How does a sensible man cope with the materialistic nature of the people around him? How can he adjust with the discrimination, with the violence, with all the human delinquencies happening around? Will he close the eyes of the mind and ignore everything? Or will he make himself distant from all the worldly affairs by committing a murder of his social-self? How can one protect the person from this social, shadowed by physical death? These are the questions that are presented by the filmmaker duo, Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar, the social scientist lady and the graduate of FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), both a combination of social responsibility and artistic brilliance; both responsible for the truthful beauty created on screen with their current film Kaasav (aka Turtle). As with many films portraying social issues, problems and events, the focus of the filmmakers shift from the art to the social message degrading the film to nothing more than the statement; sometimes it is important when the statement is mammoth, but not always. This is not the case with Kaasav; it is a film with a social stance mixed with a metaphor of turtles with humans along with a strong artistic perspective.
Janaki (Iravati Harshe) an independent woman who works on conservation project on turtles and the eggs they lay on the coast. Originally a resident of Mumbai, she visits the coastal town for a few weeks to assist timeworn chief (Mohan Agashe) in the conservation project. On the way there, she witnesses a crowd gathered around a boy (Alok Rajwade), who is burning with fever. She takes the boy in her car to the bungalow, which would be her home for the next few weeks. Before she meets the boy, he is shown walking aimlessly with an air of hopelessness around him. He slits his wrists with a blade in the middle of a street footbridge and is admitted in a hospital. Just after reviving his physical strength he sets out in the road again and due to underfeeding and weakness is knocked unconscious by the road before being rescued by Janaki. As he revives some strength he tries to leave the house, but he is unsuccessful owing to Janaki’s attitude, which created a small spot inside his shell and his lack of physicality. Neither does he talk, nor does he eat; Janaki’s numerous attempts to do so end with him thrashing the plate along with the food. Her mother-like affection cannot move him; he does not communicate in any form. Janaki in a desperate attempt to know him reads his diary; his name is Manav, indeed true, a representative of human soul.
Like her work of conserving the turtles, she tries to protect Manav by covering him in a shell of utopian contentment in the realms of the bungalow and vast stretch of the beach and the endless sea. Manav, after losing his grandparents, with whom he shared an amicable relationship, couldn’t adjust to the cruel world of his father, step-mother, friends and girlfriend. Dejected, he left home to the roads, withdrawing himself in a shell like a turtle does when it is disturbed; for Manav the disturbance is more of a psychological nature. Mother turtles come to the shore to lay the eggs but after laying them she covers it with sand and leaves for the sea as it cannot stay away from the water for so long. Janaki too took care of Manav till he opened up about his life; they shared many things together laughs, songs and events. Manav was returning to his natural social self, breaking the invisible shell he created before. He helped the driver of Janaki who injured himself, to the hospital; he took Janaki to the site, made friendship with a preteen tea-seller boy and his so called grandfather. His interactions became free, much to the relief of Janaki. But when he learns that she has contacted his family and his step-mother came, he again showed symptoms of retracting from the society. But somehow he manages to stay in the right side of the line and helps the boy fetch medicine from a nearby place for the grandpa; they missed the only bus home and return the next morning to find the house empty.
Janaki has left the place to go abroad for some legal procedures with her husband there; she left the keys of the house for Manav, hoping he would return. Like the mother turtle never gets to know who her children are, as when the babies are hatched in the shore, she is in the sea, Janaki also couldn’t see the new Manav, whom she conserved from untimely death by feeding love, compassion in the shore side bungalow like a mother turtle raises the eggs inside her body feeding it. Like the mother turtles, being sad about not meeting her children, have teary eyes Janaki also has an impression of melancholic calmness surrounding her. During the heart-touching song Lahar Samundar, Janaki is reading a clipping of a newspaper report of the death of Rohith Vemula, fearing the same fate for Manav. One of the strong moments of the film is when Manav returns to find the house empty and reads Janaki’s letter, a highly emotional and tense moment; what would be his reaction to this, whether he will return to the pitiful earlier state or he will manage by himself. Like the baby turtles, he goes to the sea, washing himself with the purity of nature; he has changed by the care and warmth of a mother turtle, embodied in a lady clad in salwar. The shell which was earlier an instrument of alienation is now transformed into a shell of love for Janaki, the tea boy, the driver and mostly for the Mother Nature.
Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar made this wonderfully crafted and acted film in a metaphorical language with a many singular shots of the seaside portraying both the beauty and an insight into the film.Their use of metaphors is varied and combined with the picturesque cinematography of Dhananjay Kulkarni, the meanings and allegories take a more arty shape. The characters are also shown in a representative manner of their inner psychology; like the shot of Manav lying on the swing, the camera catching him in a sense of upside down; Manav is inside his shell, his world has inverted, but his spirit is relaxed in his own universe untouched by the dystopian reality. One thing that stains the otherwise spotless thing is the incorporation of the comic relief in the second half in the form of the driver of Janaki; it weakens the solid and serious framework, which gravitated throughout the film. Iravati Harshe carried the poised, thoughtful, generally calm and a bit droopy Janaki in very a eased manner, as if she has been immersed in Janaki’s soul. Alok Rajwade also essayed the looks and character of the young, dejected Manav, creating turbulence in the screen so brilliantly that it was difficult to believe that he is enacting someone else’s character.
This is another pearl that will shine for years to come in the ornamented crown called Marathi cinema, which can be said to be the powerhouse of contemporary Indian parallel cinema.
Film Score: 82
(Viewed at Kolkata International Film Festival 2016)
Director: Sumitra Bhave, Sunil Sukthankar Screenplay: Sumitra Bhave Cinematography: Dhananjay Kulkarni Editing: Mohit Takalkar Music: Saket Kanetkar Cast: Iravati Harshe, Alok Rajwade, Mohan Agashe