A Newspaperman Swallows Truth's Bitter Pill
Sharply written, this newspaperman's dogged search for the truth makes for a good viewing. Especially if you wish there was something one could do to change the world. You hope the protagonist wins.
You do still get the stuck-in-the-70s cinema where 40 year olds are playing co-eds in the weirdest clothes, pretending to be 'with it'. But those movies are forgiven because there are movies like Nagrik, who tell us their stories that are very different from the run of the mill romances. Marathi cinema is bringing us gems like Nagrik, and I for one, am happy to see stories that are different.
Nagrik is the story of a frustrated newspaperman Shyam Jagdale, who has seen the worst and battles his demons to find a resolution.
Sachin Khedekar is the protagonist in the story, whose pen is fiery and his beliefs strong. He is a journalist who knows that truth cannot be 'convenient'. Shyam uncovers many an uncomfortable truth. Predictably he is asked to 'tone down' his reports because the truth hurts powerful men.
When you think about it, this is not a new plotline for a movie. In Ardh Satya an idealistic cop battles the corrupt system, In a movie Ace In The Hole (as old as 1951), Kirk Douglas plays a reporter who gets a chance at a big story is he tosses his ethics aside. There are many many examples where newspapermen die for their beliefs.
Here Sachin Khedekar does not get into anything physically dramatic at all. There is no scuffle with the goons sent by politicians to rough him up. No stones are thrown at his house. No baddies kidnap his daughter to prevent him from writing. There are no dramatic throwing papers at a reluctant editor. The drama is in the dialog.
Which makes for a tad cumbersome viewing. You need to step out and have a cup of chai when you're watching. And not because it is tedious. It's because you want to savor good lines written even for someone who does not speak Marathi in a Marathi film.
The ever reliable Rajesh Sharma plays Bhaiyyaji, who says, and I'm paraphrasing here, 'Marathi bolna zaroori nahi hai, samajh mein aani chaahiye' when Sachin Khedekar asks him why he does not speak the language in spite of living and working in Bombay for so long.
You suddenly realise how well developed the characters are when such dialog come at you. Milind Soman plays a politician who does not hesitate to use his voters to get his own way, 'All you need to do is promise the gullible middle class that you will scrap the toll collected on roads when elected'. He knows he can incite a riot and people will die in the riots happily. To watch Sriram Lagu play an old man wracked by guilt for having helped political upheavals with his machinations was such a pleasure to watch.
Also amazing is the directorial trick of using a shaheer (street singer/folk singer) who appears like the Greek Chorus and tells us of the situation and its many moral, political, social nuances. The actor Sambhaji Bhagat is a 'shaheer' in real life as well. Sambhaji Bhagat has written and performed the street theater/shaheer songs you heard in the recent award winning Court as well.
The truths that Sachin Khedekar uncovers are grisly and moved even my cynical heart. And I would like you to watch the movie so you can be shocked and amazed as well.
What i enjoyed most is how he stumbles upon the truths. Sometimes it is as simple as stepping out of a boring not-really-news conference to take a breather and discovering the connect between bad guys. And sometimes, it is as tough to swallow as uncovering the lives of migrant workers.
I wish though that the role of the newspaperman who carries the burden of truths had not been borne by the actor so heavily. Sachin Khedekar's reporter is rather unhappy. He drowns himself in alcohol (in vino veritas makes for his character), and he seems to be really miserable in his frustrations and his inability to change the scheme of things. I wish he were as fiery as his words. It would be less heavy cinema.
Blogging and speaking your mind via the internet seems like a great tool that makes its appearance in the movie and I was really happy to see it as a part of life in a middle class setting. Bollywood yet has to learn how to do it right.
The montage during the Vitthal song will shake you up and surprise you and shock you and move you. Makes the movie unmissable. The movie ends on a positive note, though, and you come away with a feeling of hope as the shaheer sings of a new morning.
Watch this movie and be inspired by it. You may not be able to change the way current politics work, but you might just wake up as a citizen.