Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Movie Review : Natsamrat
Language : Marathi
Director : Mahesh Manjrekar
Genre : Drama
Starring : Nana Patekar, Medha Manjrekar, Vikram Gokhale
Released : January 2016
My Rating : 9 out of 10

Theater has alway been a big and integral part of Marathi culture. Like many cultural heritages, sadly, the standards have been in a long decline. The industry may still be thriving, but the Golden Age of Marathi Theater is long over.

The most exquisite jewel from that age is the Sahitya Academy Award winning play, “Natsamrat”. Written by one of the most respected and accomplished Marathi writers, Vi. Vaa. Shirwadkar, also known by his pen name, Kusumagraj, this play not only set a very high bar, but also influenced the society like no other play has.

It’s the story of the last phase of life of, Ganapatrao Belwalkar (Nana patekar), a beloved stage actor of his generation who was referred as “Natsamrat” (Emperor of Acting) by his admirers. After he retires, he chooses to give all his wealth to his son and daughter, and decides to play the real life role of a grandparent. His style of grandparenting is unsophisticated, and that creates disputes with his daughter-in-law. So he and his wife go to live with their daughter who is now married. Even there, his outspoken and blunt personality creates uncomfortable situations. The suspicion of theft becomes the last straw for the aging couple, and they decide to move out even in their bad health, and with almost no money. It eventually ends in a tragedy as you can expect.

It’s a simple plot and is unabashedly melodramatic. It manages to go beyond that, by raising its own level with help of realistic situations that touch the very core of human heart. The play was released in early 70s, when the social structure was changing from the one based on joint families to smaller nuclear families. This change was hard for the generation that believed in handing over the keys to their offsprings in order to enter the next stage of life, “vanaprasthashram” as it’s called. As we all know, unfortunately in some cases elderly parents were mistreated.  Natsamrat brought this dark side of the society out in open and became a cautionary tale. The lesson was loud and clear. Never give up your financial independence. Definitely not to your kids.

The writer of the original play, Kusumagraj was an extraordinarily gifted author/poet/playwright. He later won the Jnanpith Award Winner and was also honored with the title of Padmabhushan. With his literary prowess, the story then scales the heights of drama by infusing dialogues that are both poetic and hard hitting at the same time. The original drama had long monologues, that are permanently etched in memory of theatergoers. The strength of the words here make it a more than just a drama. This is now classic literature.

Whatever I have written so far, applies more to the original drama on which the movie is based. The movie has left the essence untouched, including the famous monologues. There are modifications, some I agree with, some I don’t. The character of Ganpatrao’s friend, is added in the movie. It blends well with the story. The character of Ganpatrao himself has been made to have some negative shades that are not in the drama. In the drama, he is not the drunkard that he is shown here. Overall, in the movie he is a bit difficult to deal with which was not the case in the play.

Apart from being a milestone play, it also created a dream role for any serious ambitious actor. It is a monumentally difficult role to pull off. The weight of the dialogues would easily crush an actor who is not a complete master of voice control, modulation and timing. On stage, the role was played mainly by Dr Shriram Lagoo, and then by Datta Bhat among others. Today, there is no better actor than Nana Patekar who can rise to this challenge. He is simply outstanding. I don’t think I have words to explain what he has accomplished here. It’s a performance that has to be seen and heard. Even if you do not understand Marathi, just watch the movie for his performance. The subtitles are quite good and should help.

Mahesh Manjrekar is back to directing great movies again. I remember his superb Astitva, and then the disappointing movies that followed. Now he has Kaaksparsh and Natsamrat under his belt, and that bodes well for us. Hopefully the trend continues, and we get to see more movies with a story and a soul, like these two.

Medha Manjrekar (in the role of Ganpatrao’s wife) and Vikram Gokhale (in the role of Ganpatrao’s friend) have given memorable performances. Most other actors have also lent good support.

The core idea of the play, has later been seen in many movies, from Avatar (featuring Rajesh Khanna) to Baaghbaan (featuring Amitabh Bachchan). It’s really wonderful that a movie has now been made to remind us all of the greatness of the original play. I highly recommend this movie, and think everyone should watch it. It’s absolutely safe for kids, and I would recommend that you watch it with them.

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