The Marathi film "Natrang" breaks several conventions -
For one, debutant director Ravi Jadhav successfully brings back Tamasha on celluloid - a gasping folk art form of rural maharashtra, once a staple fare in Marathi films, especially the ones with rural backdrops.
Further, he picks an offbeat theme - a novel by Anand Yadav on the life of a "naachya" - a jocular character in the Lavni whose prime job is to provide comic relief through feminine gestures.
And to top it all, actor Atul Kulkarni raises the bar for the entire film fraternity with his amazing portrayal of "Guna" - the film's central character.
Yadav's story, though offbeat, is intrinsically filmic and Jadhav highlights its cinematic appeal with flair. Towards this mission, he is vastly supported by his lead players, lyricist & dialogue writer as also the music directors.
Guna is a happy-go-lucky farmer - an able-bodied guy obessesed with the Tamasha - his sole evening recreation with friends after a hard day's work on the farm. In line with the pre-dominant feudal mindset of his tribe, he dreams of playing the King in the "tamasha". His poetic temperament and way with words add depth to his passion. Turning his craving into his calling in life, he forms an amateur theater troupe and driven by the lure of fast buck, his friends back him as co-artistes.
A seasoned tamasha-goer ropes in a lady artiste to lend professional flair to their troupe. Just when the stage seems set, one condition put forth by the leading lady leaves Guna and his friends in a fix. She wants a "Naachya" to be inducted in the company, to keep the audience in splits with tongue-in-cheek commentary.
After a string of failed attempts to convince others, Guna takes it upon himself to play the Naachya - a role with great entertainment value but socially condemned all the same, synonymous with an enunch; an insult to manliness.
The muscular "Guna" sheds much weight and all pride for the sake of his beloved Tamasha. His devotion to his cherished cause, if not his dream, helps him master the taxing lessons in feminine grace under the tutelage of his leading lady.
Their shows are an instant hit and the troupe's growing fame catches the fancy of power-hungry political factions. However, Guna and his company is victimized by the venomous one upmanship of two warring groups.
One of their live shows is set ablaze and Guna is kidnapped and raped. He now comes face to face with the sheer brutality of public disgrace that a Naachya stands to suffer off stage.
The news of his humiliation turns public and Guna is openly disowned by family and friends alike. He laments for a moment but only to begin afresh. Giving him company in his new innings is his leading lady - now his soul mate, if not his life partner.
The film's end shows the veteran Guna being felicitated for his life-time devotion to his art - a fitting tribute to the real-life Gunas who have entertained people across generations even at the cost of personal ridicule. The film also points out the absurdity of all muddled notions surrounding gender divide, highlighting the "yin and yang" co-existence in every human being.
Atul Kulkarni's performance has very few parallels in cinema today - whether his physical transformation (building muscle for "Guna" and then losing it for "Naachya" in quick succession) or the histrionics reflecting contrasting emotions (the initial devil-may-care attitude and the sensitivity post the Naachya avatar) He is undoubtedly one of the finest actors India has produced in recent times.
The support cast is impressive - while Kishore Kadam is more than convincing, Sonali kulkarni makes an impressive debut. Whether through the insightful lyrics, pithy dialogues or the superb performance as "Shirpatrao", the versatile Guru Thakur makes a lasting impression.
Ajay-Atul make the music an integral part of the film with soulful numbers - Natrag Ubha and Khel Maandla as also catchy ones - Wajle ki bara and Apsara Aaali.
Having poured his heart out for the role, Atul Kulkarni deserved some better makeup and hairdo. The wigs on his head almost give the story away while few close-ups expose his actual age, clearly more than that of the protagonist he plays. In certain frames, some artistes (including Kulkarni) unknowingly switch to chaste Marathi, against the demands of their rustic rural characters.
Wishing the entire Natrang team loads of global success and recognition!