Ananta Khot has died. He has willed that his body be donated for medical research rather than be cremated. Ananta (Dilip Prabhavalkar) did not believe in arcane rituals, nor does his scientist son Madhav (Adinath Kothare). But the rest of the Khots do. Thus begins Panchak, a comedy that uses kid gloves to land body blows on superstition.

The Marathi-language film, directed by Jayant Jathar and Rahul Awate, has been released in cinemas with English subtitles. The title refers to the belief that if somebody dies during an inauspicious period, five other family members will perish within a year – unless a set of rituals is followed. This practice benefits only the astrologer Joshi (Vidyadhar Joshi), but Panchak is too mild to make this crier of direness an obvious target of its critique.

There are enough Khots to fear for their lives. Madhav’s brother Aatma (Anand Ingale) and his readily terrified wife Kaveri (Nandita Patkar) are expecting a baby. Ananta’s elderly siblings Bal (Satish Alekar) and Uttara (Bharti Acherkar) are afflicted by the talk of the curse too. Madhav’s Gujarati sister-in-law Veena (Deepti Devi) contributes to the mayhem. It’s left to Madhav to drill some sense into his family.

The dialogue reflects the Marathi dialect prevalent in the Konkan, where the film is set. Amidst pretty houses and soothing greenery, the 37-minute movie stumbles through several humourous set-pieces and quite a few overstretched scenes. It means well but mishandles its premise.

Among the more imaginative aspects is the translocation of Western opera to the Marathi milieu. But the shrill tone – never useful when taking down deep-seated tradition – and the slapstick comedy undermine Panchak ever so often. Madhav’s ploy to rid his family of obscurantist thinking is half-hearted too.

Dilip Prabhavalkar mercifully lingers on even after his passing in the form of flashbacks. The rest of the cast perform efficiently, with Nandita Patkar noteworthy as the easily susceptible Kaveri.

Panchak (2024).