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Natsamrat (2016)

CRUMBLIES5 crumblies

Growing old is a tragedy. Just wander these corridors and you’ll see the agonies of decrepitude. From Shitsome Sid, careening his way out of this life on a sea of incontinence; to Mad Maud slowly sliding through eccentricity to failed synapses and silence. Each laughs, engages, cries in the night and knows. That’s the awful thing about these final years – we know. So be kind to us: take us in, reward us for what we gave you, love us, and understand the final flourishes of wits and passion left to us. However dark, weird or embarrassing they be, those flashes of character are the echoes we make as the lights dim and we dissipate into shadow.

So there.

Don’t be unsympathetic tossers. That’s a tragedy from outwith that we do not need. Got that? And, as a lesson to the young and shop of horrors to the old, watch Natsamrat (King of Theatre). It makes my point rather better. Oh – and in Marathi not Hindi, but with easily-followed English subtitles. Yep – old Jack just learnt new things.

This film is an elegant, beautiful, showy tragedy. About an old, much-lauded Shakespearian actor and his final days, it shows our degradation in a sharp, funny, angry manner and stands as a terrific metaphor for old age. As Appa, the actor in question, puts it at one point: life and the living discard us in the end, and we lie forgotten like dead pigs in the street. Which is where the film starts, Appa lost with others under a bridge, before diving off into flashbacks…

Nana Patekar gives an actor’s actor performance as Ganpat Ramchandra Belwalkar (Appa!), striding  from comic to lost. He mesmerises. Appa is a retired actor who gives up his wealth to his children and moves in with son Makrand (Ajit Parab doing side-partingly earnest) and daughter-in-law Neha (Neha Pendse doing decreasingly tolerant). Appa and wife Kaveri (Medha Manjrekar set to break your heart from the start) are the source of increasing tensions. Well, Appa is: he gets on tremendously well with his small grand-daughter (Really, there are montages), and coaches her through a traditional dance at a school show that embarrasses and angers Neha for reasons I didn’t quite follow. Appa is also a bit of a showy dick with Makrand and Nehu’s friends and teaches his grand-daughter to swear at school. Oh yes. There is a row. And out go Appa and Kaveri from their old homestead…

…to Makrand’s sister Vidya’s place. This starts out in a rather lovelier manner, Vidya (Mrunmayee Deshpande giving it innocent and adoring) and husband Rahul (Sunil Barve seeming even more straight-laced than Parab), welcoming the old folk in a show of love and superiority over Vidya’s household. Tick tock…

Throughout all this, Kaveri (“Your highness”) is calm, quiet and almost unreasonably supportive of her husband as the world and their children favour their young lives over the oldsters.

The story is interspersed with parallel cruelties to the oldsters’ friends, guilt at the old actor’s  dalliances, and Appa’s friendship with Rambhau: another old man, an unsuccessful but better actor and a banterous buddy. The crack of doom comes for Ram first, his wife dying and his descent rumbling along as things get worse and worse for Appa and Kaveri. For there’s a whiff of exhaustion at Vidya’s place, expulsion to a rather lovely ‘outhouse’, then an accusation over money that shunts the old into resented caricature…

The film regularly jumps back to the present day where white-beardy and vagabondish Appa finds his old, burnt-out theatre, and wanders the stage doling out interestingly translated Shakespeare, grandiose speeches of his own, memories and insights that all boil down to: getting old is wretched. Everything hurts, no-one cares, and each day is another torrent of loss. Tragedies can be a bit heavy, yeah?

You can see where this is going, and Natsamrat doesn’t let up. It is an ambling thing as movies go, is so beautifully shot there’s a gloss to the impoverishment that drowns the central couple, delivers no surprises but lands its brutal points one and all. There’s more than a nod to Shakespeare in its form: just about three hours long, its lead a hero, a fool and a victim, its points of tragedy unremitting to its heavyweight end.

Patekar claims every scene, but he is well supported, not least by Vikram Gokhale as the doomed Ram, a cast of oddly square, powerless men and guilty, powerful women. If you’re feeling a bit down about the wrinkles and decrepitude, avoid this like the plague; or boil up a cup of cyanide and watch it alongside Make Way for Tomorrow (1937).

But if you’re feeling robust, it is a story of us. There is much in it – save perhaps the theatrical poncin’ about – that reveals the angers of old age, our irrelevance and how the world reacts to it. Old Jack here can’t say he loved it exactly, but it did tempt me to swan through the breakfast room, eulogizing myself like a nutter and punching the young.

Get thee, with care, to Netflix.

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