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Upperstall Review

Synopsis


Rita

 

Marathi, Drama, 2009, Color





Rita (Pallavi Joshi) is a woman who is forced to give up on her dreams at the tender age of 17, and make a drastic compromise for the future of her family. She is forced to quit her education and give up on her personal dreams. Without pause she takes stock of her reality, and thrusts herself into the life of a more mature woman. Unable to find any support from her parents, she relies on the kindness of her boss, Vitthal Salvi (Jackie Shroff), who mentors her and even supports her further education. Rita finds herself depending on Salvi more and more and in time, falls in love with him. But this relationship proves turbulent and she undergoes a violent nervous breakdown and is admitted into a psychiatric ward to recuperate. While there, she decides to pour her heart out to her long lost best friend Saraswati (Renuka Shahane) through a letter she had meant to write for years. Saraswati and Rita had shared a beautiful friendship as children but lost touch due to their divergent paths in life. Saraswati, who herself has been buried in an unrewarding marriage, finds a new purpose in reconnecting with her old friend and helping her deal with her crisis. They reunite after all these years, and in so doing, realise once again the positive outlook they once shared in their younger days.



Watching Rita, actress Renuka Shahane’s directorial debut and based on her mother’s novel Rita Welingkar, your first thought is that its subject matter, which must have been interesting, even revolutionary when it was written, is no longer so. Further, much of alternative Indian cinema of the 1970s and 1980s dealt with subjects such as this and while one is not denying its relevance even today and the sincere effort with which the film is made, Rita fails to give any fresh insight on the subject.

The film suffers from an uneven screenplay. Though Renuka says she has taken liberties with the novel since cinema is a different medium and a largely visual one at that, you do feel that a lot of the elements in the film still work better in a book form - its structure, the flashbacks into childhood, text describing the mental state of its character. Here having to resort to voiceover just doesn’t work well enough especially as the voice over tells you nothing new or something you didn’t know.

That said, the film does have  its share of heart-warming moments. The scenes of Saraswati and Rita sitting in front of the mirror in Rita’s flat, the final scene on the beach to name some but the film needed far more such scenes. The relationship of Rita and Salvi is handled well and developed credibly. And no doubt the central characters are all well-fleshed out particularly Salvi and Rita.

However, the film fails in its cinematic treatment showing a surprising lack of subtlety. Everything is spelt out and underlined in triplicate. For instance when Rita is helping Salvi with the wedding invitations of his son’s upcoming marriage, Salvi’s wife calls and one sees the hurt on Rita’s face and we know this is killing her but we must be told this by her voice over as well. Or when Sangeeta and Rita have one of their moments of togetherness, did there have to be a cut to a flashback scene where Rita plays the mother to infant Sangeeta? We’ve understood their relationship. These are just two of many such instances in the film.

The other main problem with the film is its resolution. Considering Rita confides in Saraswati in spite of not meeting her for 22 years and considers her the most important person in her life then, Saraswati is never treated as the catalyst one expected in helping Rita regain her life. Especially since the film is structured as flashbacks within Saraswati reading Rita’s letter. In fact, the film ends rather abruptly once Saraswati finishes reading Rita’s letter. She meets Salvi, meets Rita at the asylum as she is being discharged, there is one scene with each of Rita’s problem areas – the parents, Salvi and viola - all’s well that ends well. How one wished for more time with the two women as they meet after 22 years and go through their lives with each other.

The performances are sincere. Jackie Shroff actually makes a credible Salvi and this is definitely one of his better performances. Pallavi Joshi has her moments but is far too told playing the college dropout in the early part of her role. Still, scenes like her breakdown, the one with her telling the nurse she must get married, her confrontation scene with Salvi when he refers to their relationship as a fling and her final meeting with Salvi are well-done by her. Mohan Agashe and Suhasini Mule walk the thin line between credibility and caricature like and don’t succeed always. Special mention has to made of Sai Tamhankar playing Sangeeta. Renuka, herself, acquits herself quite well as Saraswati, stuck in a loveless marriage. Although since I was watching the film with an Iyengar friend, she did let slip that if at all an Iyengar woman wore a nose ring, it would always be on the right side, never on the left.

On the technical side, Sachin Krishn’s efficient camerawork with some find indoor-outdoor matching deserves a mention. The editing by Jabeen Merchant by and large paces the film smoothly enough though the childhood flashback and dream sequences (first time director syndrome?) look most awkwardly inserted. The music, in particular, the background score is a big no-no and brings down the film a notch or two. Its overuse ruins many a good moment in the film like the meeting between the two women after 22 years. You needed to be with them to savour the moment and both Renuka and Pallavi create a genuine moment in their performances only for the music to ruin it; similarly too with Rita’s breakdown as well.

All in all, Rita had potential and has its moments but...


Upperstall review by: Karan Bali aka TheThirdMan


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