It's been long since a good film on the art of tamasha has been seen on Indian screens, and especially Marathi cinema. Atul Kulkarni's Natarang is one such. Based on a book by noted Marathi author Dr Anand Yadav, and directed by Ravi Jadhav, the film is the first release of 2010 (on January 1).
Natarang starts in flashback mode. Atul Kulkarni plays Guna, one of the many villagers out of work in a story set in the seventies.
When the others are dumbstruck about the next course of action, Guna is optimistic about what he wants his next source of livelihood to be. He is simply fascinated with the tamasha and the dance form of lavani, and wants to build his own troupe.
Atul Kulkarni and Sonali Kulkarni in 'Natarang' (Zee Talkies)
And so the process starts. Slowly Guna collects a handful of jobless people, and a man (Kishore Kadam) ready to finance and support his dream. This, in spite of opposition from his father, and wife (Vibhavari Deshpande). The team already has a story and start rehearsing.
But Guna and his friends soon realise that lack of a central female character will shoo potential audiences away. And so, a search begins for one. Enter Naina (played by Sonali Kulkarni – a fresh, new one, not the Dil Chahta Hain one), a hot new tamasha artiste.
Now that they have a female, a need is felt for a 'nachya' – a eunuch – like the one immortalised by actor Ganpat Patil in countless Marathi films. As none of the men agree to enact the role, it falls upon Guna to take up the challenge. But will the actor who always wanted to play king in a play, agree to play a eunuch?
The actor in Guna is motivated to do it, to the extent that he loses oodles of weight to look the part. And with the help of the pretty and talented Naina, he learns the mannerisms.
The first half of the film ends with Atul Kulkarni in the guise of a nachya, with tremendous applause from the audience in the theatre.
The second half has lots of twists and turns. Though the troupe's tours are successful from village to village, Guna's life changes completely because of the role he is essaying.
Away from his family for months, Guna falls for Naina whose company he finds more comforting than his worrisome wife.
But because he's playing a character which is not 'manly', he faces prejudice. His father dies of shock, his son has to face taunts and his wife loses faith in him. Naina also refuses to be with him permanently….
Guna faces all this with temerity and moves on – until the biggest tragedy strikes him. Watch Natarang to know what that incident is and how it changes everything for Guna.
Natarang is Atul Kulkarni's masterstroke, as he essays both dimensions of his character with ease. The new, young actress Sonali Kulkarni is sexy and acts well, suiting her role to the T. And of course, the lavani 'item song' by Amruta Khanvilkar is a hit. Kishore Kadam's performance is also notable. Director Ravi Jadhav excels in this outing, although the end could've been more powerfully projected.
Verdict: The film would've been better if it were shorter and the script tighter. But considering it wanted to showcase all the turning points in Guna's life from the book, the length seems all right. Watch out for Atul Kulkarni's performance.