In one of the scenes, Ganpatrao Belwalkar (Nana Patekar) is watching a modern day adaptation of a Shakespeare play, the name of which we are never told. Being a reputed and acclaimed stage actor, Belwalkar is expected to mentor the lead actor and endorse his acting, writing talents or the lack of it. This is also expected of him with an intention of helping his dutiful son in law (Sunil Barve) win a few more brownie points with his boss, whose son (Jitendra Joshi) is directing and enacting the play. But being the theatre thespian and an upright individual, Belwalkar is disgusted by watching this seemingly pedestrian Shakespearean adaptation and makes no qualms about expressing his displeasure publicly. He also gives Joshi an earful and asks him to get into the soul of Shakespeare’s verse, rather than doing a hack job of it. Understandably, the other people around him are not pleased and accuse Belwalkar of being stuck in a time warp and hence being unable to appreciate this adaptation. How one wishes director Mahesh Manjrekar himself had paid heed to the above advice while directing this film.
Based on the famous play Natsamrat (King Of The Stage), written by the legendary playwright V V Shirwadkar, the film tells the story of Belwalkar who retires after an illustrious career as a stage artiste. Intent on living a peaceful life post retirement with his wife Kaveri (Medha Manjrekar), Belwalkar gives away all of his property to his children Makarand (Ajit Parab) and Vidya (Mrunmayee Kulkarni). However, Belwalkar and his wife become a burden to their children and are left at their mercy and ultimately to fend for themselves.
Marathi theatre is well known for several of its illustrious plays and one really wondered why filmmakers never really hit upon the idea of adapting them for the silver screen. Thankfully, filmmakers have slowly started realizing this and Natsamrat after Katyar Kaljat Ghusali happens to be the second cinematic adaptation of a famous play in recent times. I was keen to watch the play before watching the film, blame on it my laziness that it didn’t happen though.
The core subject of the film is of children neglecting their parents in their old age. I am also told that though parental neglect was an important constituent of the play, it largely dealt with the decline of an actor post an illustrious career. There is no harm in making the issue of parental neglect the mainstay of the film, since it is an issue which exists in our society even in this day and age. Moreover, we, the Indian audiences are suckers for melodrama and often accept the same happily. And with the right amount of restraint, even melodrama can be pulled off convincingly. But the film’s dated and clichéd approach makes it a severely melodramatic and dated affair.
Barring Nana Patekar most of the characters in the film are half baked, clichéd and reek of stereotypes. Be it his son, daughter in law (Neha Pendse), these are just a few examples of such characters the film is replete with. The only characters who seem to be well fleshed out are Ram Bhau (Vikram Gokhale) – Belwalkar’s best friend and a fellow stage actor, Mrunamayee Kulkarni and Sunil Barve, though they also end up becoming a bit of stereotype as the film ends.
I fail to understand why do films including the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Baghban (this film may remind you of Baghban at several instances) which deal with the issue of parental neglect, resort to depicting the children and especially their wives as such annoying stereotypes. One does understand that the intent is to show the negligent and selfish attitude of the younger generation towards their elders, but why does the representation have to be so clichéd, reminding you of the dozen TV serials with similar themes that are played regularly. The film also has several other characters such as Siddhartha (Sarang Sathye) and the sympathetic drunkard (Sandeep Pathak) which are either half baked or exist without much reason.
The conflicts in the first half which lead to the abandonment of the parents also seem forced at several instances, making one wonder why didn’t Manjrekar choose to focus much on the decline of the famed stage actor instead.
But Manjrekar does deserve some praise for depicting Belwalkar’s relationships with his wife and Rambhau with a much needed sense of warmth and grace. Belwalkar and Rambhau’s friendship which is replete with constant chiding, yet a deep sense of bonding and respect for each other is undoubtedly one of the better things about the film. The terrific camaraderie between Patekar and Gokhale is what makes it even more memorable. Vikram Gokhale is excellent as the close confidante of Belwalkar, who is saddened by the demise of his wife and the betrayal of his best friend by the latter’s own children. Similarly, Medha Manjrekar and Patekar also share a good chemistry and often your heart does yearn out for them as they try to make sense of their life in their autumn years. But the one thing that mars it is Medha Manjrekar’s performance which appears stagey at several places.
Some scenes also leave a lump in your throat, such as the scene in which Vidya accuses her father of stealing money. The gleeful manner, with which Belwalkar plays and spends time with his granddaughter, is also heartwarming and may remind one of a similarly joyous time spent with their grandparents during childhood.
It is sad to see talented actors like Sandeep Pathak and Jayant Wadkar (as a domestic aide) being wasted in inconsequential roles. How one wishes they had been utilized more effectively in the film. Among the other actors, Kulkarni and Barve leave an impression, but are let down by their ill written roles.
Adapting a play for the big screen is always a risky proposition, since stage plays are a live medium and has a bigger advantage of making an impression among the audiences. The tropes, scenes and moments that work in a play, may backfire in a film. The play Natsamrat is best known for its famous soliloquies, including the much famous To Be Or Not To Be and Kuni Ghar Deta Ka? (Can someone give a shelter), the latter was also referenced in the story directed by Dibakar Banerjee for the anthology film Bombay Talkies. Nana Patekar has done a phenomenal job with delivering these soliloquies in the film and it is due to this; they don’t seem forced or out of place in the film, despite its theatrical nature.
In several of his interviews, Nana Patekar has often spoken about Natsamrat being a dream role and one he desired to do someday. And it seems like the veteran actor’s dream has indeed come true with this film. Be it the politically incorrect theatre thespian who isn’t afraid to express his opinions frankly, the grandfather who dotes on his granddaughter, an aging patriarch who is hurt by the betrayal of his children and grieving the loss of his wife and his best friend and ultimately the lonely street dweller who is slowly but surely approaching insanity, there are several shades to this character. Patekar has done a phenomenal job in conveying the pathos and the various stages of the character and it undoubtedly ranks amongst his finest performances ever. As the film ended, I saw quite a few people leaving the theatre teary eyed, such is the impact of his performance. How one wishes the rest of the film had matched upto Patekar’s phenomenal act.
If not for Nana Patekar’s performance, the film is not much different from the clichéd and melodramatic family sagas which our audiences are subjected to with a tiresome regularity. And that’s such a disappointment, considering this is a cinematic adaptation of such a highly acclaimed Marathi play.