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Ekk Albela Review: Heartwarming journey into a bygone era

The Marathi biopic on yesteryear actor Master Bhagwan is educating as well as entertaining.

Keyur Seta

Film: Ekk Albela (U)
Cast: Mangesh Desai, Vidya Balan, Vidyadhar Joshi, Shekhar Phadke
Director: Shekhar Sartandel
Producers: Manglmurti Films and Kimaya Motion Pictures
Writers: Shekhar Sartandel and Amol Shetge
Music: Santosh Mulekar
Rating: 4/5

It’s raining biopics in India these days. However, if the film is as enjoyable as Ekk Albela, there is hardly reason to complain. The Shekhar Sartandel film is a heartwarming saga that pays fitting tribute to India’s first dancing star.

Ekk Albela showcases the life of the late Hindi film actor Master Bhagwan aka Bhagwan Abhaji Palav (Desai), fondly known in industry circles as Bhagwan Dada. As a young boy, Bhagwan ran away from his native village after a quarrel with his father and landed in Mumbai (Bombay then) where he found work at a paan shop. One day, a friend encouraged him to enter the movies, since he was good at mimicking people. 

After some hesitation, Bhagwan agreed to try his luck. He somehow gatecrashed into a film studio and thus started his career as a junior artiste. How he then goes on to become a lead actor and director against the odds forms the rest of the story.

Bhagwan received immense support from actress Geeta Bali (Vidya) during the making of his dream project – Albela (1952).

Ekk Albela is a film on the lines of Harishchandrachi Factory, the biopic on the father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke. It is light-hearted and fast-paced. As Bhagwan was best known as a funny man, the makers have rightfully taken advantage and included large doses of humour. Despite this, complete justice is done to the seriousness of the late artiste’s struggle.

The film also falls in the category of edutainment (education + entertainment). The audience is educated about various facets of Bhagwan's life without getting into the docu-drama mode. There are a number of sequences that will remain etched in your mind, the prominent ones being his struggle while making Albela and the climax.

However, the film would have gone a few notches higher if some points were taken care of. Bhagwan’s story in the majority of the first half appears too hurried. Some important turns in his life should have been explained. Plus, more than half the film is in Hindi. So, it would have been better if it were made in that language, since Bhagwan is known to most Indians as a Hindi film actor.

The film scores highly in the crucial area of production design and takes audience into a bygone era. It is a treat to see the Bombay of the 1940s and 1950s. The interiors of Imperial cinema at Grant Road and its canteen deserve special mention.

As Bhagwan was a dancing star, it was important for the music to be impressive and this is exactly what Santosh Mulekar has achieved. The songs ‘Shola Jo Bhadke’ and ‘Bholi Surat Dil Ke Khote’ are successfully recreated and also well choreographed. The technical aspects (cinematography, background score and editing) too fall in the positive category.

Ekk Albela would not have risen to this level without Mangesh Desai’s bravura act. By surrendering himself to the character of Bhagwan, he brings the late actor alive on screen. He also succeeds in performing Bhagwan's signature dance steps perfectly, which was crucial.

Despite entering the scene at the interval, Vidya Balan leaves a mark with a dedicated act. She does justice to the character of Geeta Bali. Vidyadhar Joshi is believable as a cunning film distributor. The actor playing Raj Kapoor is likeable too. The film receives adequate support from the rest of the cast.

On the whole, Ekk Albela is a heartwarming tribute to Bhagwan. The film has the capacity to strike a chord with anyone interested in cinema history.