Knowledge is acquired.
Art is inherent.
Knowledge solves complexities.
Art gives birth to those very complexities.
There is a whole scene dedicated to this Knowledge V/S Art (Vidya V/S Kala) debate in Katyar Kaljat Ghusli — and it is easily my favourite part in the movie. A musical maestro’s protege aches for knowledge. The knowledge that can hone his skills, set him apart. But he completely overlooks the fact that even without the knowledge, what he already has within him — the raw art of music — is far more valuable.
Anybody who has grown up in a typical Marathi household has heard their mothers and fathers sing Ghei Channd Makarand. It won’t be blasphemous to say that it is our equivalent of a Bachchan or Tagore poem, if not as widely popular. So when the film adaptation of the cult musical, Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, was released, all of us got a call from home urging us to go see what a spectacle it is.
And I’m happy to report that it has lived up to the hype. The plot is simple: Pt. Bhanushankar of Vishrampur (Shankar Mahadevan) discovers Khan Sahab (Sachin Pilgaonkar) in one of his mehfils and brings him back to his town. But Khan Sahab’s talent always ranks below Pt. Bhanushankar’s, and a fierce sense of competition starts to rise within him. Competition culminates into sabotage and Pt. Bhanushankar loses his voice as a result of a vicious scheme. As Khan Sahab settles into the comforts of the palace and new his designation of the Royal Singer, Pt. Bhanushankar’s protege, Sadashiv (Subodh Bhave) enters the scene to win his mentor’s honour back.
The most interesting thing about Katyar… is the use of music. It feels as important to the anatomy of the film as a limb (props to writer Prakash Kapadia, who has emerged as the master of the Indian epic. His next is Bajirao Mastani). While most films about music add songs just to authenticate the genre (here’s looking at you, Aashiqui 2), Katyar’s music takes the narrative forward and keeps you glued to your seats even through songs. While Ghei Channd will always remain a favourite, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Sur Niragas Ho and Yaar Illahi could easily become the next generation’s favourites.
I may be at a disadvantage, having not seen the original musical, but my father tells me that the film was about 80% true to the source material, which is not a bad percentage at all. The dialogue is dense with beautiful lines about music, art, the value of commitment, envy and the evil in one’s heart. Shankar Mahadevan appears to be surprisingly comfortable in his role and Subodh Bhave — with his ability to be believable as Anybody — is honest. Sachin Pilgaonkar has walked away with the lion’s share of compliments, but I can never shake the feeling that his brand of acting is similar to Aamir’s — where, with each movement and each gesture, he wants you to know just how good he is. Frankly, he overdid some scenes, but let’s not focus on that.
The good thing is, the movie has released with subtitles and, for once, the person who has done the subtitling deserves a pat on the back. They have masterfully turned colloquial Marathi phrases into English lines, and successfully translated the humour when required.
Yes, the plot is predictable and spoon-fed to viewers, but if you’re in for a true musical with hair-raising compositions embedded into the story, and the magic of simple storytelling as well, this is your pick.
(Nihit Bhave is a freelance writer based in Bombay. Was Features Writer with Hindustan Times’ Sunday magazine, HT Brunch until recently)