Saturday, January 30, 2010

Natrang : Movie Review

As mentioned in my last post, Marathi movies have, of late, been refreshingly different in their themes, the issues they address and the stories they tell. The first release of this decade was 'Natrang' directed by Ravi Jadhav. I saw the movie last Sunday in a packed mutiplex screen at Goregoan with my wife and parents (a complete family outing after a lonnnggg time !!) and came out highly impressed.

The movie opens with an award ceremony (sponsored by Zee Marathi no less - the producers of the movie !!). An ageing Gunya (Atul Kulkarni) is offered the lifetime award for his contribution to the dance form of 'Lavni' (traditional rural Maharashtrian dance form). As he accepts the award to a standing ovation, his mind goes back in time to his roots, a small village near Kolhapur.....

A place where a virile and muscular Gunya works as a daily labourer in the fields. He has a family to tend to (his old father, wife and a son) but visualizes himself as his own master, never to bow down to anyone. And his pet addiction is the 'Lavni', where a lot of his hard-earned money is spent, much to the chagrin of his family. Finally one day, when he loses his job due to mechanization, he dreams of starting a Lavni group with his other jobless friends. They soon realize that the heart of the lavni group is the lady dancer. After finally getting Naina (the beautiful cat-eyed Sonalee Kulkarni - different from the Sonali Kulkarni seen in Dil Chahata Hai,Mission Kashmir etc), they think that they are all set to go. But then she drops a condition - the group should also have a 'Nachya' (the traditional character in a Lavni who is a man dressed as a girl and who provides the comic relief in between the narrative). After no-one else agrees to play Nachya for obvious reasons, its finally Gunya who turns himself into Nachya. A 'pehelwan' who dreamt of being the king of the Lavni group is reduced to playing the feminine Nachya !!.

The rest of the movie is a commentary on the social prejudices at the time. Almost universally is Nachya reduced to the butt of jokes and ridicule. As his act and the group become bigger by the day, he finds it more and more difficult to get out of Nachya's body. His father dies heartbroken, his wife and kid leave him. Even his companion Naina refuses to marry a Nachya. All alone, he yearns for freedom. He also becomes a pawn of local politician-thugs, ultimately ending in a chilling sequence where Nachya is 'raped'. Having lost everything, he slowly rises from the ashes and wins everything back, finally culminating in him winning the lifetime award and complete respect from society.

While Ravi Jadhav has done a commendable job in handling a difficult subject (based on a novel by Dr. Anand Yadav - and it was nice to see due credit being given right at the start ;-), the two stars of 'Natrang' are Ajay-Atul (the music composers) and, of course, Atul Kulkarni. The music transports the listener back to the Lavni era, albeit with a modern touch. Most songs are current chart-busters (generous credit for which goes to Zee for its incessant promotion on its channels) and I particularly loved the title song. Ajay-Atul (who have recently entered Bollywood) are certainly a name for the future. The only grouse that I had with the movie was that the end was far too abrupt. Nachya / Gunya's journey towards redemption could have been detailed - it directly went to the award ceremony.

And finally, Atul Kulkarni excels in the role of a lifetime. Non-Marathi readers will remember him as the right-wing Laxman Prasad in 'Rang De Basanti', the wronged Muslim doctor in 'Khakee' and the crime reporter of 'Page 3'. Remember his thin frame at the time ?
Well, the man went through a rigorous routine (that lasted for a few months) in which he first gained muscles and weight (about 16 odd kgs) to play the masculine pehelwan Gunya in the first half, and then lost all of it in order to look the feminine Nachya. Needless to say, this meant that he was working full-time on this project only (word has it that he refused Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Verma, amongst others, because he could not work on any other movie). A small aside here: he was trained by Shailesh Parulekar, whose gym I go to, so I am personally proud to see the transformation (though it is definitely not the healthiest thing to do !!). But finally, it is said that the results justify the means. And the results are definitely mind-blowing !! Of course, it is not all about the body-transformation. Witness the scene where his fellow group member makes a pass at him, after which Nachya, desperately trying to break free, suddenly starts doing 'surya-namaskars' and then breaks down. That one scene is enough for the audience to be convinced of Atul's acting abilities.

If not for anything else. Natrang is watchable as a tribute to one of the finest contemporary actors around.


PS: Natrang is running with English sub-titles in select theaters in Mumbai.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Natrang : Another step in the right direction for Marathi cinema !!...

Till about a few years back, Marathi cinema was, to put it bluntly in a word, dying. Of the little movies that were made, most were of the slap-stick comedy variety and the very few different films that were made suffered due to lack of publicity. The Marathi public had generally shown their back to Marathi cinema, resulting in the chicken-and-egg problem of low audience, reduced number of screenings leading to still lower audiences (not to mention the advent of the multiplex, we middle-class Maharashtrians are thrifty when it comes to spending 100+ bucks in a mutliplex :-)). Till 2004, only one Marathi movie had won the Golden Lotus at the National Awards, and that was way back in 1954 ('Shyaam chi Aai') !!

Things probably began to change in 2003. Then 'Shwaas' happened. It won the Golden Lotus award and then went to the Oscars. And the publicity it gained on account of this led to a revival of interest in Marathi cinema. And most importantly, the money started coming in. Theaters like Plaza and Bharatmata (bastions of Marathi cinema) came back from near extinction (in fact, there is a movement to save Bharatmata from being razed down to make way for a multiplex). Along with the money came the publicity. Simultaneously, channels like Zee Marathi, E TV etc started becoming popular, creating a vital publicity medium for new releases. New talent came in (e.g. composers like Ajay-Atul), bringing with them new ideas. No longer were Marathi movies only about wise-cracks. Then recently came two breakthroughs: 'Harishchandra chi Factory' became India's entry to the Oscars and last week, Marathi cinema bagged five awards at the National Film festival, including best actor for Upendra Limaye.

To add to this feeling of optimism is 'Natrang', the very first Marathi release this decade. And it has been a spectacular success (going by the full houses at multiplexes past Sunday, when I saw the movie). Will post a review of the movie soon, but for now, suffices to say that if this continues, there is no reason for Marathi cinema not to regain its glory days (V Shantaram, Prabhat Movies etc) and claim its place besides Bengali and the movies from the South as one of India's premier movie industry. Way to go !!

Check out ... an informative and comprehensive look at today's Marathi movie industry.