To Be or Not to Be ... Natsamrat

How often do you get to watch a movie that is not just a three hour entertainment package delivered to you on screen, but more than that? A movie that is a lived experience for its audience. I watched one such movie recently. Of late, the Marathi movie industry has been producing some excellent stuff, with innovative story lines and bold characters. Director Mahesh Manjrekar has been at the forefront of this cinematic revolution. Anytime, I venture in to watch a Marathi movie, my expectations automatically turn sky high because Marathi cinema, over the past few years has actually spoilt its viewers for choice. Last week I watched the Nana Patekar starrer Natasamrat which means 'King of the theatre scene'. Through its trailers and subject, one feels that Natsamrat is a typically serious, art-oriented movie. And that it is. But deep inside, the movie offers a very enchanting story of an old man who once reigned the theatre scene in Maharashtra. With this, it offers ample life lessons, deep philosophies and reflections that one can consider to be important for one's own life. The story is simple but full of emotions. This is what makes 'Natsamrat' worth a watch alongside the stalwart performances by all actors led by Nana Patekar and Vikram Gokhale. 

Ganpat Ramchandra Belvalkar (played superbly by Nana Patekar) is all set to retire as a veteran, famous actor in the Marathi theatre scene. He is hailed by one and all as 'Natsamrat' and now after enjoying many years of acting glory, he has decided to call it quits to spend the rest of his life with his family. As he is about to bid goodbye to his passion i,e. theatre, he thanks the audience but also reminds them that during these years he got to live different characters in blood and flesh. Now is the time to live for his family. He lives with his wife (Medha Manjrekar) and a daughter (Mrinmayee Deshpande), son (Ajit Parab) and daughter-in-law (Neha Pendse). His life is happy and content since he has just taken a backseat from his glorious professional days to enjoy the calm and love of family. In his enthusiasm, Ganpat willingly surrenders all his property to his daughter and son. This is an uneasy moment for his wife as she is quite unsure about his decision, yet supports him whole heartedly. This is where the story begins. Ganpat starts enjoying free time and indulges in activities that he likes. Soon he becomes a grandfather and this is when his life changes. Now he lives only for his grand daughter whom he loves and adores. But Ganpat is eccentric, rude and politically incorrect. He does what he likes, behaves as he wishes and soon this irks his son and daughter-in-law. The trigger is of course the incident when he teaches 'abusive language' to his grand daughter just as a matter of fun and to help her to counter a boy who has been misbehaving with her in school. This leads to friction in the family and the family breaks. Ganpat then moves to his daughter's marital house where again he loses control over his behaviour which leads to a major embarrassment for his family. His drinking, erratic behaviour are all frowned upon but then he is also loved and respected by his daughter and son-in-law. The trigger point here is the daughter's accusing Ganpat of stealing money. This angers him and he leaves the house with his wife to live the life of a beggar and wagabond.

Natsamrat for me personally was an experience, more than a movie because as a viewer I never wanted Ganpat's story to end. The life lessons that Ganpat's character introduced me to were invaluable because there are times in life where we experience similar conflicts and dilemmas. The movie is many stories woven around the central character and each character is shown facing a certain set of dilemmas to resolve. The gems of wisdom that the movie presents are undoubtedly its rich dialogues wherein a lot of metaphorical understanding has been used to help the lay audience understand what one goes through towards the fag end of life. Several emotions have been dealt with quite deftly in the movie - Ganpat's deep friendship with Rambhau (Vikram Gokhale) who is childless and questions Ganpat's move of bequeathing everything that he has to his children. Or Ganpat's strong bonding with his wife, her support throughout his acting endeavours and the fact that she also realizes the hasty decision he has taken. Or Ganpat's sober, respectful son-in-law who treats him as his own father and understands that old age has led Ganpat to eccentric behaviour. What happens towards the end is tragic and reminds the audience of what can happen to people during old age, when they become lonely and difficult to adjust with. The movie also serves as a reminder of man's own weaknesses. Ganpat repeatedly admits the mistakes he made as a young actor, especially his flirtatious relations with several women. The life of an actor comes out transparently in the open when Ganpat and Rambhau sit and talk to each other about the sacrifices their respective families made for them to pursue an acting career without hindrances. 


Natsamrat is also about self-pride, ego and how when a person achieves fame and name, he desires to be independent but also expects that others follow as he/she say. The most touching moments in the film are when Rambhau is on his death bed and Ganpat along with him enact a scene from a yesteryear play. That acting is in their blood, that they live for acting is proven through this particular scene. Or when Kaveri, Ganpat's wife tells him that "one should give one's plate to the other person, but not his position' because then one is left with nothing (apt in the case of Ganpat's children who now find faults with his behaviour and believe that he is an embarrassment to them). Towards the closure of the movie, when Ganpat is nearing his end, he again assumes the role of an actor and profoundly confesses that he has experienced the life of so many characters in his own lifetime. For the audience, this might be a three hour show but for him these various characters like Hamlet, Othello and countless others have stayed with him for a long time, even in his death. Through his act, Ganpat believes that these characters that he played through life will live on in his audience's mind forever. That is how he will also be immortal in their mind, in their lives. Ganpat's is the story of a king crowned in all his glory and later dethroned by his own family, to die a tragic death at a place where his heart truly belonged - in the theatre, for the viewers (natyarasik). Natsamrat tells the story of each one of us - crazy, erratic, larger than life, passionate and erroneous - but still very much human. Natsamrat is the story of Ganpat but it is also our story. The story of success, failure, love, jealousy, obsession, care and loneliness. Too many emotions wired into one film is what Natsamrat is for you. 

*The film is the screen adaptation of noted Marathi playwright Kusumagraj's iconic Marathi play "Natsamrat" which was first staged in 1970. (Souce - imdb.com)

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