For Lakshmikant Berde who was a popular comedian in Marathi and Hindi movies, usually doing slapstick acts, the movie might have been a true labour of love. It showcased the best of his talents – be it acting, comedy or mimicry and surprisingly dancing as well.
For the ‘Songadya’ this was a role of a lifetime and he delivered a great performance reminding us of even Raj Kapoor’s ‘Mera Naam Joker’ though thankfully the movie ends of a note of optimism.
The movie is a true tribute to Marathi’s folk dance of Lavani that is popular with the masses and has not quite got its due. Lakshya essays the lead character of Abu Rao who is now a popular film actor, a local politician and a childhood friend of the Chief Minister. On the tragic occasion of his mother’s death, he narrates most of the story in the form of a flashback. That he is not happy about things having come to such a pass is very apparent but did he really have much of a choice and could indeed things have been different is an interesting question to ponder on.
Abu Rao shows talent for mimicry and interest in playing the role of a clown – ‘Songadya’ – rather early in his childhood. Tragic circumstances deprive him of a formal education and parental guidance though he is an intelligent observer of social life and very adept at satirizing it. The youngster and his mother are now part of a Tamasha troupe. Nilu Phule , who belongs to the same troupe, takes him under his wings and teaches him the tricks of the trade. The ‘Tamasha’ troupe is his lifeline and things seem to be set for good when he gets the backing of his politician friend (nicely under-played by Dilip Prabhavalkar) to starts his own troupe.
Varsha Usgaonkar, a popular film actress, enters into his life and lures him away to the world of glitz and glamour. Abu Rao finds the combination of fame and money too alluring to be able to resist the first transition. By definition our hero is expected to be able to resist temptations and stay true to his family, but the writer shows that the ‘high’ of a new life can indeed be intoxicating and Lakshya was poorly equipped to handle it well. He makes a good success of it and reconciles himself to the firm disapproval shown by his family for deserting them. Indeed he makes a second transition and launches himself as a local politician who is the ‘Man-Friday’ for Prabhavalkar. But the phase does not last long and tragically unravels along with the main plot of the film. It does bring him close to accepting the responsibility for his illegitimate daughter.
Helmed by Jabbar Patel and written by P L Deshpande, the story now focusses on ‘politics’ and the games politicians play to remain in power. Instead of having a menacing loud-mouthed character, Prabhavalkar plays a role of a cunning leader who taps into Lakshya’s trusting nature and popularity with the masses. Lakshya plays along but it is quite visible that he is not at peace with himself. Finally Nilu Phule shows him the mirror and characteristically remarks, ‘Maja wagacha maakad kela hya rajkaran’ (Politics has made a Monkey of my Tiger!). And rather belatedly we have Lakshya try to redeem himself and his life.
The movie realistically narrates the life of the Tamasha artists who are talented but have little respect in the social setup. It is a negative spiral for the young Lakshya as he never feels emotionally secure with anyone except his doting mother. Forced by circumstances when his mother joins the troupe belonging to her sister, the writer deftly shows up the petty rivalries and insecure egos of the lead artist who seem to be perpetually engaged in a game of one-upmanship. They must indeed feel the paranoia that everyone is out to get them.
With 22 songs, nearly half the movie is dominated by the folk art. Songs are effectively used in the screenplay to take the story forward. Along with the ‘Songadya’ acts it serves as a great medium to satirize politics and politicians. One is left wondering though on why folk music in most Indian cultures fails to make it to the ‘High Table’ and these artistes end up playing second fiddle to the Classical singers. Does one have to necessarily survive by ‘downing’ the other? Why cannot there be acceptance of its contribution to the rich cultural heritage of our people?