Review of Marathi film, Gandha (Smell)

Scent and sensibigandha1lity

The much-talked about new-age Marathi cinema is not only reviving the industry, but is also bringing in a new understanding of cinema. 
Sachin Kundalkar’s Gandha (after Restaurant and Nirop), which evokes the sense of smell on celluloid to tell three different stories set in different milieus, is one such rare attempt in exploring the vast potential of the cinematic medium. For to depict the formless and the intangible, is to open up a new dimension on the big screen and a new space in the minds of an audience spoon-fed on the staple of one-dimensional, ‘story’-centric narratives.

The one and a half hour movie is clearly divided into three parts, but the presence of ‘smell’ seamlessly percolates through all the narratives.  So while in Lagnyaachya Vayachii Mulgi (A Bride To Be), the first story starring Amruta Subhash (as Veena) and Girish Kulkarni, this smell is the fragrance of love,  in Aushad Ghenara Manus ( A Man on Medicines) – the second story famously starring Milind Soman (as the HIV affected fashion photographer Sarang) and Sonali Kulkarni (his estranged wife Raavi) – it becomes the stench of death and decay, and ultimately, the warm essence of life and regeneration in the last story Bajoola Basleli Baai (A Woman Sitting Aside) , starring Neena Kulkarni (as the menstruating, hence being made to sit apart Janaki).

The first story is set in a city’s conservative neighbourhood, where the dark-skinned typist Veena’s parents (including an ever-delightful Jyoti Subhash) are trying hard to get her married to dull, eligible candidates. But the starry-eyed Veena is under the spell of a scent emanating from a man studying in the Art college where she works. How this gentle smell fires her dreams and becomes a thread that binds her to the artist, who moonlights in an incense factory, is the subject of this simple, light-hearted romance.

From the warm, glowing canvas of this story, the film slips in to the cool, sophisticated life of Sarang, who’s waiting to meet his estranged wife Raavi.  He’s dying and they haven’t survived the harsh, unspoken truths of their relationship.  From the ‘chemical’ smell of his impending death to the revolting stink of all that’s rotten in their marriage, the story subtly traces the crushing ambiguities of an intgandhaense bond.

Finally, the screen bursts into the earthy colours of monsoon in a coastal village where a childless Janaki is cast aside because of her periods, while her sister-in-law has delivered a baby boy. It’s a sensitive story of a woman, who being left outside the mainstream of society, lives vicariously through poems, dreams and the life-affirming smell of a new-born.

What is interesting is the way Kundalkar uses this sense, so connected to the idea of life, as a metaphor to depict the various stages in the relationships between people and the shifting shades of their emotional landscapes. He employs lighting, music, colours and textures to arouse the invisible, yet deeply experienced forms of smell.
While all the performances (special mentions for Neena and Sonali Kulkarni) and cinematography are excellent, it’s the director’s nuanced sensitivity that really shines through. Gandha is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

PS: 1. Sonali Kulkarni should be banned from saying ‘Waaaooow’ – I had cringed in that restaurant scene in Dil Chahta Hain where she betrays all the heavily made-up sophistication with a single ‘waaaoooow’.

2. That Kundalkar is a student of FTII and exposed to world cinema is stamped in every frame of the movie. References to Wong Kar Wai and other masters (there’s Million Dollar Baby and Kieslowski’s Blue on Milind Soman’s DVD rack) abound. The tribute to Wong Kar Wai in the pre-film titles can be a put off for audiences not acquainted with international cinema.
Milind Soman looks hot even in his ailing, salt n pepper look. Not so much when he’s crying though.
The second story, with so much left to the audience’s imagination, is the most layered.  Kundalkar strews around the basic facts for you to make sense of. The revelation, if it happens, is only in your mind.

-Renu Dhole


9 Responses to “Review of Marathi film, Gandha (Smell)”

  1. Fantastic, illuminating piece!


  2. Renu’s a colleague who covers Marathi cinema extensively, so am glad to put up her piece. It might be useful to others too.


  3. Excellent review. Have absolutely no exposure to Marathi cinema but this looks interesting.


  4. Aarkayne Says:

    yes, a subtitled DVD would be good. Hardly see Marathi cinema of consequence being released overseas and from what I have heard though ME SHIVAJIRAO BHOSALE BOLTOY was again a monstrous hit, it was a fairly bad presentation!

    Sandy any comments on MSBB?


  5. Superb piece, this film really sounds intriguing — I mean, the dominance of smell in a medium for the eyes and ears alone is interesting to say the least. I do hope a subtitled release follows…


  6. @qalandar,
    a few select theatres in pune are already screening a subtitled release. i’m not sure if this is of ne help to you, though….


  7. brilliant review..Gandha will be played in the NCPA in mumbai in the nave valan film fest.
    here’s d link


  8. Hi all. I know it is late, but Sachin Kundalkar recently told me that his two films, Restaurant and Gandha are getting a DVD release in January 2011 and it is subtitled version. 🙂


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