The second and concluding chapter of Mahesh Manjrekar’s biopic of Marathi humourist, playwright and musician PL Deshpande does a better job of fleshing out its subject than the first film. Like its predecessor, the Marathi-language Bhaai – Vyakti Kee Valli Uttarrardh features a series of cherrypicked incidents from the lives of Deshpande (Sagar Deshmukh) and his wife Sunita (Irawati Harshe). Ganesh Matkari’s screenplay, with dialogue by Ratnakar Matkari, still does not give a full measure of the man, and the absence of a psychological narrative is sorely felt. We continue to watch moments staged like scenes from a stage production, and when the camera tracks without warning in one scene, it actually jolts the eye.
The acting too remains mostly ordinary, and the shoddy make-up is as jarring as ever. The actor who depicts playwright Vijay Tendulkar, who advises Deshpande to infuse greater realism into his writings, has a visibly tacked-on beard. Ashwini Giri, who plays Deshpande’s mother, does not age a day.
Fortunately for the filmmakers and viewers, Deshpande led a full life, and his extended community comprised luminaries from the worlds of literature, theatre and music. Among the highlights in the second film, like in the first, is an extended musical performance featuring Bhimsen Joshi (Ajay Purkar), Kumar Gandharva (Swanand Kirkire) and Vasantrao Deshpande (Padmanabh Bind). The movie stops to accommodate this informal jamming between some of the greatest names in Hindustani classical music, and it is hard to complain.
The framing device for both films is Deshpande’s final hours in hospital. We are back in the intensive care unit ward where Deshpande lies on a bed, cracking the occasional smile through his comatose state. Eminent visitors continue to troop in, including Vijaya Mehta, Bhakti Barve and Bal Thackeray, and their presence occasions the flashbacks that drive the story.
Some of these retreads provide insights into Deshpande’s unwavering commitment to his value system. Deshpande accepts an award from the government run by Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena party, but uses the occasion to criticise the leader’s autocratic ways. Thackeray (Sarang Sathe) characteristically responds with churlishness rather than good grace.
Deshpande’s commitment to the freedom of expression also comes through in the moment when he gently rebukes a member of the Janata Party government that has overthrown the Indira Gandhi-led Congress party in the wake of the Emergency in 1975. Refusing a minister’s post as a reward for his anti-Emergency speeches, Deshpande reminds his visitor that if the new government misbehaves in a similar fashion, he will not hesitate to hit back.
The greatest-hits approach, which clocks 114 minutes, overeggs the idea of Deshpande as Renaissance Man. Jawaharlal Nehru (Dalip Tahil) likes Deshpande’s idea of calling the newly launched national television channel “Prakashvani” rather than “Doordarshan”, but the idea is pitched too late. During a visit to the leprosy centre run by Baba Amte, Deshpande stages a performance of the song Naach Re Mora, which he wrote and which is now a popular children’s rhyme.
There is tenderness in the scenes between Desphande and his wife, and unmistakable love and respect for a creative soul who lives by his own rules. Manjrekar’s films work adequately as an introduction to the celebrated writer, but also leave the door wide open for a fresh biopic with greater depth and a deeper focus on what made Deshpande tick. His contributions to the Marathi cultural scene are so outsized that it becomes clear that even two films are unable to contain his brilliance.