The ‘Bal Gandharva’ movie opened this week. I was eagerly waiting for its release, and managed to catch this afternoon’s show. I normally don’t blog about cinema; unless I am really impressed (or extremely disappointed) with a specific movie. ‘Bal Gandharva’ clearly falls in the former category…hence this brief blog post.
This movie provides a great snapshot into the life of the legendary Marathi Theater artist and singer Narayan Shripad Rajhans (popularly known as ‘Bal Gandharva’).
[Do read this great speech by Pu La Deshpande (from 1988) describing the greatness of Bal Gandharva. I will quote a few of lines: “महाराष्ट्राने तीन व्यक्तींवर जिवापाड प्रेम केलेलं आहे. ही महाराष्ट्राची सांस्कृतिक दैवतं आहेत असं म्हटलं तरी चालेल. पहिले म्हणजे छत्रपती शिवाजी महाराज, दुसरे लोकमान्य बाळ गंगाधर टिळक आणि तिसरे बालगंधर्व.”
Roughly translates as: “Maharashtra has given undying love to three great individuals. These three can be referred to as the cultural/historical gods of Maharashtra. First one is Shivaji Maharaj, second Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and third Bal Gandharva.”]
Coming back to the movie, Subodh Bhave in the lead role of Bal Gandharva is terrific. The screen-play, the sets, the direction are all excellent. At times, the movie has a slight documentary like feel and the viewer is transported to Maharashtra in the early part of the 20th century – an era that represented the golden age of Marathi Theater. The movie is thoroughly entertaining and engrossing. Music is an integral part of the movie and Anand Bhate has does an amazing job of singing the original Bal Gandharva classics.
‘Bal Gandharva’ presents many of the key events and periods in the life of Bal Gandharva, in a balanced manner, often leaving the interpretation to the viewer. His early years with the Kirloskar Natak Company…His amazing potrayal of female roles… Setting up his own Gandharva Natak Mandali… Struggles with his personal family life… His constant desire to leave no stone unturned to create a grand production for the audience, at any cost… His utter mismanagement of finances and resulting huge debts… The waning years of his career when theater audiences started defecting to the new medium of cinema… and through all this, his total perseverance and steadfast devotion to his primary love – Theater.
From a historical perspective, this movie shows many important characters and events. Lokmanya Tilak listening to a young Narayan (aged 10) and referring him as ‘Bal Gandharva’ for the first time, Anant Kanhere shooting Collector Jackson at a theater in Nashik, Ram Ganesh Gadkari at his death bed, Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, Maharaja of Baroda, a young V Shantaram convincing Bal Gandharva to switch to this new medium called ‘Cinema’,…and many more. I personally like historical movies and Bal Gandharva scores really well in this area as well.
Do watch ‘Bal Gandharva’ if you are a fan of theater, history or music. The movie has English sub-titles.
I will close with this line (by Ga Di Madgulkar?): “”असा बालगंधर्व आता न होणे!”