Saturday, September 19, 2009

Doctored intensity

"Rita" - actress Renuka Shahane's directorial debut based on Shanta Gokhale's novel "Rita Welinkar" - is the story of a sensitive, selfless girl called Rita.

Struggle and sacrifice are her constant companions right from her formative years. Yet, she bears the burden with a smile. Employment brings her financial independence coupled with the patronizing warmth of an unlikely lover Vittal Salvi - this makes her a non-conformist of sorts and she's determined to wage a silent war with the world. She expects the same devil-may-care attitude from Salvi who tentatively harbours his timid love outside the cocoon of a conventional married life. His love is genuine but so is his need for social sanction.

This reality of her love life is now bursting at the seams, and ultimately one day, it explodes...Rita suffers a nervous breakdown. With the reassuring support of her childhood friend, she begins her second innings - this time, without the cushion of illusion and wishful thinking. Despite such an introspective theme, the film thoroughly disappoints: The adaptation is jerky, leaving many gaps that the linguistic narrative is likely to have flowered in commensurate depth.

The movie merely "relays" the intensity of its subject matter - frame after frame - but the contextual thread is clearly amiss. The consequence is obvious: the "viewer" is left gasping for breath trying to make sense of extreme perspectives of several characters surrounding Rita - her comically villainous dad and an overtly snobbish mom above all. Emotions sway in motion all over the place but they don't seem to connect any dots in the viewer's mind. Rita's own locus standi appears hazy, at times even misleading.

Clearly, Shahane fails to handpick the cinematic milestones of Rita's life - the film moves back and forth through the protagonist's letter to her friend but the buildup lacks strength. The story is somehow forced to culmination, simply because it had to end at some point. In fact every single frame following Rita's discharge from the asylum bears the potential to be the last. There are scenes, there are players, they make stage-like screen appearances and fade away before you have time to reel in the effect. Worse, the hurried approach adds a rather comic flavor to the whole script - nothing can be more fatal for a supposedly intense film.

A mediocre support cast makes the going tougher - a jaded Dr. Agashe (in what could be one of his worst screen portrayals), perpetually loud and gaudy Suhasini Mulay, highly monotonous Sai Tamhankar, ridiculously average Tushar Dalvi (that he's a known pet of almost all offbeat film makers beats me): all erode value in equal measure.

Renuka herself looks rather cut-off from the story's mainstream - her bond with the protagonist seems the most crucial in the film and yet shares the least space. Playing a marginal part is fine but why marginalize the role? Makarand Deshpande breathes some life but unfortunately he makes a guest appearance.

Time and again, we have seen film makers ignore the vital role that so-called junior artists play in making a film real and convincing. Rita is no exception - doctors & nurses, fellow inmates of the asylum, neighbors, school teachers, office staff, Salvi's family members....all smack of the usual mediocrity that inevitably mars the film's credibility. We thought Shahane could have been different at least on this count.

Jackie Shroff in his maiden Marathi appearance makes an honest effort but his gestures seem retarded. Barring a couple of scenes, his presence is hardly felt. Pallavi Joshi does a commendable job in sketching Rita's journey of despair and despondence even in the adhoc frames. If she seems inconsistent every now and then, it's more the weak script to blame. Almost all her dialogues are effortless - bearing the stamp of an accomplished actress. For a change, it was heartening to see her detached from her glorified Saregamapa avataar (a "reality show" victim in the bazaar of big bucks staged by mobile telecom providers and TV channels)

The music score is average - overdoing the classical vocal in the background. The camera moves swiftly - the moving tyre closeup, the windshield vision, the overhead long shots...all look refreshing but remain a visual innovation at best.

If the very attempt to handle an offbeat subject is worthy of praise, Shahane deserves all of it. But her sincere effort notwithstanding, the intensity appears doctored. That the film motivates the viewer to read the novel seems its biggest achievement.

Shahane would do well to learn from Zoya Akhtar who did a more competent job with her maiden venture - Luck By Chance. We only hope Shahane's directorial journey has just begun. Looking forward to the next one from her stable...