Kranti Kanade’s CRD is a contraction of the name of its self-seeking protagonist. Chetan Ranjit Deshmukh (Saurabh Saraswat) wants to be a writer of plays, but finds himself as an actor in a theatre workshop run by a megalomaniacal tyrant ahead of a crucial inter-collegiate competition. Mayank (Vinay Sharma) believes that knowledge of theatre must be drilled into the heads of the young and then pulled out of them. Mayank’s awestruck wards submit to his theatre boot-camp tactics, and even when he goes further than is legally permitted – he squeezes the breasts of ardent learner Persis (Mrinmayee Godbole) and humiliates Chetan by referring to his mother – the master is always right. It’s like Whiplash many times over.

Winning is everything in Mayank’s world, but Chetan has smaller fires to put out. In a movie influenced by improvisational theatre as well as the French New Wave’s boundary-blurring methods, Chetan needs to write his own play and lose his virginity (whichever comes first). He finds his dream woman in the form of the very serious Persis, whose loyalty to theatre compels her to suffer Mayank’s indignities. In her final moment of liberation, Persis flings her sanitary napkin at her tormentor – one of many strikingly grown-up images that have mercifully survived the censor board.

CRD (2017).

Kanade’s drama, set in Pune, works hard to move away from its theatre setting. Using long, improvisational takes, dramatic close-ups, and a freewheeling narrative style that blends Chetan’s never-ending epiphanies with the play rehearsal scenes, Kanade creates a beguiling and watchable, if overstretched, drama that works at many levels. Chetan’s journey towards self-awareness fits the classic coming-of-age template, while Mayank’s shenanigans point to a larger allegory about a society that prefers strong, masculine figures who tell it what to do and how to react.

Chetan, of course, is hardly a warrior bringing down an empire. His awakening is guided by comic self-doubt, misadventures, particularly with regard to Persis, and a great hurry to be someone, even if he doesn’t know who that is yet.

In a quotation-heavy film packed with humourous dialogue and numerous references to political ideologies and luminaries in the arts, Chetan’s most honest moment is when he confesses that while he wants to make socially aware theatre, Vidarbha and Mumbai are too far away from Pune. Isn’t there a social issue to explore in Pune – and is it within budget?

The raw power of the improvisational scenes flows from the three outstanding central performances, which are backed by equally good supporting ones. Vinay Sharma’s astounding tyranny is countered by Saurabh Saraswat’s remarkably judged and pitch perfect performance. Mrinmayee Godbole, who was also in the Marathi movies Rajwade and Sons (2015) and Chi Va Chi Sau Ka (2017) is equally lovely as Chetan’s muse.

The screenplay, written by Kanade and Dharmakirti Sumant, can also be taken simply as a depiction of theatre’s ability to both imprison and liberate. There is respect and humour in the way the performers go to extreme lengths to come closer to the truth. The movie upholds the idea of art for art’s sake without losing a chance to poke gentle fun at the hermeneutically sealed world of the stage. In fact, the writers are having so much fun that they forget that some scenes are repetitive and going nowhere, or that others are looping off in strange directions. Yet, CRD remains audacious throughout, carried along by the top-notch acting and the plethora of surprises that the writers keep throwing at their characters and the viewers.