Bhonsle Movie Review: The opening frames of Bhonsle, directed by Devashish Makhija, intersperses our titular protagonist's retiring from his life as a police constable with that of Ganesh idols being decorated in the city of Mumbai. The closing frames once again merge glimpses of his fate with that of the broken parts of the idols washed ashore after the visarjan. Throughout the film, the pompous, colourful 10-day celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi is interestingly merged with the grey, lonely life of the ageing Ganpath Bhonsle (Manoj Bajpayee). Manoj Bajpayee’s ‘Bhonsle' Bags ’Best Screenplay’ and ‘Best Director’ Award at 2019 Asian Film Festival Barcelona.
Are these scenes metaphors of how we look at the aged members in our family? Are they about how we lose connect with the people around us, while raucously celebrating a festival of a deity? You can make your own conclusions while watching Bhonsle that received critical acclaim during its festival circuit in 2018 and now find its way to an OTT release on SonyLIV.
The focus of the film is on Bhonsle, an ex-havildar, who was reluctantly made to retire from the force. He lives in a tiny room in a chawl in Mumbai, interestingly called Churchill Chawl. We don't know anything about his past or his family, except that he is seen with some respect by his neighbours, who, though, make snide remarks on him behind his back.
Bhonsle is an unlikely hero, who is bogged down by his lonely existence and a disease that could cut it short. He is a regular face in the usual crowd - there is literally a scene where he becomes one among many in a large crowd on their way to the visarjan. Bhonsle is a mere spectator when a hot-headed youngster Vilas (Marathi actor Santosh Juvekar), high on Marathi pride, is trying to instigate his statesmen to isolate the 'outsiders', the Bhaiyyas, in the chawl. Bhonsle Trailer: Another Impressive Manoj Bajpayee Performance in A Hard-Hitting Film on the Way!
Watch The Trailer of Bhonsle here:
He is also cold to his new neighbour, a nurse, Sita (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) - the religious names become their own metaphors linked to the characters' fates - and her younger brother Lalu (Virat Vaibhav). Bhonsle's rigid stance, however, changes when the insider-outsider politics begin to suck in his new neighbours, and he becomes their unlikely guardian.
When I saw the trailer of Bhonsle, I found it to be powerful. The guts that Makhija shows in addressing the locals vas migrants controversy, deserves to be praised. Bhonsle is strong when it gets into depicting these situations, especially when Vilas is brought into picture.
Vilas is a very interesting antagonist - a wannabe who isn't given much importance by the party whose regionalistic fervour he carries mighty and high. He is a bully who gets around beating his opponents and kids, but trembles before Bhonsle, whose Marathi-ness, along with his past job, earns him that respect. But even barking dogs can turn rabid, and when Vilas, terrifically portrayed by Juvekar, does so, it is difficult to watch the proceedings.
The trouble is Bhonsle takes a long time to get to that point. The first hour or so drags in pace, so much that it is annoying. Okay, I get the idea. You want the audience to have the taste of your protagonist's loneliness. But for a two hour movie, this slow pace comes off as an indulgence, what with a random dream sequence of Bhonsle finding himself aged living in the same room added in.
Even the issue of the ethnicity crisis sprouts out sporadically in the narrative. For example, Abhishek Banerjee's Rajendra, who anoints himself as the leader of Bihari residents and Vilas' opponent, disappears after a couple of scenes, even though it was made to feel like he was a crucial character. The slow pace also affects the scenes between Bhonsle and Sita and Lalu, that infuses some warmth in both the hero's barren existence and in the film.
My biggest grouse with Bhonsle isn't the unassuming pace. In 2018, I was impressed with another Manoj Bajpayee's offbeat venture, Gali Guleiyan, a psychological drama that shared the same slow-burn pacing.
What brings Bhonsle down is the lack of originality in its premise. The movie bears an eerily close resemblance to Gran Torino, a 2008 drama that was directed by Clint Eastwood who also played the main lead. If the hero of that Hollywood movie was a war veteran, in Bhonsle, he is a retired cop. If the reason for conflict in Gran Torino was a vandalised car, here it is a vandalised wall. Both Eastwood and Bajpayee's characters are loners, who suffer from a life-threatening disease, and are seen slowly warming to their new neighbours. One of the characters in Bhonsle meets the same horrifying fate as Eastwood's neighbour girl in the Hollywood flick. Even the climaxes of both the films are similar.
While originality is not Bhonsle's strength, at least, the director does a good job of immersing the Hollywood film's populist premise within its intricate setting. The grimy locales of the protagonist's chawl are shorn of its remaining colour by Jigmet Wangchuk's taut frames. The crowd scenes that bring out the flavour of the city are well-shot. The fight in the climax that happens within a confined space in a public bathroom is deftly picturised, unflinching about its depiction of grimness.
Then there is Manoj Bajpayee, the biggest reason why Bhonsle is worth a watch. It is incredible to see how the actor churns out another stupendous show even though his character barely has any dialogues. This is, indubitably, one of his finest acting efforts, a performance that hardly makes you feel that this is an actor from Bihar playing a Maharashtrian geriatric.
- Manoj Bajpayee
- The Frames
- The Character of Both Bhonsle and Vilas
- Unoriginal Premise
- Slow Pacing
- Intermittent Focus on The Core Theme
If you are a fan of Manoj Bajpayee's histrionics, Bhonsle is yet another example of the actor's brilliance. Bhonsle can also be savoured by the admirers of realistic, offbeat cinema, if you can disregard its lack of originality and slow pacing.
(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Jun 26, 2020 12:22 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).