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God of Small Things

A Marathi film revolves around a Ganesha soft toy with a bomb planted inside.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh |
Updated: December 26, 2015 12:10:54 am

WHILE growing up in Dadar, a Marathi-dominated area in Mumbai, Punarvasu Naik saw from close quarters the euphoric celebrations of the annual Ganesh Utsav. He was a part of the local mandal and danced in the processions on the day of immersion. In 1993, however, he saw the same neighbourhood ripped apart by the serial bomb blasts that struck the city. People he knew were killed. “It’s a sight I still can’t forget,” says Naik.

Like many first-time filmmakers, Naik drew from his childhood experiences to create his debut work. Vakratunda Mahakaya, which released on September 25, brings the two elements — Ganpati and a bomb — together. The film sees a Ganpati soft toy picked up by a small Muslim boy. He develops an affection for the cute elephant God toy and refuses to part with it. It is no ordinary Ganpati, though. A group of men is after the toy, which has a bomb planted inside. The film follows the boy, who, armed with the toy, travels through Mumbai while men hunt for it. “Ganesh is considered the adya devta, which, in Sanskrit, means the first one. Bomb, on the other hand, symbolises the end of everything. I wanted to bring the two energies, creation and destruction, together and see what happens,” says Naik.

Vakratunda Mahakaya is a black comedy that manages to find humour in serious situations. A scene shows two characters mistaking news of a bomb blast in Pakistan on TV as one that has happened in India. They are relieved when they learn that it has taken place in Pakistan, only to realise how strikingly similar the two nations are. The core idea came from the film’s writer Yogesh Vinayak Joshi, who also wrote Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008), a film where Naik was an associate director and one that too dealt with the city of Mumbai and the serial train blasts of 2006. “To have an inanimate object, the soft toy, as a central character was challenging,” says 35-year-old Naik, who was an associate director in the 2014 film, Bhoothnath Returns.

The theatrical release came almost two years after the film’s premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival in 2013. With Vakratunda Mahakaya, Anurag Kashyap makes his foray into Marathi cinema. Apart from producing it, Kashyap is also the presenter of the film. “When Anurag saw the first edit, he said he would like to produce it. He introduced me to independent producer Guneet Monga, which helped me get more funding. Anurag gave me complete creative freedom and said that he will take care of the logistics,” he says.

The film is more bilingual than strictly Marathi. Hindi lines pepper the script. It is among the new breed of Marathi films — Naik cites the examples of Court and Highway: Ek Selfie Aar Paar — that refuse to restrict themselves to one language, instead adopting the natural mix of languages of a city such as Mumbai. “You have all kinds of people in Mumbai, people who understand Marathi, but can reply in Hindi or the other way round. Language, increasingly, is becoming less of a barrier to make a film,” he says.

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