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An ambitious, thought-provoking Marathi first feature that often loses focus over the course of its two-hour running time, The Uniform (Ganvesh) addresses the ills of Indian society in a multicharacter story set around Independence Day. How the country’s bright ideals of independence have dimmed in the intervening 68 years since Gandhi won freedom from the Brits is well illustrated in the stories of three characters – an elderly minister, a young police inspector and a little boy — obsessed with celebrating the country’s birthday in a brand new uniform. Making his directing and producing bow, cinematographer Atul Jagdale heaps a lot on his plate and the film often risks turning into a tiresome and overly long social drama. But underneath the excess baggage is a moving tale, and the most important scenes do come across forcefully. Tightened editing could take it forward on a festival path.
Many moods are conveyed in Tejesh Ghadage’s screenplay. The central story has the simple feeling of an early Kiarostami film or perhaps The Bicycle Thief. In a village school, a tattered moppet has been chosen to recite a patriotic speech on Independence Day in front of a visiting minister, but his family is too poor to buy him a new uniform. Without it, his heartless teacher will replace him with a better-dressed child.
The premise is outrageous in itself, but would fall flat if it wasn’t for the arresting performances of Kishore Kadam (Samar) as the tyke’s soft-touch dad and Smita Tambe as his down-and-dirty, much tougher mom. When their work at a brick kiln proves insufficient, they go to stoic extremes to find the money, but each time fate raises another hurdle. More concise story-telling would have made the point just as well. For example, Dad’s nervous attempt to get a tailor to stitch up a uniform while the clock is ticking is a classic, but like many scenes, it exercises the audiences’ patience and loses force as it goes on and on.
The father gets into trouble with police inspector Meera (Mukta Barve of The Awakening), another unconventional female portrait. Her cautious idealism makes her sympathetic despite the fact that she beats up prisoners with gusto, and preens over her rank and uniform. But there are a lot of anguishing questions in her mind that spill out before the film is over.
The third “uniform” is a bespoke hand-spun cotton outfit, made to be worn by the 70-year-old old minister of education (Dilip Prabhavalkar). This saintly politician of yore embodies Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent, non-attachment ideals so well, he’s ironically being kicked out of the government by his own party. (Prabhavalkar has played Gandhi twice on screen.) On the other hand, he’s also mightily attached to his uniform, and like the other characters, this burning desire leads to disaster. One can only sympathize with his old-fashioned values and quest to do the right thing within a stumbling modern society. The wry conclusion is that freedom has its limits, but you have to keep fighting for the small things that count.
The real hero of the tale emerges only gradually and it is Suryesh, the poor but proud father who searches high and low for the small amount needed to buy his beloved son a school uniform. The concept is heart-rending but Kadam brings a stubborn note of realism to this humble man, undercutting the sentimentality. Yet a quick scene when Suryesh relaxes for a few minutes and buys his wife a cheap bangle is touchingly romantic.
Doing his own photography, Jagdale hits the work, home and leisure environment of rural Maharashtra on the nose, pleasantly accompanied by Mangesh Dhakde’s very listenable score.
Venue: Goa Film Bazaar
Production company: Vijayate Entertainment
Cast: Dilip Prabhavalkar, Mukta Barve, Kishore Kamdam, Smita Tambe, Jayant Sawarkar, Suha Palshikar, Ganesh Yadav, Nagesh Bhosle, Sharad Ponkshe, Guru Thakur, Tanmay Mande, Kalpak Mane
Director: Atul Jagdale
Screenwriter: Tejesh Ghadage
Producer: Atul Jagdale
Director of photography: Atul Jagdale
Production designer: Dnyandeo Indulkar
Editor: Rajesh Rao
Music: Mangesh Dhakde
No rating, 121 minutes
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