Nipun Dharmadhikari's Me Vasantrao is, first and foremost, an ear-cleansing experience. It sounds so beautiful that it hits you with the realization that most movies and shows nowadays have an ugly, noisy soundscape. I often get headaches if I watch some new Netflix series on a decent volume for more than one or two hours. Me Vasantrao has a runtime of almost three hours, and the more the movie progressed, the more I wanted to increase the volume of my headphones because I wanted my ears to capture every single beat and syllable. Cinema is an audiovisual medium, and Dharmadhikari pays attention to both elements. He is not just crafting eye-pleasing images. He is also producing soothing tones. This is a sumptuous feast for both your eyes and ears.
Many biopic films follow a standard approach. The protagonist has some talent. He struggles to achieve fame. When he receives acclaim, we get highlight reels followed by a major obstacle (arrogance/terrible coach/awful competitor). Finally, the protagonist reclaims his position through a crowd-pleasing scene, and the movie ends with many happy faces. This is a broad explanation, but then many filmmakers (especially the mainstream ones) usually follow this basic template without filling their frames with wit or imagination. They treat their subjects with such reverence that they forget to concentrate on filmmaking elements. In a sense, Dharmadhikari, too, treads on these biopic clichés. However, what makes Me Vasantrao different is Dharmadhikari's creative muscles. He shows all the hacks how to imbue a cliché with a solid vision.
Consider the scene where Vasantrao (Rahul Deshpande) watches Deenanath's (Amey Wagh) performance for the first time. The movie displays Vasantrao's hypnotized state by putting a spotlight on him and removing other audience members. Only he and Deenanath remain in the frame. Others merely enjoy the performance. Vasantrao absorbs every moment. The spotlight is there not to just tell us that Vasantrao is engaging with the music on a different level. It also looks like a beam, transferring energy from the performer to the spectator. Take another scene that occurs in the streets of Lahore. We first see Vasantrao humming a tune (the surrounding walls appear as a bubble because, you know, he is lost in his own musical world). As soon as he comes out in the open, a Molotov cocktail flies in front of him, and the camera suddenly starts to tremble. What follows is complete chaos.
In the hands of Dharmadhikari, these images don't simply sit on the screen. They emotionally affect us. Not a single moment in Me Vasantrao is inert. When P. L. Deshpande (Pushkaraj Chirputkar) and Vasantrao jam with one another, you sense the former's words jostling for attention as soon as the latter opens his mouth. And we notice curtains flowing in the background when Vasantrao sings at Begum Akhtar's (Durga Jasraj) house. In any other film, we would have ignored those curtains. But here, we feel as if they are dancing to Vasantrao's music. All the songs in this film are excellent. You listen to them and think about the strident garbage the mainstream movies and music companies pass off as "soulful melody" or "rock anthem." No wonder they heavily rely on YouTube views for marketing and self-congratulation.
Dharmadhikari has not just packed his movie with wonderful songs. He has also injected music into the dialogues. This is how Vasantrao talks about the moment he first applauded a performance: "Listening to my mother sing, I must've been very eager to be born." Since the movie is about artists, you get that usual, passionate speech about art and its ethereal appeal. But the director elevates what could have been banal, repeated words. When Deenanath describes notes as divine entities, we notice bright yellow light around his head. It looks like a halo, and he resembles a holy guru. An Ustaad (Kumud Mishra) connects singing to twilight, and it makes for a beautiful explanation. Even Vasantrao's training session with Ustaad sparkles because of sublime editing. Moreover, the movie understands that art alone cannot feed your stomach. Money is equally prioritized in the narrative. Vasantrao almost collapses when he finds out he has been paid Rs. 350 for his performance. If talent gives you a fan following, the money pays your bills.
Vasantrao, we are told, had a magical voice from the beginning. He not only mesmerizes a teacher but also calms the madness of a woman. He closes his eyes on the dusty streets of Lahore and finds the right notes outside a mosque. When he is transferred to a gorgeous location, the (mostly) quiet atmosphere suppresses his voice and talent. Vasantrao challenged the norms of classical music. He confidentially broke the rules and irked some of his audience members. A few of them surround him after a performance and curse that he won't ever get acclaim from the public for his music. On the other hand, children accept his unconventional style. Even an old lady bows down in front of him. The message is clear: You have to be flexible, innocent, and open-minded, or else you will end up suffocating art.
Dharmadhikari, too, rebels against the story's conventional template by tweaking certain moments. When Vasantrao meets his wife and mother after what seems like ages, we don't get the typical teary scene where the family members hug each other. Instead, we see him eating homemade food, and at the same time, the music slowly builds in the background. As soon as Vasantrao takes the first bite, the tunes rise and become more patent. It feels as if the character is reestablishing his bond with the notes. I also liked how a cup of tea doubled up as a sign of acceptance. And you can't help but applaud Dharmadhikari because of the way he returns to the current timeline.
The director, though, is unable to entirely free himself from the conventional shackles. A bit of hand-holding is involved in the narrative to remind the audience about an earlier line of dialogue or event to help them understand the ongoing moment. If you pay attention, you will grasp every moment's meaning and intention. For instance, after Vasantrao's final performance, the people sit silently in their seats, and you understand they have been stunned. You also recall one of Deenanath's lines from an earlier scene, but the movie feels the need to show us this moment. You find it insulting and unnecessary, though you also see why this was done. I often come across people, both online and offline, who tell me they struggle to watch a movie if it runs for more than one and a half or two hours. They just don't have the patience. They either avoid such films or watch them while taking breaks in between. I guess the hand-holding bits are for people with a short attention span who prefer a two-minute reel over a ten-minute video. Can such individuals appreciate a film like Me Vasantrao? Or, more importantly, will they even watch a movie like Me Vasantrao?
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