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A mysterious, engrossing little film, Postcard touches on the workings of human destiny in three stories linked by a humble postman who delivers mail by bicycle to Indian villagers. Prolific writer-director Gajendra Ahire (Touring Talkies) presented Postcard at the Goa Film Bazaar together with another film he has just finished, The Unexpected, a classic haunted house tale that imitates the Western genre. Postcard incorporates supernatural elements in a much more original way, letting them resonate without much ado in the lives of simple folk. The fine storytelling is matched by the warmth of Girish Kulkarni’s performance as the little guy in the khaki uniform and Gandhi cap.
Watching a Marathi indie is a little like joining a family of filmmakers and actors who reappear in each other’s work in different guises. This is as good a place as any to jump in. Ahire slips in a nod to legendary Marathi writer G. A. Kulkarni (no relation to the actor), whose short stories mixed the same curiosity about destiny with closely observed characters embedded in Indian society. At first the film is hard to get into because the acting feels overblown and the setups seem aimed at very simple audiences. But when it starts weaving in narrative twists and unexpected asides, the saccharine atmosphere turns sharp and biting, enough for festival viewers to enjoy pondering.
In his native town, the local postman bikes around delivering mail. His beloved, big-hearted bride (Sai Tamhankar) sits at home reading people’s letters, despite his remonstrances. This is how they get involved in the drama of an illiterate old woodcutter (veteran actor Dilip Prabhavalkar) who is too frail to work. When he asks for his accumulated pension so he can join his children and grandkids, his greedy boss claims he’s the one who owes the company money and he can’t leave until it’s been paid back. No matter how hard the woodcutter works, the “interest” grows faster than his paycheck. At this point he decides to write a letter to God. The material has high tearjerker potential, which Ahire does little to sidestep, but it packs a bitter, surprise backlash at the end.
Next comes a ghost story played completely straight. The postman has been transferred to a pretty hill station town. At the gate of a posh-looking girls’ school, a soldier on leave (actor and poet Kishor Kadam) asks him to deliver a letter to his daughter in fifth grade. But nothing is as it seems and everything ends in eerie melancholy. For the postman, once again, no good deed goes unpunished.
By the third tale, he’s been transferred to a desert village where he becomes hopelessly infatuated with a beautiful girl (Radhika Apte) — a dancer and apparently a prostitute — who is waiting impatiently for news from her lover. People and objects from the other stories wander into this new universe without a shred of explanation. But again, the twilight zone stays in the background so that complex relationships can hold center stage, proving that the human psyche is the strangest thing of all.
Playing the dutiful civil servant with dignity and restraint, Kulkarni adds a touching note of honesty to the postman, particularly in the way he expresses his desire for the dancer and how he delicately informs his wife about his feelings. The nosy, laughing Tamhankar also surprises: by the end of the film, she’s the mother of two who pens stories as avidly as she once read private mail.
The film is lovely to look at and the tech work is effective in conveying the feeling of very different parts of India.
Venue: Goa Film Bazaar, Nov. 22
A Sripant Production and Vinay Ganu presentation of a Smita Film Production
Cast: Dilip Prabhavalkar, Girish Kulkarni, Kishor Kadam, Subodh Bhave, Sai Tamhankar, Vaibhav Mangle, Vibhavari Deshpande, Radhika Apte, Suhita Thatte
Director: Gajendra Ahire
Screenwriter: Gajendra Ahire
Producers: Smita Vinay Ganu, Prashant Gokhale
Director of photography: Yogesh Rajguru
Production designer: Datta Londhe
Editor: Mayur Hardas
Music: Gandhar Sangoram
No rating, 125 minutes.
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