Bhonsle movie cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Santosh Juvekar, Ipshita Chakraborty, Virat Vaibhav, Abhishek Banerjee
Bhonsle movie director: Devashish Makhija
Bhonsle movie rating: Two and a half stars
After making headlines for a few months, the migrant ‘story’ has already slid off the front-pages. But we shouldn’t need a pandemic to show us just how vulnerable they are: the cities where they live and work for most of their lives remain hostile, and they can never really go back to the place they call home.
Devashish Makhija’s 2018 Bhonsle uses a Mumbai chawl, which houses ‘native’ Marathi manoos and ‘outsiders’ Bhaiyya log (the derogatory euphemism for people from UP and Bihar), as a site to revive an old conflict. The feelings of antagonism on the two ‘sides’ run high, with Vilas (Juvekar) having constant run-ins with Rajendra (Banerjee, who broke out in Pataal Lok), and the people in the chawl split down the middle.
In the middle of it all is Ganpat Bhonsle (Bajpayee), a 60-year-old freshly-retired cop, whose sole focus is to get himself an extension. He watches the rising animus amongst the residents, staying on the periphery, till an encounter with a couple of new North Indian arrivals, a nurse (Chakraborty) and her young brother (Vaibhav), changes things.
The insider-outsider conflict in what used to be Bombay and is now Mumbai is a familiar one. Makhija’s choice of palette makes it seriously dark: overflowing drains, grungy toilets, slushy roads with sinister vans, and the powerful preying upon the meek. Verbal skirmishes and physical punch-ups in the chawl run through the film, with Vilas waiting for a nod from the local leader to feel validated, and Rajendra trying to keep up a blustery front, as they spar over who has more right on Ganpati Bappa, the benevolent god who belongs to everyone.
After a point, the yelling and shouting becomes repetitive, and the ugliness both on faces and in spaces, necessary but a little too deliberate, begins to grate. But the performances hold. And all through, the human Ganpat keeps us with him, and the film. Bajpayee, one of the few Indian actors who uses silence to such effect, has been on a roll for the last few years, raising the bar with each performance. The last time he internalised a role as much was in the 2017 film Gali Guleiyan, directed by Dipesh Jain. Here he is even better, each crease in his worn face showing a man whose stoicism comes from hard experience, who has seen everything there is to see, and yet is capable of deep empathy. Bhonsle gives us an actor on the top of his game.
Bhonsle is streaming on SonyLIV.
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