An extra-marital relationship has been witnessed umpteen times on the Indian screen before. But there have been a handful of films that have captured the relationship between man and woman with the sensitivity it deserves. Mahesh Manjrekar's ASTITVA is one such striking example.
Manjrekar has always believed in handling an issue every time he has attempted a film. AAI (Marathi), VAASTAV and NIDAAN tackled issues that were, contentwise, as similar as chalk and cheese. This time, in ASTITVA, Manjrekar tells the story of a husband who learns of his wife's infidelity in their sunset years and being an MCP, decides to punish her by giving her a divorce.
The message Manjrekar intends conveying is simple: In India, what is a woman born with? A name? followed by her father's? and then the family name. She gets married. In most cases, her name is changed. Out goes her father's name, to be replaced by her husband's. The husband's family name replaces her own.
She gets pregnant. She nurtures the child in her womb for nine months. A child is born. The child gets the name, followed by its father's and then the father's family name is added to its name.
After going through all this, what does a woman die with? Absolutely nothing!
It is a known fact that women have always been an oppressed section of the Indian social order. But why do women in India never have an existence? an identity of their own? And what happens when Mrs. Aditi Shrikant Pandit (Tabu) decides to find her existence? Do her family, friends and the society in general accept it?
ASTITVA is a mature attempt in handling an extra-marital relationship. In most Hindi films, it is the man who gets home another woman. But, in this case, it is the married woman (Tabu) who, in a moment of weakness, indulges in a sexual encounter with a man (Mohnish Bahl) who is not her husband.
The narration is simple, yet captivating. The director has used flashbacks to tell the story, using the diaries the husband (Sachin Khedekar) pens, as the tool to move the story ahead. And each time the flashback begins, the viewer thirsts for more. Such is the impact of its taut screenplay!
The film exposes the dual standards adopted by an Indian male; rules that are different for man and woman. The film abounds in sequences that have been handled with utmost care, notable among those that focus on the relationship between Sachin Khedekar and Tabu. The dramatic scenes are just right and not once does any character get loud or go overboard.
The emotional scenes, featuring Tabu, are a treat to watch. The climax, of course, takes the viewer by surprise and was the best way out to culminate the story. Her sober outburst in the end is a resounding slap on the face of the husband who has treated his wife like a doormat for more than two decades.
It is difficult to think of any other actress who could've essayed this complex role with such sincerity as Tabu. A powerhouse of talent, this film is yet another effort on the part of the actress to showcase the talent she possesses. To state that she is exceptional would be an understatement. Here's yet another award winning performance from her.
Another actor who delivers a first-rate performance is Sachin Khedekar, who essays the role of a self-centred husband brilliantly. Mohnish Bahl is effective. Ravindra Mankani, as Sachin Khedekar's childhood friend, is proficient in his role. Smita Jaykar is efficient as the woman who believes in equality between woman and man. Namrata Shirodkar makes her presence felt in a brief role.
Director Mahesh Manjrekar proves his versatility by attempting an issue that has beleaguered and fraught Indian women since generations. His mature handling of an adult subject deserves highest marks. Music is situational and only one number stands out ? 'Chal Chal Mere Sang Sang' ? that is the turning point in the film. Cinematography is splendid.
ASTITVA is not the usual song-n-dance flick that boasts of top stars and great production values. But it's a thought-provoking film that defies the rules of commercial cinema. Businesswise, the film is targeted at the gentry and its business prospects in Mumbai and other metropolitan cities will be the best. Word of mouth publicity and the strategy of holding free shows for women by its distributors (in certain circuits) will work to its advantage.