Meenakshi Shedde: Astu, so be it

Jul 17, 2016, 07:06 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

Astu (So Be It) is a brilliant Marathi film that you should not miss this weekend

Astu (So Be It) is a brilliant Marathi film that you should not miss this weekend. This poignant, sensitive, thought-provoking film by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar, is about a family struggling to cope with an ageing father, who has Alzheimer's. Dr Chakrapani Shastri, a retired Sanskrit scholar, is losing his memory because of Alzheimer's. Child-like now, he impulsively follows an elephant in a crowded street one day, and goes missing. His daughter Ira (Irawati Harshe) and son-in-law Madhav (Milind Soman) go into a tizzy looking for him. Finally, the couple tending to the elephant (Amruta Subhash and Nachiket Purnapatre), unable to trace his family because he doesn't remember his name or address, instinctively adopt the helpless old man. The film richly deserved its two National Awards for Best Dialogue by Sumitra Bhave and Best Supporting Actress for Amruta Subhash. It has also been to numerous festivals, including the New York Indian Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart, where it won the Audience Award, and the International Film Festivals of Kerala and Bengaluru. Currently, the film is showing in over 40 cinemas all across Mumbai and Maharashtra.

Dr Mohan Agashe in Astu (So Be It)
Dr Mohan Agashe in Astu (So Be It)

As a member of the National Film Award Jury in 2014, I had, in fact, recommended Astu for Best Film. It is deeply satisfying, despite its modest technical accomplishments. The film explores several issues that many of us may have grappled with, including what it means to love someone who doesn't remember who he is; dilemmas when caring for an ageing parent —whether he should be cared for at home or put in an institution; and sibling rivalry. Amruta Subhash's unhesitating compassion in taking responsibility for a complete stranger, effortlessly resolves Appa's family's dilemma, by responding to the challenge with love, not reason. The film makes an extraordinary connection: of the loss of memory in an Alzheimer's patient, leading to a loss of identity, and thus becoming one with the absolute, which is the aim of Hindu philosophy. Appa involuntarily achieves what many consciously struggle to achieve. Dr Mohan Agashe is powerful as Appa; Irawati Harshe is good, but Amruta Subhash is masterly in a brief role. The superb dialogues are resonant. Also elegant is the use of the elephant, known for its memory, but also a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is perhaps the finest film of Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar, whose solid body of issue-based films includes Doghi, Devrai and the superb Vastupurush; this film totally transcends the issue. The film is co-produced by Dr Mohan Agashe and Sheelaa Rao.

We are lucky to see this film, which was made in 2013 and was released in Pune in 2014. According to the film's spokesperson, it is being re-released now because the producers would like to qualify for the Maharashtra state film subsidy of Rs 30-40 lakh, which requires release in 10 state districts. But, it is also a cautionary tale on intellectual property rights, as the Kannada film Godhi Banna Sadharna Mykattu (Wheatish Complexion Average Build), about a son looking for his missing father, inspired by Astu, has, according to media reports, made Rs 10 crore. It is directed by Hemanth Rao and stars Rakshit Shetty and Anant Nag. Now, actor-filmmaker Prakash Raj has bought the remake rights of Godhi Banna Sadharna Mykattu in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. The spokesperson says they are unable to sue the Kannada film for infringement, as neither Bhave nor Dr Agashe wish to pursue it. So, the filmmakers are practising the film's philosophy: Astu, so be it.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com

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