Mumbai, 02 May 2022 22:01 IST
Shivaji Lotan Patil's drama is being released in theatres across Maharashtra on 3 May, though it has been available for streaming on Zee5 since September last year.
Seven months ago National award-winning filmmaker Shivaji Lotan Patil's social drama Bhonga (2021) was released quietly on the Zee5 OTT platform. There was no fuss. Forget common viewers, even entertainment journalists like me, whose rozi-roti depends on keeping an eye out for upcoming releases, did not notice when the film was dumped on the streaming platform.
Now things have changed dramatically, with Maharashtra politics having moved from 'laav re toh video [hey, play that video]' to 'kadh re toh bhonga [hey, take down that loudspeaker]'. With the backing of politician Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), party leaders Amey Khopkar and Sandeep Deshpande have come on board as presenters of the film and it's now being released in theatres on 3 May.
The film deals with the subject of loudspeakers used to air azaan, or the Islamic call to prayer, from mosques. After constant arguments with his older brother Rafiq (Akash Thorat) and his wife Farida (Pinky Sharma), Sadiq (Kapil Gudsurkar) and his wife Ruksana (Deepti Dhotre) decide to move into the family's other house with their nine-month-old son. The second house is close to a mosque whose maulana Bangi (Shripad Joshi) is a staunch Islamist who believes religion comes before everything, including humanity. For him religion is the most important thing in the world. Bangi also harbours ill will against Sadiq for something he had done in the past.
The early morning and afternoon azaan disturb the sleep of Sadiq's infant. The poor husband and wife hesitate to request the mosque to change the direction of the loudspeaker, but when the child is diagnosed with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy, a type of brain injury in newborns caused by oxygen deprivation and limited blood flow, they have to soon find a solution to the problem or risk losing their baby.
Before watching the film, I had decided to keep my expectations low, since the political circus suggested here is another propaganda film with some twisted facts to support a certain agenda, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case.
Shivaji Lotan Patil, who also wrote the screenplay and dialogues for the film, has made a sombre and impactful social drama that gives an important message about how religion is made for humanity and not the other way round, without resorting to political or religious propaganda.
While the film talks about respect for all religions, the filmmaker does not shy away from pointing out the flaws in some illogical practices. And he does it both ways, in a subtle manner. For example, in one scene we see a few villagers openly talking about the problems caused by loudspeakers and why it has nothing to do with religion. The same message is given in a more subtle manner when we see Sadiq and his wife interacting daily with the loud azaan playing in the background. And the filmmaker has used this tactic quite a few times in case anyone misses it the first time.
Even the supporting characters such as Sudhya (Sudhakar Birajdar), Anna (Pavan Waidya) and Amya (Amol Kagne) play important roles in the film. Granted, their characters lack depth and are mostly uni-dimensional, but their conversations with one another bring a lot to the table. The actors have also done well to make their characters seem more relatable despite limited screen time. The director provides a sharp contrast to the rigid system with the tenderness and deep emotions during the villagers' interactions.
The thing I found most irritating in this otherwise well-made social drama was the filmmaker's apprehension to go full throttle when calling out the double standards of religious practices. Lotan Patil had ample opportunity to turn this into a hard-hitting social drama, but except for a few scenes the film never makes you uncomfortable about these double standards.
Another thing that pulls down the film's overall impact is the performance of the lead cast. Kapil Gudsurkar and Deepti Dhotre don't appear confident in front of the camera, especially in the initial scenes. Rarely do you feel the helplessness and frustration of young parents trying to save their child as things get worse for them. If the lead artistes had put in more effort to make their characters emotionally vulnerable, it would have made a stronger and more lasting impact.
Despite these flaws, Bhonga is a decent social drama that works because of the filmmaker's honest effort to keep things real and away from political propaganda.
Bhonga is available for streaming on Zee5. The film is also being released in theatres on 3 May.
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