Movie Review: Balgandharva

The 2011 Marathi film "Balgandharva" by filmmaker Ravi Jadhav is a biographical film on Narayan Sripad Rajhans popularly known as Balgandharva. The name was bestowed to Narayan by Lokmanya Tilak after listening to his public performance in Pune while he was very young. The film has been produced and designed effectively by art director Nitin Desai. 

The film is set in a period before the advent of cinema. Hence, the most popular medium for entertainment was sangeet nataks (drama based music). Balgandharva won many hearts in his roles he played as a woman because women did not perform roles on stage then. The film is set in between the real plays performed by the actor-singer. On the opening day of his play "Sangeet Manapmaan", his infant daughter dies. The determination to continue despite his daughter's death is one of the most poignant scenes in cinema I've come across lately. He enthralls the audience with his performance as Bhamini and fully devoting himself towards his passion for drama and singing, he overlooks his family.

As he grows older and cinema is introduced, theatre fails to grab audiences. He acts in the "Dharmatma" with Prabhat Film Company by V. Shantaram as Sant Eknath. Unfortunately, he never likes the methodologies of film production and abandons it after only one film though the deal was signed for six films. When he meets his fan and singer Gohar Jaan Karnataki who acts in his play "Saubhadra", he finds himself at odds playing Krishna instead of Saubhadra. 

The film depicts his obsession with the art form, his lack of commercial sense and fall from grace and his unflinching dignity even as he is on the verge of being declared as an insolvent. The cinematography by Mahesh Limaye is really wonderful. His camera wonderfully captures an era before the arrival of cinema. Subodh Bhave as Balgandharva is wonderful in his role. There are 21 songs in the film of which 17 feature in the film. Many of the songs used in the movie are original compositions used by the Maestro during his plays. The music for the film has been brilliantly recreated by music composer Kaushal S. Inamdar and classical singer Anand Bhate's voice as Balgandharva reintroduces some of the finest songs from natyasangeet to a modern audience. 

Summing up, the film succeeds in opening up the pages of Maharashtra's illustrious folk culture and recreating a period when sangeet nataks were the most popular form of entertainment. On the whole, the film is an engaging chronicle which depicts the golden age of Marathi theatre. 


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