The Neuralgia of Nostalgia

It was a dusky evening. I was driving back home, weary and weak from yet another client presentation. The ringing cell phone broke my momentary trance and I parked to the side to steal a glance at the small screen of the tiny instrument. Picking up an unknown number did not seem a good idea at the fag end of the day. Neverthless, I pressed the green button.

The voice at the other end was distinctly familiar. Yes, this was my pal from the formative years of my employment. I was overjoyed with the telephonic reunion. Many years had passed by but our conversation seemed as if it were plucked right from the past.

Those were the days...

I remember his first day at office. Whsipering into my ear as discreetly as possible,he had asked "Can I go home for lunch everyday?" The innocence was 24-carat and paved the way for an enduring relationship - at least it seemed so then.

He had a natural way with stocks. At that tender age, he could feel the pulse of the market. And his confidence was contagious. With all my academic credentials, I didn't have half of his energy and assertiveness. In his company, I found my poise that only enhanced the analyst in me.

We were a pair to envy. Our chemistry seemed celestial. He exceled at making calculated predictions, I had the flair for deeper analysis and articulation. Whenever I felt short of confidence, his electric enthusiasm came to my rescue. Whenever he went overboard with his growing vanity (Hum hai to kya gum hai was his favourite slogan) , I would sober him down.

And the personal warmth was beyond words.I still remember the time when a salary raise motivated me to look for a new home in Mumbai. I was fed up of the commute between Virar and Churchgate, desperate to shift residence to any suburb in the bustling city. But when I realised that nothing was within my reach, he helped me face the fact with a smile "Just spend some bucks on renovating your home and you'll feel fine" he told me, sipping coffee at a modest Udupi joint.Such towering maturity at his age!

As time passed, I ventured into unknown territories - all grand vacations in the name of vocation. He stayed put in the same industry. We met once in a while but only till a point after which we lost all contact.

After so many years, he tracked me on Face book and now ...this call. In the telecon, he stressed the need for some help in content development. He was now the head of a division with a leading financial house. I was so immersed in the celebration of our reunion that I took many things for granted.

To my utter dismay of course.

All subsequent meetings with him now had the flavour of a typical vendor-client interaction. He was now careful of the "official stance" - those irritatingly slow, measured remarks in line with his new-found status. Hard as I tried to ignore, the distance between us was disturbing.

He was now "handling" me - every interaction smacked of corporate artifice - carefully drafted emails subtly urging to "keep in touch" but from safe distance, a non-commital nod to any suggestion, and lots of patronising, winsome smiles.

Probably he feared the worst - that I may soon ask for favours. That I would make dangerous in-roads. Probably some of my humble observations against his company were found intimidating and uncalled for.

I will never know the truth but I care a damn. I still wish well for him but the yesteryear music of our association has been needlessly remixed.

I know for sure that in the meteoric rise of his career, our friendship was buried alive. Now I wish he had never called back and I would have never known of his brtual transformation.

But perhaps I should have known better. The neuralgia of nostalgia can be agonizingly painful.

The Navras of Natrang

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!