Director: Abhijeet Mohan Warang
Starring: Oak Prasad, Samai Sandjeev Tambe, Ashvini Mukadam and others.
The Marathi film Picasso is, by its own admission, a tribute to performers, singers and artists, and in particular to those involved in Dashavatar, a folk theater practiced around South Konkan in Goa and Maharashtra, mostly in and around temples, and especially from men. This homage is not simply a service to the lips to give the film an improvement in the epilogue that it cannot muster during its performance; the entire second half of the film is set on and around the Dashavatar stage, as we are both the audience of the film and the stage performance.
The short 70-minute film follows Gandharva Gaude (Samai Tambe), who studies in the 7th standard, which has been selected for the national level of the Picasso Arts Fellowship. He has to clear 1,500 rupees to participate in the Nationals. If he wins the scholarship, he will study at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona for a year. Years ago, one of his school’s students won him over and continued to study and graduate as an artist at the JJ School Of Art in Mumbai. Thus, this is not unexplored territory, but it is certainly a diversion for him and his family. His mother needs money for medical research to diagnose pain, and his father is an artist, a Renaissance man – a musician, an artist, a sculptor, an actor – who constantly copes with poverty and circumstances as a winner in bread. The tension of the film, set for a day, is to see if Gandharva and his family can get the money. He is not interested in asking questions beyond that, satisfied with a temporary solution of immediate, concrete concern, instead of a final, summarized happily forever.
The film is played out through largely still shots. Most of the movement of the camera is the rotation of the spine, giving the world a stationary quality – it is enough that it does not matter where you look at it, that you look at it. In the first half, Gandharva traveled to the next village on foot to tell his father, preparing for a performance, that he had been chosen to represent the state to the citizens and that he needed money. The journey itself is shown in many details – the lush green fields through which it passes, the pregnant lake, colored by light rain, the rivers, the rivers; a place is felt and a feeling of immobility is established.
The film begins with a conversation between a dejected Gandharva and his father, with red, puffy eyes, before we get a retrospective of the day that led to this moment. There is a very scenic, stiff and rehearsed sense of this interaction. We return to this conversation in the middle of the film, when Gandharva comes to tell his father about the scholarship, and his father notes the lack of money and the lack of money in the arts. This time, when he plays the same conversation, the stiffness somehow doesn’t feel weird. Supported by a captivating first half of quiet moments, where even worldly speech feels like a performance, the interaction is now more built-in.
The second half is almost entirely a showcase of Dashavatar, where between scenes the audience members go to characters they like and give money in gratitude, ie. live patronage, live reviews. The space of the stage, inside the temple, reveals a mythological story of good versus evil; how Evil tries to seduce, literally, Good; how good it yields; how well it triumphs anyway. It’s not a great art, with the elegant make-up and the squeaky, obvious distance between the actor and the mythological character they play. But this is a fascinating and common monument, around which the whole village is mobilized.
The fixed frames make us feel like the audience for the theatrical performance, but with special access to a green room, where the ego of the artists collides, but not with dramatic gestures, but with subtle shifts of pride. There is not a single touching morality that comes out of the show or the movie. In the second half there are obvious changes in the heart, but they feel like a continuation of the theatrical performance – staging, squeaking, but you just can’t take your eyes off it. When Shakespeare said, “The whole world is a stage,” it may not mean that all life is experienced as a performance, that we cannot, and perhaps should not, be able to distinguish our performance from our personality. Or maybe that’s what he meant.