Tukaram, the beloved saint-poet of Maharashtra, has given to Marathi what the Bible and Shakespeare have given to English. In a life of barely 42 years, he wrote over 4000 devotional songs (abhangs), many of which have been on the tongues of people from his time (1608-49) till today.
We grow up singing “Vrukshavalli amha…” (The trees and the creepers are like kin to us); or “Je ka ranjale ganjale…” (Only he who considers those who suffer as his own, should be called a sage; in him alone resides God).
|The new Tukaram (left) has to been seen set against the 1939
Sant Tukaram (above)
Tukaram’s faith told him that there was no divinely ordained difference between one man and another. If the world was filled with Vishnu, all differences would melt away. This is the founding spirit of the Warkari movement of Maharashtra, of which he was a part.
It is a formidable challenge to make a biopic on such a man without being trapped in misty idealisation. But Tukaram, currently running in several cinemas, manages.
Brilliantly written by Ajit and Prashant Dalvi, and directed with a sure hand by Chandrakant Kulkarni, the first half of the film is devoted to Tukaram’s early life.
The second son of Bolhoba Ambile (Sharad Ponkshe), a wealthy money-lender and trader of Dehu, Tukaram (Jeetendra Joshi) learns early in life to temper the practical demands of business with a human approach.
But soon tragedy strikes. His parents die in quick succession followed by his elder brother’s wife. Then comes a drought that lasts three years, snatching from him his first wife Rakhma (Veena Jamkar), his infant child and all the wealth they ever had. It is during these years that he sees how quickly human beings turn into animals when their survival is at stake.
Now Tukaram begins to question the worth of material possessions. Why do we run after transient wealth when we have the permanent wealth of faith to live by, he wonders. He reads, meditates, contemplates; and from this churning pours forth poetry of supple power.
Poetry is as important a pursuit for Tukaram as his devotion to Vitthal. The two are inextricably bound. In a significant scene, his friend Santu brings to him a song that he has written.
Tukaram glances through it and advises him to throw it away, for it is not rooted in personal experience and observation of the world around him. Another time he explains to his wife Avali that the poet expresses the pain of the people, which is why he is God’s chosen medium. To the poet Bahinai who wishes to become his disciple he says, you must shine by your own light.
Tukaram has to be seen against the background of the 1936 Prabhat classic Sant Tukaram. That film gave us a man who had already abandoned his material life to dedicate himself to Vitthal.
Such was the mystical impact of Vishnudas Pagnis’s performance as Tukaram in the film, that the gullible took him for a living avatar of the saint, and he was never able to shed the burden of sainthood to play another role.
The present film is made from a very different perspective. It eschews all mystification. There are no legends, no folklore, no miracles here.
When the powerful brahmins of Dehu, jealous of the power that Tukaram’s abhangs and keertans have given him over the hearts and minds of the common folk, declare that, as a shudra, he has no right to write verse and order him to drown his books of poetry in the Indrayani river, the books do not float up as they did in the earlier film.
In an impressive scene on the banks of the river where Tukaram sits without food or water for 13 days, his devotees gather in throngs to sit around him in silence. Then somebody starts to sing an abhang of his, followed by another and another, till the air is filled with his words. He knows then that his legacy is safe in the keeping of the people.
Another sharply written scene occurs in the court of the brahmins where Tukaram is arraigned for his ‘sins’. He steadfastly refutes all charges against him, using reason. The brahmins are non-plussed and run for cover to the shastras, ever the dependable allies of turf-guarding priests. Jeetendra Joshi’s bearing, diction and clear, steady gaze allows him to carry off this scene without a trace of bravado.
With its well-chosen locations, authentic art direction (Eknath Kadam), luminous cinematography (Rajen Kothari) and lack of mumbo-jumbo, Tukaram leaves us feeling…well, cleansed.
► The present film is made from a very different perspective. It eschews all mystification. There are no legends, no folklore, no miracles here