Masala: Goa Film Bazaar Review

A big-hearted Indian film extolling an honest, tenacious businessman has Chaplin-like humor and charm.

Director Sandesh Kulkarni makes a noteworthy directing bow in a story of how Indian businessman, the maker of Pravin brand spices, got his start in life.

The next time someone makes a list of the 30 best films for business students, the small Marathi dramedy Masala needs to be on it. Not only because it tells the inspiring, ever-so-humble story of how Indian industrialist Hukumchand Chordia, the maker of Pravin brand spices, got his start in life. First-time director Sandesh Kulkarni joins producer Umesh Kulkarni and producer-screenwriter-star Girish Kulkarni  (the team behind Deool, National Award winner for best film and best actor of 2011) in a story whose irresistible, down-to-earth humanity first gives a face to the poor and hungry masses before it extols its hero’s unique rise to success. In the end, this true rags-to-riches story is less important than the humorous micro-tales composing it, though knowing that a happy ending is in the offing makes all the hardship much easier to accept. Tulsea has picked up international rights to the film, which was released in India last April, and it should be grabbed by festivals quickly. Its lack of sex, violence and evil-doing makes it a good pick for family audiences.

With his shy smile and unbelievable tenacity in the face of adversity, Reven Patel (Girish Kulkarni) is the personification of an honest small-time businessman. He’s a disaster at business, however, mainly because his kind heart won’t allow him to cheat his customers. Since this is India, he works from tiny stalls facing the street with his wife Sarika (Amruta Subhash) selling saris, then groceries, perfumes, balloons and a dozen other things. Each time something goes wrong and they’re unable to collect debts, Reven and Sarika grab a suitcase and steal away to another town where nobody knows them in order to avoid their own creditors. In this way they cover the state of Maharashtra.

Chance takes them to a town not far from the city of Pune, where they shack up with Sarika’s relatives who are as comically down-and-out as they are. By a piece of backhanded good luck, Reven gets arrested for futile reasons and is saved by a wealthy businessman (confident veteran Mohan Agashe in another warm, noble portrait of the profession) who offers him a job. Working double-time, he’s finally able to pay off his debts; but his soul longs for self-employment, as he confesses to his benefactor in a heart-felt outpouring.  Revan finds his calling only in the closing reels, producing fabulous Indian spices with his wife, relatives and other folk he’s met in the course of his journey.  

Girish’s warm-hearted script seems written for his funny-tragic face that hides an indomitable spirit; finely cast, too, is Subhash as his loyal, uncomplaining wife who quietly gets things organized on her own. As poor and unglamorous as they are, this anti-power couple gets the audience on their side from the first scene. Among several odd cameos, Dilip Prabhavalkar stands out as a happy mad scientist working for the good of society.

In his transition to film language, theater director Sandesh Kulkarni makes the most of the sparkling dialogue which lets the actors bring surprising depth to their performances. Needless repetition leads to rhythm problems, however, that slow down the story. Anand Modak’s music and songs about peanuts and pencils are humorous additions and never excessive.

Venue: Goa Film Bazaar
Production company: Arbhaat Nirmitee
Cast: Girish Kulkarni, Amruta Subhash, Mohan Agashe, Hrishikesh Joshi, Sneha Majgaonkar, Dilip Prabhavalkar, Shashank Shende, Suhas Sirsat
Director:  Sandesh Kulkarni
Screenwriter: Girish Pandurang Kulkarni
Producers: Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, Girish Pandurang Kulkarni
Director of photography: H. M. Ramachandra Halkere
Production designer: Prashant Bidkar
Music: Anand Modak
Costumes: Kalyani Kulkarni
Editor: Abhijeet Deshpande

Sales: Tulsea International
No rating, 125 minutes.