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Bhaai – Vyakti Kee Valli review: An enjoyable, candid portrait of PL Deshpande

Release Date: 04 Jan 2019 / Rated: U / 02hr 00min

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Suparna Thombare

The first part of Mahesh Manjrekar's biopic is a light-hearted depiction of the key moments from the early years that shaped Deshpande into one of Maharashtra's most loved writers and humorists.

Purshottam Laxman Deshpande or Pu La Deshpande, fondly referred to as 'Bhaai', was one of the most celebrated writers and humorists in Maharashtra's history. Almost everything about him is out in the public domain. His plays are still popular and most of his life is out there in the form of his books, audios of his performances, and even essays by those who were close to him.

So what does director Mahesh Manjrekar attempt to depict in a film about a man who is still fresh in Maharashtra's collective consciousness?

In Bhaai: Vyakti Kee Valli Purvardha, Manjrekar's portrait of PL Deshpande is more of an insider look, almost like a home video, capturing him as a vyakti (person) and a valli (character) in his personal life, leaving it to the audience to decide which they identify with and like more.

The first part of the two-part film begins with Pu La fighting for his life in a Pune hospital and loved ones and admirers (including veteran theatre and film director Jabbar Patel and the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray on the phone) gathering around in his last moments.

The story moves forward with the use of intermittent flashbacks, capturing crucial moments from his younger days in the early 1920s through to the 1940s.

Manjrekar sketches his personality with the use of anecdotes from key incidents that shaped his life — the influence of father Laxman (Sachin Khedekar) and his prediction that Purshottam would be famous one day, how he picked up the harmonium, the death of his first wife, his remarriage, his beginnings in theatre, his career as a professor, his friends who went on to become famous themselves, and more, which take the story of his life forward.

The film gives us an insight into Pu La's mind, as to how easily he switched hats from writer and actor to producer, film director and music composer by just following his heart.

While Sagar Deshmukh is affable and puts a smile on your face, Ganesh Matkari's writing and Ratnakar Matkari's dialogues take a while to take off. It is only from the hilarious scene where Pu La meets second wife-to-be Sunita Thakur (Iravati Harshe) in the library that the humour begins to work and a certain gravitas is also added to the proceedings.

To be with a multi-facted person like Pu La would not have been an easy job. Harshe, who plays a stern, no-nonsense, independent woman, is responsible for adding a lot of depth and perspective to Deshpande's character.

What is a little difficult to digest is that Harshe and Deshmukh both look older than their characters, who are for the most part of the film in their twenties or early thirties.

Deshpande at the end of the first part is painted as a sunshine personality, someone who spreads happiness and laughter wherever he goes. At the same time, his carefree attitude, which also comes across as childish and irresponsible, affected the people he was closest to. But Manjrekar's portrayal of Deshpande's basic nature to try to see the positive in some of the toughest and saddest situations in his life, adds another dimension to the character. What the writers and the director don't manage to dig into is whether those moments were responsible in any way for his humorous, almost flippant nature.

Manjrekar keeps the proceedings light-hearted for the most part in the spirit of Deshpande's childlike personality. The first part ends on a crescendo, with Deshpande performing a Hindustani classical rendition alongside friends Vasantrao Deshpande (Padmanabh Bind), Bhimsen Joshi (Ajay Purkar) and Kumar Gandharva (Swanand Kirkire), all of them on the cusp of illustrious musical careers.

Manjrekar has also captured some of the historic moments of Maharashtra's cultural history in a candid manner, like poet GD Madgulkar and Deshpande working on the song 'Naach Re Mora' and a young Bal Thackeray being saved from punishment by Professor Deshpande.

A lot more people, including social worker Baba Amte and theatre director Vijaya Mehta, who played key roles in the state's history will make their entries in the second part as their stories get woven into Deshpande's life, and Manjrekar offers a sneak peek into it at the end.

Manjrekar takes us back into the origins of the golden period of Maharashtra's literary and cultural history in a light-hearted and candid fashion in the first part. And with the film's screenplay just hotting up, the second part could be an even more enjoyable watch.

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