, is that the filmmaker tries to retell the story in a visual format while sticking to the format of the written word. And 72 Miles seems to have fallen into the trap, ending up repetitive, tedious and way too underwhelming.
With an award winning filmmaker, a Bollywood superstar for a producer and a fantastic novel for a story, 72 Miles had a head-start into being one of the most memorable films of 2013. Unfortunately, the film circles around that soft spot in your heart but fails to touch you. The film, which was on my list of exciting Marathi films this year, left me hugely disappointed. However, my mother would love to thank the makers of the film. Where her repeated attempts to get me to read Marathi literature have failed, this film forced me to pick up Ashok Vatkar’s novel, and I haven’t been able to put it down since.
Avoid the film and read the book instead if you’d like to experience this journey and I promise it will leave a mark on your soul.