It comes as no surprise that Satish Rajwade’s Aapla Manus is based on a stage production. Unfolding largely in interior spaces that look suspiciously like sets and revolving around a handful of characters, Vivek Bele’s adaptation of his play Katkon Trikon rarely loses its stuffiness.
The Marathi drama is a morality tale in the guise of a crime thriller. Lawyer Rahul (Sumeet Raghavan) lives with his professor wife Bhakti (Iravati Harshe) and his father, Aaba. One night, Aaba’s body sails through the air and lands on the ground below, sending the elderly man into a coma.
Crime Branch inspector Maruti Nagargoje (Nana Patekar again) has his suspicions. Did Aaba accidentally fall, or was he pushed? Or did he try to kill himself? Through the premise of a whodunit that is seen from multiple perspectives, Aapla Manus explores the generation gap between Aaba and his son and daughter-in-law, focusing on the antagonism between Aaba and Bhakti.
Aaba is resentful of the fact that Bhakti works, and that his grandson has been sent away to boarding school. Bhakti detests Aaba’s old-fashioned condescension, and is hurt by his frequent barbs and attacks on her independence. Rahul, the best-etched character in the story, brings his lawyerly self into his home and refuses to take sides or stand up for what is right.
Nana Patekar, cast as a wry and cynical investigator who cannot easily be fooled, gets the movie’s best lines. The role is a cakewalk for the thespian, and he does not expend more than the minimum required effort. Sumeet Raghavan and Iravati Harshe work hard to make their characters count, but they are stymied by the script’s open bias towards Aaba.
Despite Aaba’s downright nastiness in some scenes, especially the one in which he accuses Bhakti of having stolen his son and grandson away from him, Aapla Manus remains firmly on the old man’s side. The lack of understanding and empathy between generations is barely explored, except in the sequence in which Bhakti correctly analyses Aaba’s passive-aggressive behaviour. When Aaba has an argument with his son, he performs exactly as per Bhakti’s script.
And yet, Bhakti comes off as shrewish and self-centred, while Rahul is guilty if only for his diffidence. Aaba’s behaviour is seen as villainous only for the purpose of dragging on the proceedings through 138 minutes, while Maruti’s own patronising tone towards Rahul and Bhakti make it clear where his sympathies lie.
The climax, which comes after tortuous red herrings and false endings, is less of a revelation than a lecture on family values. Maruti’s smugness at having cracked the crime is as dull to watch as is Rajwade’s disinterest in filming the story as anything but a televised play.