After ages and ages of being mom round the clock, I had an incredible treat from Raka, who landed home after many days of constant jet-setting with a film in hand. I looked at the CD – Marathi – Natrang. Oookay. I don’t always enjoy Marathi films, but I trust Raka’s incredible taste (or feedback network). So we watched it.
I am blown away by the film and its open, sensitive handling of very delicate, touchy issues like sexuality, self-image, power struggles, relationships…. It is the story of a farm labourer Guna (played by Atul Kulkarni in a way that sends shivers down my spine). The film begins with this guy who works on daily wages for a living and enjoys tamashaas (traditional travelling dance shows in villages in Maharashtra in India). He is shown as a frivolous, self-centered man who thinks nothing of throwing money away watching girls dance, while his family lives in abject poverty. Losing his job shakes him up, and he starts dreaming of starting his own travelling dance group to earn a living.
Friends who earlier wasted time are also in dire straits, and he becomes their leader, writing stories, songs, working hard to make the show a reality. The first story they practice has him playing a king with a dogged sense of newly found purpose. The film follows his progress with this ambition, as well as the evolution of the man who touches new depths within himself. It is a must see film for anyone who is sensitive to the condition of the human mind.
Parts of the story that will remain for a long time in my mind are the transformation of a frivolous time waster into an artist with the dedication to weather any storm for his creativity. Such shows traditionally have a pansy/eunuch character, and it is the turning point of the film, when unable to get anyone to fill in this role, Guna gives up his role as the king to become a “pansy” performer. The transformation he goes through is one of a man getting in touch with the femininity within him as a part of acting feminine, and I will always remember the incredible shot of him learning to move and dance like a woman. It is transparent. This is not acting. Atul reaches out and embraces his feminine side in all its rawness for all the world to see.
The story moves on to explore the shackles of success, of ‘labels’ that emasculate him, of threats, power plays, being used by loved ones, rejected by his wife, and finally raped in an act of revenge. And Atul Kulkarni as Guna lives it for all of us right there on the screen. If acting could be called authentic, this is it. His strength, his vulnerability….. I am totally floored.
There are parts where it stretches a bit, or perhaps it is my discomfort at the edge on which the hero lives.
Not to mention that this is some of the most outstanding ‘normal’ cinematography and the music is one that meets the story eye to eye and raises the whole thing to a whole new level. Seriously, for once, Hollywood may want to do a copy.
If you haven’t seen the film, go, get it. If you don’t understand Marathi, get one with subtitles. You don’t want to miss this.