I have always believed that some of the country's best stories are written and are found in regional cinema. Unfortunately, most of them remain imprisoned within their geographic and linguistic boundaries, flowering and withering away unnoticed or get overshadowed by Hindi cinema. Hence, it is necessary to look beyond Hindi cinema and capture the essence of regional cinema.
The Marathi film "Gandha" (Smell) directed by Sachin Kundalkar is strong on visual detailing, the perspective in which the stories unfold, the connect you feel with its character. After Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "Naalu Pennungal", this film comes closest to having a familiar plot with an originality and path-breaking in its own sense.
Gandha encompasses three simple stories about a bride-to-be who wants to fall in love and finds herself rejecting every suitor her parents find. Until one day, she meets a man to whom she is attracted to because of the way he smells. There is a stunning episode from the life of an HIV-affected man and his wife who are struggling to cut themselves away from each other. Lastly, there is a simple but engrossing slice of four days of a woman's life as she sits separated from her family because she is having her periods.
Sachin Kundalkar unfolds each story with utmost mastery and confidence of a veteran filmmaker. The dialogues are real and the actors are real that you can identify someone you know with them. The performances are endearing and impactful. A seemingly mundane episode of a woman having her periods, sitting out for four days doing nothing is so interestingly mounted on screen that one never bothers about where the story is heading. One gets the sense of the smell of that rain, the smell of the sheera the old lady is cooking downstairs, the smell of the book the lady reads poetry from. It is visual detailing at its simplest yet most exquisite.
With equal elan, the director manages to create the disturbing life of Sarang, the HIV-affected man's apartment. A claustrophobic individual in swanky surroundings, Milind Soman is a pleasant surprise. The story of the bride-to-be who sets out to find her own groom is as endearing and lovable as Sarang's story is disturbing.
"Gandha" is elegantly paced within its 1 hour 40 minutes running time. Abhijit Deshpande's editing deserves special kudos for its confident, placid style. There is so much faith in the material and the actos that there never seems any pressure to cut away for the sake of hurrying the pace. Rarely does one get to experience a film that has been edited for value than correction, gimmickry or pacing. Ditto for the camerawork by Amalendu Choudhary. The rain soaked village, the claustrophobia of Sarang moving through his apartment, or the lovely mystery accompanying Veena as she follows the smell of the man she is attracted to, images such as these remain etched in the mind.
Ably supported by some expressive production design, this film is an example of how craft and vision have the power to overcome small budgets. "Gandha" is the kind of film that soaks you in itself completely. It's the kind of film one as a viewer is happy being with. It's the kind of film one wishes never ends. And it never really ends because after involving us from three sporadic episodes from three random people's lives, Sachin Kundalkar chooses to exit those very lives with seemingly small resolutions, leaving it with a very open end.