Epic is the word that best describes this Marathi musical biopic about music legend Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande (1920-1983). It is a perfect answer to why only South Indian films should have the monopoly of pan-Indian cinema. The film is subtitled in English and has already been invited to an international festival. It is 180 minutes long and, but for a brief moment in the second half, its pace never falters, even in the age of shorter films.
Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande was an enigmatic musician. Refuse to bow down to someone gharana (style or method used by a teacher who transmits it to the next generation and to his students), his music was born deep within him, from his childhood.
His childhood was unique: his eldest paternal aunt jealously drowned him as a baby because she had no offspring of her own, and as a result his mother (Anita Date) left the common family of the husband with the baby. She worked hard to raise the Vasant boy, and when his inherent musical sense was discovered, a local teacher in Nagpur, where they were staying, offered to teach him music.
But Vasantrao never chained himself. He continued to imbibe the musical styles of a variety of gurus – shown here is a Muslim teacher from Lahore (Kumud Mishra), and before that, none less than maestro Pt. Deenanath Mangeshkar (the contribution of the whole Mangeshkar clan is recognized in the credits for the acquisition of material on their association).
As a clerk in a government office (during British rule and post-independence as well), Vasantrao considers music a passion and hobby, and at best a source of supporting income for his family’s needs. mother, wife Vimal (Kaumudi Walokar) and finally three children. And he finds an early catalyst in a friend who wants to be a musician-singer but also writes – another Marathi legend, Purshottam Laxman (PL or Pu. La. as he was called) Deshpande. PL Deshpande became a world famous titan and an icon of humor and literature, who also performed music.
This film enlightens the uninitiated into the big secrets of the small but gigantic role played in Vasantrao’s life by the patriarch of the Mangeshkar family and the decisive and far-reaching contribution to his art and career by the other Deshpande.
In biopics like these, in which certain aspects are dramatized and may not have happened in real life, for my part, I do not know if his repentant father (Yatin Karyekar) comes to meet the now seasoned Vasantrao , actually happened or not. But the one thing we learn from this revealing sequence is that the bold, strong-willed musician refused to be tempted by the riches he was heir to and continued to lead life as he saw fit. Well, almost.
For Deshpande, thanks to the way his father had disowned him and his mother, saw his own family as his primary responsibility, even to the detriment of his art and genius in that area. Despite the insistence of his friend Deshpande at some points in his life, he never compromised until his mother finally told him some truths.
And from there began his real fight. His dull tongue had cost him dearly, and it was an uphill battle as he even openly lambasted Purshottam Darvhekar (Madhav Vaishampayan), the playwright and producer of the stage masterpiece. Katyar Kaaljaat Ghusali for what he thought was the compromised end of a great play. As a result, he was almost kicked out of the game which ultimately marked a big moment for him.
The format of this biopic is brilliant. Vasantrao tells his life story to a stranger (a great touch revealed by the identity of the person in the climax) and what stands out as a lesson is that a true artist always gets his due, even if it comes a bit late. Vasantrao was 47 when he shot to fame, but after that he had a meteoric rise. And everything he achieved was without compromise, and on his own terms.—musical and other.
The first half of the movie is absolutely the perfect blend of cinema, authenticity, and massive connection with the viewer through its excellent humor (again, this may be partly fictional in the way it is shown). The second half gets into more drama, but the omnipresence of PL Deshpande means that the story still has the entertainment elements that keep us riveted even when the proceedings get dramatic and even poignant. And an obvious common thread running throughout is the outstanding music – it’s the first film in what feels like forever to release a physical CD of its original soundtrack. The songs are such a treat for the ears at a time when film music, including in many Marathi films, has almost been destroyed by commercial “notes”.
And if the scenario directed by Nipun Avinash Dharmadhikari is exceptional, especially in the dialogues, its staging is no less so. This multi-talented man is best known to international audiences for his small role as a toy salesman in the Oscar-nominated film Marathi. Harishchandraachi factory (2010), excels as only a master storyteller can. I’m also watching it right now in the web series bloody brothers in which he redid an exceptional test. But what he’s done as captain of this movie is just amazing, and like any good director, he makes all the key performers excel.
First and foremost are the three actors who play Vasantrao, led by Rahul Deshpande, Pt. Vasantrao’s grandson, who also composed music and sang most of the songs. Rahul inherits genes from his late father, who had acted in Marathi sangeet natak (musical pieces) and even some movies. And while he’s naturally good at music, he’s also more than capable as an actor.
Gandhar Joshi as young Vasantrao is brilliant, especially in his scenes with Amey Wagh, while Arush Nand also scores in the way he is shown singing complex musical notes.
Mee Vasantrao, indeed, is a showcase of histrionics. Anita Date is simply stunning in the valiant role of Vasantrao’s mother, her guiding force on every level. Another natural scene stealer is Pushkaraj Chirputkar as PL Deshpande, and another fabulous turn comes from Amey Wagh as Pt. Deenanath. Also hitting the perfect notes are, in that order, Kumud Mishra as Muslim Maestro, Alok Rajwade as Vasantrao’s maternal uncle, Madhav Vaishampayan as Darvhekar, and Kaumudi Walokar as Vimal’s silent support.
Technically upbeat, the film stands alone faux pasif we can call it that, it’s because the generics are only In English. Undoubtedly, international audiences need it (Hindi films have had it for decades!), but what about Marathi people who may not know the Queen’s language? I’ve always maintained that at least the main credits should also be there in the language spoken in the film. Indian films today may aim higher, but we can’t sacrifice the local for the global, can we?
Mee Vasantrao is a milestone, if not, and nearly deserves a full rating.
Jio Studios presents Mee Vasantrao (Marathi) from Viacom 18 Studios, Antarnaad and Darshan Productions Produced by: Chandrashekhar Gokhale, Darshan Desai and Niranjan Kirloskar Directed by: Nipun Avinash Dharmadhikari Written by: Nipun Avinash Dharmadhikari and Upendra Sidhaye Music: Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, Rahul Deshpande & Bhushan Mate Starring: Rahul Deshpande, Anita Date, Pushkaraj Chirputkar, Kaumudi Walokar, Amey Wagh, Kumud Mishra, Alok Rajwade, Sarang Sathaye, Madhav Vaishampayan, Gandhar Joshi, Arush Nand, Yatin Karyekar and others