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Bhonsle review: Realistic tale of retired constable caught in Marathi versus Bihari battle

Release Date: 27 Oct 2018 / 02hr 13min

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Keyur Seta

The film is technically brilliant, with superb cinematography, background score and editing. And Manoj Bajpayee is outstanding.

Director Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle has Manoj Bajpayee playing the titular character of a police constable who loses all faith in the system by the time he retires.

Now, mainstream Hindi cinema has had many films where the character of a cop is disturbed by the corruption among politicians and among police officers.

A common feature of such characters is that they are always eager to give a commentary on the sorry situation. When it comes to ageing police officers, Paresh Rawal’s heartwarming speech in Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) comes to mind instantly.

However, what sets Bhonsle apart is that even though he has plenty to say, the retired policeman does not say it. Interestingly, after Soni, this is yet another unconventional cop film to be screened at the Mumbai Film Festival.

Bhonsle revolves around Ganpat Bhonsle (Bajpayee). At 60, he retires as a police constable and stays alone in a chawl in Mumbai. The locality sees a constant tussle between the Marathis and the Biharis, with the latter being looked down upon as migrants.

Vilas (Santosh Juvekar), a fiery taxi driver, hates the migrants. He vows not to let them install their own Ganpati pandal in the chawl during Ganeshotsav. His ultimate aim is to join the political party that claims to be the saviour of the Marathi-speakers.

Meanwhile, Sita (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) and her younger brother Lalu (Virat Vaibhav) arrive from Bihar to stay in the room next to Bhonsle's. Lalu gets caught in the ongoing feud in the chawl. How long will Bhonsle remain a silent spectator?

The film starts off with sculptors preparing the Ganesh idols for the festival. The visuals of the idols being slowly clothed by the artists as Bhonsle takes off his uniform for the last time draw a beautiful analogy. The film is replete with such creative scenes.

The issue of Marathis versus Biharis has smouldered in Mumbai for some years now. However, it has hardly found its way into Hindi or Marathi cinema. The only film to make some noise about it was Kamaal R Khan’s B-grade saga Deshdrohi (2008). Bhonsle addresses the topic in a bold and realistic way.

The filmmaker tries to maintain a balance by showing a Bihari, Rajendra (Abhishek Banerjee), as a negative character. However, for some strange reason, he just vanishes from the film midway, never to return.

But the film disappoints the viewer with the inclusion of a serious incident just before the climax. It just doesn’t gel with the rest of the plot and makes you question its purpose. The incident could have been totally done away with as the film is quite successful in giving its message even without it.

The other aspect that hurts Bhonsle is that too much time is spent in establishing the retired constable character, life and world. The first 25-30 minutes appear needlessly stretched.

The film is technically brilliant, however, with superb cinematography, background score and editing. The unusual use of hand-held cameras suits the nature of the subject perfectly.

A great performance is one where you forget the actor and look at him/her only as the character. Manoj Bajpayee achieves this. He gets into the skin of Bhonsle so well that you are liable to forget that he is actually a native of Bihar, not Maharashtra. And he has probably never made use of expressions to convey so much before.

Santosh Juvekar is the perfect choice to play the rough cabbie. Initially, it appears that his character might be very similar to the one he played in Morya (Marathi, 2011). Thankfully, that is not the case. He also manages to induce humour through his helplessness.

Ipshita Chakraborty Singh is effortless as the Bihari woman. Child actor Virat Vaibhav shows maturity while playing a difficult character. Abhishek Banerjee is impressive again (he was also superb in Makhija's Ajji and in Amar Kaushik's Stree earlier this year), but his disappearance leaves a question mark.

Bhonsle was screened at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival on Sunday 28 October 2018.

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