Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Bal Gandharva

I watched Bal Gandharva this week-end.
It's a lovely movie - extravagantly mounted with no expenses spared. Much like the man who strove to appeal to the senses of his audience. Spraying expensive scents/perfume when they walked in to watch this musical plays, giving the ladies a reason to shop for expensive, rich and exquisite sarees, shalus and of course jewels. Who can forget the creative, imaginative and innovative props for Bal Gandharva's plays?
And, of course the music. Bal Gandharva alias Narayan Shripad Rajhauns is music.
All those who watched the movie knew this. In almost every Marathi household, the elders have to swear by Bal Gandharva. His plays enacted by the younger generation of actors still run housefull. Of course the elders and those who had the pleasure of hearing the original, pooh-pooh the attempt.
Therefore, when people like me who have been brought up in such households decide to watch the movie, can't help but be disappointed.
We have heard so much of Bal Gandharva - man and his music, but we know very little of Narayan Shripad Rajhauns who was given the title of Bal Gandharva by Lokmanya Tilak after listening to the small boy sing in Kesariwada in Pune.
There was a slide in Marathi and English about Bal Gandharva's origins - where he was born and other details. Unfortunately, it wasn't there on the screen for even half a minute. You blink and you miss it.
There are several factors and people who shaped Narayanrao's life - Deval Master, Shankarrao Kirloskar Gadkari Master (Ram Ganesh Gadkari) and Ganpatrao Bodas. In this movie, they are just caricatures.
Perhaps a voiceover in the beginning of the movie would have helped in identifying and relating with so many characters. Of course we can wiki and google or even read the literature on the man and his Gandharva Natak Mandali. But, when you are making a movie on a legend, who is still remembered, you can't compromise or crunch so many details in  2 hours.
However, the two moments from this film will always stay with me.
One is when Subodh Bhave in the title role of Bal Gandharva, makes an entry on the stage after an argument with Shankarrao Kirloskar (owner of Kirloskar Natak Company) over the mounting expenditure on the drapery and props. Dressed in white sari as opposed to his usual rich exquisite garments, Bal Gandharva mocks Shankarao, who is standing in the wings, with his his demeanour of an offended, wounded and stung lady. Incensed at this Shankarrao and Bal Gandharva have another argument which results in Bal Gandharva quitting the Kirloskar Natak Company to form his own troupe.
The second scene is when Bal Gandharva abruptly leaves the shooting of his first and only movie, Dharmatma, to sing to a crowd of peasants and pilgrims on a river bank. As the song nears its end, his voice reaches a crescendo and he turns towards the bank with his hands aloft as if seeking divine intervention.
Subodh Bhave as the legendary female impersonator of Marathi theatre and singer par excellence, is wonderful. Unfortunately, Vibhawari Deshpande as his wife has nothing new to offer. She has already performed similar roles in Harishchandrachi Factory and Natarang. In fact, the child who essayed the role of a young Bal Gandharva, was also seen in Harischandrachi Factory.
But, I would still say, go and watch the movie to have your own memories of Bal Gandharva.

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