The Marathi film Godavari represents a stylistic shift for both director Nikhil Majahan and lead actor Jitendra Joshi. While Mahajan is known for genre fare (Baji, Pune-52, the web series Betaal), Joshi has often played a tough gangster or a police officer in both Hindi and Marathi productions.

Joshi’s ability to tap into volcanic rage and a generalised misanthropic sentiment holds him in good stead in Godavari. Released in cinemas with English subtitles after premiering on the film festival circuit in 2021, Godavari is about the river that runs through Nashik as well as the souls of the city’s residents.

Written by Nikhil Mahajan and Prajakt Deshmukh, Godavari seeks a middle ground between the experiences of a middle-class family living in the heart of Nashik and esoteric beliefs about faith, redemption and closure. Nishikant (Joshi) is a rent collector, his hair-trigger temper and cigarettes accompanying him as he pays unwelcome visits to his tenants.

Kaasav (Priyadarshan Jadhav) is his only friend, Nishikant having ceased communication with his father Nilkanth (Sanjay Mone) and grown apart from his wife Gautami (Gauri Nalawade). Nishikant’s mother Bhagirathi (Neena Kulkarni) and daughter Sarita (Saniya Bhandare) are his only reliable links with his family.

Death and decay surround Nishikant – his ancestral home is on the banks of the Godavari, where the ashes of the departed are ritually immersed, while his grandfather Naroshankar (Vikram Gokhale) is lost in a fog of dementia. A proposed redevelopment project gives wing to Nishikant’s long-standing dream of fleeing a place he sees as hidebound in meaningless traditions.

The richly flavourful locations, evocatively lensed by Shamin Kulkarni, are as much a character in the film as its complicated humans. In the creaky houses and narrow lanes of this corner of Nashik, Nishikant starts moving towards the salvation that literally lies at his doorstep. He’s accompanied by dream-like sequences, including a life-altering conversation with a mysterious pilgrim (Teddy Maurya).

The solidly performed and smoothly flowing 118-minute drama over-tips its hand in its copious use of a sweeping background score. Nishikant’s contempt towards everybody, but mostly himself, always feels more real than his behaviour in the film’s later portions. Nishikant’s outcome is pre-ordained, making his transformation as predictable as the flow of the river.

Godavari (2022).