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Last Updated 18.10.2019 | 10:31 PM IST
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Subhash K. Jha speaks about Saamantar (Marathi)

A hugely successful business tycoon decides that he wants to end his life on his 60th birthday. No he isn’t ill. Just bored. We can call this marzi killing and be done. Since this is a unique method of voluntary death all the people in Keshav Vaze’s life are naturally horrified by his unnatural death wish. His limping sister keeps crying on every available shoulder. And you do wonder if she could be the cause of Keshav’s death wish. But before Keshav can get his wish he rediscovers love in the form of a bereft and lost Shama. Keshav’s inert life gets a fresh lease. We can hope there’s no sequel.

Samaantar comes from Amol Palekar, one of the most gifted actor-filmmakers of the country. Amol Palekar’s works, whether in Hindi or Marathi, always exude the scent of an inner strength. This one too is extremely strong on content. It goes into the whole question of worldly success and how it saps the individual of all spiritual solace. The film is shot in a minimalist light with the actors given to say their dialogues without props.

The mix of theatrical and cinematic devices and some moody (though uneven) cinematography(by Asim Bose) gives the narrative the flavour of an experimental excursion into the soul of a man who’d rather die than live meaninglessly. Tragically, Sandhya Gokhale’s screenplay is riddled with coincidences and inconsistencies. We see the protagonist as a happily-adjusted man with a fairly supportive colleagues and family (except for a stereotypically seedy brother-in-law Makrand Deshpande). There’s no earthly reason for him to die. Not just that, the man actually becomes a champion for mercy killing with people writing letters (why letters in this day and age of email and SMS?) asking for guidance on how to kill themselves.

The plot is peppered with unintentional humour. There are musical snatches that only Amol Palekar hears. Maybe it’s meant to be like those films that only their directors understand? Every time the music plays, he goes into a swoon. The businessman’s meeting with Shama (Sharmila Tagore) during a chance visit to Kolkata and her turning out to be the mother of one of his staffers (Sameer Dharamadhikari) is too much like Gulzar’s Mausam, and too coincidental to hold together a plot that attempts to build an ambitious bridge between the outer world and the subconscious.

Keshav’s meeting with Shama could have been the emotional highpoint of the film. Instead, it’s jerky and almost ‘jokey’ with a Shreya Ghosal song playing in the background, while Sharmila Tagore’s absent- minded looks suggest longing for lost love. Sharmila looks as ravishing as expected. But her performance suffers in a sketchy role. The hasty happy finale where Palekar runs into an old friend of Shama at the boutique and returns to Shama for good leaves Samaantar looking like an unfinished work of art that could’ve done with a lot more polishing and far more finesse in the screenplay.

See it for Amol Palekar’s nuanced performance, if you’ve enjoyed his earlier directorial ventures Ankahee and Aakriet. We aren’t even mentioning Paheli.

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