Cast: Tabu, Sachin, Mohnish Bahl, Smita Jaykar
Director: Mahesh Manjrekar
Music Director: Sukhwinder Singh
Nutshell: A thought provoking and dynamic film. Strong direction and performances all around.
Mahesh Manjrekar burst onto the scene with Vaastav last year dealing with the slow descent of a youth into the murky underworld of Mumbai. Astitva is similar to Vaastav only in the sense that it handles its subject with the same realism and power that was evident in Vaastav.
The time is 1997. An old man (Mohnish Bahl) is walking the roads towards an office where he signs a document. The next scene is two years later. Shri (Sachin) and Aditi (Tabu) appear to be a normal happily married couple in their 40s. They have a grown up son. Shri is your typical although understated Male Chauvinist. He is the bread winner, he is the man in control of their lives. He is almost your typical man from every day life. If the mail comes for Aditi, he will instinctively open it, as if it were his right and she does not object. On one such occasion, a letter is delivered to their house addressed to Aditi but is opened by Shri infront of his shocked friend and his newly wedded wife (Smita Jaykar). The letter is a document which reveals that someone has left all their wealth to Aditi. The matter is laughed off in the drunken revelry that the men are enjoying after a long reunion. However, Shri is rankled by the fact that all this wealth has been left to Aditi and sits about trying to investigate why this may be so. This wealth has been left to Aditi by her music teacher who taught her music over 25 years ago (Mohnish Bahl). Shri goes to his diaries and begins to puts the pieces together of their lives together.
Here we see a man who is ambitious and keen to make something of his life. However, he will not accept that his wife should go out and make something of her life or get a job. It is for her to stay at home and wait for him to come back. She has no one else. She takes up music lessons which is acceptable but only in as much as something with which she can pass time. She could never take her talent further. Shri makes that clear to her.
He travels extensively and she is increasingly neglected. She sits at home and her only respite seems to be her music lessons. On one of Shri long trips abroad, Aditi gives in to her feelings of loneliness and in her desire for comfort, sleeps with the music teacher. She is very clear that this was not an act of love for she loves her husband, but a moment of weakness in which she gives in to her own desires. As fate would have it, she falls pregnant but in unable to tell Shri about who the father is because of his obvious joy at becoming a father. 25 years later, it dawns on Shri that he may not be the father of this child and he confronts Aditi about their son. Faced with this, she chooses to confess the truth rather than lie about his parentage. But the damage has been done as far as Shri is concerned. 25 years of love, of support and caring and nuturing the home, of togetherness, is lost in a moment. Aditi’s one indiscretion 25 years ago is enough to destroy the fabric of their lives together and Shri sets about humiliating his wife thereby appeasing his own male ego and his own sense of honour and hurt.
This is a thought provoking and dynamic film all the more relevant as it is a film about a relationship, made by a man but from a fair and very unbiased point of view. For this alone, hats off to Mahesh Manjekar for tackling an issue which required sensitivity and a balanced approach which he manages with superb control. The film is structured perfectly and unfolds step by step keeping the audience interested and always involved. These are very real life characters. You can identify with the character of Shri…he personifies male insecurity and chauvinism… you see aspects of him in every man. Although, it is wrong to generalise, Aditi epitomises the role that is expected of women in our society. In essence, it the role of a mother, a wife, or a home maker. Beyond this threshold, she does not exist. It is wrong for her to want, to desire something for herself. In this marriage, there is no oneness. What is good for the goose is certainly not good for the gander. This is not necessarily the case today but certainly, there are many in our society who would advocate this point of view.
The acting as a whole is superb. Tabu is extraordinarily good and you find that you are riveted by her performance. Tabu has no parallel today, she has really walked far and away from all other actresses with her immense body of quality work. Sachin also brings the character of Shri alive and is excellent in what is ultimately, an unsympathetic but realistic depiction of the average man.Mohnish Bahl has less scope but is sensitive in the role of the music teacher. It is good to see him getting better roles than the usual mundane villainous variety that comes his way.
The film boasts a different and impressive musical score which never interferes with the narrative. Mahesh Manjrekar is at all times in control of his film and he pitches it just right. No hysteria, no melodramatics, simply unfolding the plot, carefully and sensitively, peeling away, layer by layer, the double standards that prevail in society today. Its not a perfect film. You may ask why it took Shri 25 years to deduce that he could not be the father of his son. But does that really matter? It is the dilemma that the characters face that matters, not how it came about. Its not a man’s film at all and I do not expect that it will do very well. But it is an important film and one that should be seen.