Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Tukaram, thankfully, is not a devotional film. The problem with devotional films is that good filmmaking becomes secondary. So they usually end up alienating people who can’t relate to the subject. But this is totally untrue with this venture. The makers of this film have been very particular about the filmmaking aspects which make Tukaram eminently watchable.
Tukaram can be considered to be a biopic of great Saint Poet as the film traces the journey of Tukaram Bolhoba Ambile right from his childhood till he becomes Sant Tukaram . The whole first half of the film focuses on the varied experiences in the life of Tukaram which actually led to him becoming a saint. Apart from the important job of making us understand the great saint, this also spares the non-religious viewers from an overdose of preaching.
In the first half, we are introduced to Tukya(Tukaram)who is a bright and generous young child of a merchant(baniya). He is always considered to be the rightful heir to the family business and is also trained in the nitty-gritties of it quite early in life, as his elder brother is deeply lost in the devotion to Lord Vitthal, much to the disappointment of his parents. Tukya, though, is always shown to have a liking for his elder sibling. It is his elder brother who first plants the seed of spirituality in his head.
As Tukya grows up he gets married to Rakhumai. But Rakhumai isn’t able to bear their child. His elder brother is so deeply lost in worship that he doesn’t consummate his marriage. Under peer pressure, Tukaram gets married the second time to a woman named Avali. Now, the writers of the film Prashant Dalvi and Ajit Dalvi have interestingly steered away from the usual bitterness that you associate amongst two wives of the same man. So here you have Rakhumai and Avali actually having mutual respect for each other. I am not sure about its authenticity, but it does give the relationship a much needed freshness.
The turning point in Tukaram’s life comes when once there is a severe drought. The many deaths in his family due to the famine caused by the drought, leave him shaken. The wealth of his family is also wiped out. Some other moving experiences from the terrible calamity too make Tukaram a changed man and make him slowly lean towards spirituality. He realises that wealth is only temporary, but the grace of God is ever-lasting.
Though you realize the story doesn’t go much forward during the first half, the engaging family drama keeps us hooked. It is only in the second half are we shown the total transformation of a common man fondly called Tukya into a great saint. The film unlike many other recent ones does not suffer from what is now known as the second-half or the post-interval syndrome. It only gets better in the second half. The writers have penned some wonderful scenes as Sant Tukaram goes about enlightening people and creating social awareness. He preaches the tenets of the Bhagwat Geeta in a simple manner so that even the illiterate would understand. This upsets the Brahmin community of that time and they try to create many obstacles in his path. Also impressive are the scenes which let us know how the great saint believed in becoming one with nature. It also makes us realise how relevant his teachings are even today in these times of Global Warming.
Jeetendra Joshi who plays the adult Tukaram comes up with a topnotch performance. The film wouldn’t have been half as good had Joshi gone even slightly off the mark. You can are stunned by the devotion emanating from him as he whirls rapidly, deeply lost in the worship of Lord Vitthal. This is his fourth release of the year and he has played four very different characters all very convincingly. Others like Radhika Apte who plays the troubled wife Avali, is a little too loud at times. But in her defense, we can say that Avali was indeed a loud woman. This role is completely opposite to the shy newly married wife that she has played in last year’s Shor in the City. Padmanabh Gaikhwad as the child Tukaram also puts up a good performance. Others like Sharad Ponkshe(Tukaram’s father), Prateeksha Lonkar(Tukaram’s mother), Veena Jamkar(Rakhumai) all provide solid support.
Chandrakant Kulkarni and his entire production team must be lauded for the authenticity in the film. Not once do you feel that what you are watching is not 17th century Maharashtra. Cameraman Rajen Kothari who has partnered Shyam Benegal in most of his recently works shoots the film exquisitely. All the night scenes are given a feel as if they are lit up by the flame of torches as electricity was obviously not invented by then. Also, the director doesn’t fall prey to the 2 hour bracket like some Marathi films off late have. He fleshes out his story and characters making the experience of watching the film a memorable one.
The songs by Avdhoot Gupte and Ashok Patki are also nicely woven into the film. Dasoo Vaidya’s lyrics, be it for the children song ‘Ganya Manya Tuka’ or ‘Korad Abhala’ which plays in the background during the drought are the stroke of a genius. The compositions themselves are also of a high quality.
Now, the movie is certainly not flawless. The unhappy Brahmins depicted in the film are nothing but caricatures. Especially, the character of Mumbaji Gosavi played by Yatin Karyekar. They fit into the mould of very conventional and clichéd negative roles. Also the dialogues at times, mainly in the first half, seem a bit theatrical.
But the positives of Tukaram definitely make the film a good watch. It will appeal to both, those who revere the great saint and also to those who are looking to catch a well-made film. Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Tukaram is certainly a winner.