Posted On Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 07:57:37 AM
The simple yet profound story of the Warkari sainted trader-merchant Tukaram has always inspired people in several ways but Chandrakant Kulkarni through his new adaptation takes a refreshing, contemporary take on the famous saint. The mild and moderate Tukaram is treated more as a social reformer than the famous saint he is more popularly known to be — thus the title Tukaram unlike the classic Sant Tukaram.
The power and tragedy of the inspired saviour of the down-trodden — a side not known to many — has been an impressive part of history for 400 years which has come to life on screen. The difference in depiction is stark and straightforward transforming the new cinematic ouevre into a largely placid yet dramatic work which journeys through the life of Tukaram Bolhoba Ambile as an inquisitive, intelligent child to Tukaram Bolhoba Ambile as the shrewd, able trader-merchant to eventually evolving as the revered Tukoba, the saint whose Gaatha are recited 400 years down today.
The film begins with the young Tuka hugging the deity of Vithoba and talking familiarly with the deity like a friend. This metaphor remains throughout the film — for Tukaram, Vithoba was essentially his friend first and foremost. It’s Dehu in the 15th Century, and the village like other parts of the country is divided and ruled by high caste Brahmins and caste-ism.
Young Tuka is the son of a wealthy Warkari trader Bolhoba Ambile (Sharad Ponkshe) who is forced to look after his father’s expanding business when his elder brother, the spiritual Savji (Vrushasen Dabholkar) who has preferred to withdraw from business and familial duties. Under him the business flourishes so does he as a family man with his two wives — the asthmatic Rakhma (Veena Jamkar) who persuades him to take a second wife Aavli (Radhika Apte) due to her ill-health and the painful fact that she cannot beget a child.
All is well till a long-ending famine strikes the village wiping him off his family and his wealth. Yet the generous Tukaram throws open his storehouse of grains to the starving villagers who leave him with virtually nothing. Bereft of all his worldly possessions and his beloved Rakhma who eventually dies of starvation, for Tukaram it is an epiphanic moment when he realises that wealth, fame and relationships are transient and he turns to Vithoba again.
Through Vithoba and the cruel famine, he has received his mission in life: to seek salvation by helping others. But his intrepid wife Aavli does not allow him to escape into the spiritual path reminding him harshly that he cannot give up on his worldly duties as a father and bread winner of the family. The wise Tukaram gives up the money lending business to his younger brother Kanha (Vikas Patil) and becomes a small-time farmer but continues with his path of devotion.
By giving his people the confidence to follow the devotional path even as they live their worldly lives, the quiet, resolute Tukaram earns the wrath of the high caste priests, and clashes frequently with Mambaji Gosavi (Yatin Karyekar), the head of the Hindu monastery in Dehu and eventually to save his family from further social ostracism, he is forced to immerse his Gaathas into the flowing waters of the river Indrayani....
Kulkarni’s film is incisive and almost barb-filled study of the noble saint who has been shown in a differently appealing light altogether. That is the high point of this film. His Tukaram is sharp, able, and compassionate enough to realise the ways of the world and wants to show people the same.
If he is kind and generous to the oppressed, he is openly contemptuous of the pompous high priests who are no better than merchants selling religion and God for their personal, self-gratifying purposes. There are flashes of a genuinely pious man in Kulkarni’s portrayal of Tukaram; he is a thoughtful and dedicated prelate anxious to see justice done in society.
And it is a relief to see Jitendra Joshi, breaking away from his usual drab, comic gaffes, giving this once-in-a lifetime role the dignity and depth it deserves. Credit Joshi with courage to take up the title role of a long, difficult and complex role of the trader-saint that will be intuitively compared to Vishnupant Pagnis’ in the 1936 classic who was revered even off-screen!
Performances of all the principal characters are remarkable be it Pratiksha Lonkar as Tuka’s elegantly dignified mother Kanakaae or Sharad Ponkshe as the shrewd business man with the Warkari spirit or Radhika Apte as the fiery wife who plays the part of the exasperated shrew, the jealous lover and the desperate mother with delicious aplomb.
Ravindra Mankani and Madhav Abhyankar are in memorable cameos and it takes the caricatured-over-the-top bravado of Yatin Karekar to make us believe that he is the wily, egotistic Mambaji Gosavi. All leave a comparatively strong impression on the audience in their relatively brief passages across the screen.
The cinematography is detailed and breathtaking. A solitary, struggling sapling, desperately trying to climb out of the dry, cracked, famished earth is not just a famine scene but also is that symbol of hope and survival which sustains Tukaram in his journey of truth and devotion and is the pivotal turning point in his life turning him from a sharp trader-moneylender to a saint-poet and a man of the masses.
The narrative is simple and gentle, like the flowing Indrayani river in the film, taking its due course and episodic in style. Humour is garnished generously giving the film several light moments especially the scenes between Tukaram and Aavli where he teases her tongue-in-cheek yet mouthing pearls of wisdom.