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Upperstall Review


Sant Tukaram


Marathi, Devotional, 1936, B/W

The story of Tukaram (Pagnis) a poet-saint of the village of Dehu in the seventeenth century who holds villagers spellbound with his songs of devotion - although his wife Jijai (Gauri) scolds him for impracticality and tells him he should be a better provider for their children. Tukaram is also beset by Salomalo, a jealous priest who passes off Tukaram's songs as his and launches a variety of plots against Tukaram. Divine Intervention rescues him and the villagers from several crises brought about by Salomalo. In due time great leaders come from afar to sit at Tukaram's feet; he resists offers for wealth himself and his family. When the day of Nirvana comes for Tukaram, a heavenly vehicle arrives to take him. He invites his wife to go with him but she decides she is happy with her modest home, her children and her buffalo and elects to stay on earth.

Sant Tukaram made in the Marathi language is one of the highest achievements of the early sound period of Indian Cinema. The film has charm and directness that sets it apart from other devotional films.

Though the film shows miracles they merge with the reality due to the strong conviction of the filmmakers. Tukaram's conflict with his wife Jijai has an earthy believability and humour. He is no cardboard saint and she no mechanical shrew. In fact, their characters are insightful and command our empathy. When her ailing son cries in pain, Tukaram can only offer the name of Vithoba (his deity) to console the infuriated Jijai. She drags the child to the temple to settle scores with the deity. Her action is no mere dramatic flourish and comes across as genuinely felt emotion. Jijai with her common sense and practicality convinces Tukaram to leave his meditation and get down to hard labour to save the family from starvation. To her a husband must provide for the family yet her devotion to Tukaram is in no way less than those who regard him a saint. Her devotion is that of a wife, not a devotee.

The acting in the film shows a remarkable blending of the dramatic, the lyrical and the casual neo-realistic gesture. Pagnis a minstrel before he came to film so identifies with the persona of Tukaram that viewers came to regard him a saint. Gauri plays Jijai with such consummate skill that it is hard to believe she had joint Prabhat Film Company as a menial. Hers is a fabulous performance and it is she who is the life of the film. The film breaks new ground with her earthy portrayal who energetically squeezes cow dung cakes for fuel and refuses to ascend to heaven preferring to stay back and look after the children.

Other innovations include the extraordinary track shot introducing Rameshwar Shastri to the town showing the people work in cadence to a song. Care has also been taken to give the different characters a different language for eg the language in the sequences of the villain is dramatic whereas the speech of his wife exhibits utter simplicity and robust strength.

Sant Tukaram smashed box office records particularly in Maharashtra and went on to become the first Indian Film to win an award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 1937.

Upperstall review by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan

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