‘Ani…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar’ review: A Blaze of Self-Destruction

LICH rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)   (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

It was the early 1980s. The venue: Ravindra Natya Mandir, Bombay. Seated amongst the front rows for playwright Vasant Kanetkar‘s Marathi play, Malaa Kaahi Sangaycha Aahe (I Want to Say Something) was my family and me. Thanks to my grandfather, V.S.Deshpande‘s close association with actor Prabhakar Panshikar—for whom he translated the aforesaid play and the other blockbuster, To Mee Navhech (I am not Him) into Kannada, and also acted alongside with Panshikar onstage in the Marathi and Kannada versions of the latter—we were accorded the honor. Panshikar’s booming voice and stern presence enthralled, threatening to dwarf even the valiant Sudha Karmarkar‘s act. Until Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar swayed onto the stage that is. From then on, the social drama-cum-thriller, darker as it kept unfolding, was in the hands of the doctor. His entry evoked claps, and as his character argued and parleyed with that of Panshikar’s, the audience whistled, clapped, and cheered—at times, that included yours truly. He had his audience in his grip, manipulating us, making us roar with laughter, sigh in sympathy, and cheer in empathy. He owned us. He blazed in triumph, stealing the show with the ease of a magician for whom rabbit-pulling trick is old hat. A tour de force.

When no one can hold a candle to your talent.

Little did I realize then that Ghanekar was on his last leg of searing orbit on this planet. And director Abhijeet Deshpande, in Ani…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar (And…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar) in this biopic, portrays the life of this personality that was set to self-destruct much before anyone—including himself—realized. Based on the book by the actor’s second wife Kanchan Ghanekar, Nath Haa Maaza (This Nath of Mine),the movie is a compellingly sharp look at the dentist whose passion for theater surpassed any joy that pulling out wisdom teeth may have given him. Portrayed by 2018’s Marathi actor prolificus, Subodh Bhave, the light-eyed actor isn’t given the luxury of an unashamed hagiography. Which is as it should be.

Director Deshpande sets the timer on Ghanekar’s life with Bhave’s voice-over narrating his character’s penultimate track, where his high-handedness, abrasive behavior, womanizing, and liquor binges have raised the heckles of Marathi theater owners and producers, and even his bosom buddy Prabhakar Panshikar (Prasad Oak solidly carrying his role with heft) raises his hand in protest. From there on, you’re taken into the 60s, when the doctor struggles to get a role sideways into any play, for now being content with being the prompter-in-the-wing. His wife, Irawati Ghanekar, a gynecologist and obstetrician, in life’s cruelest ironies is unable to conceive; and in playing her, actress Nandita Dhuri superbly carries the burden of a childless marriage, and the inevitability of losing her husband to the yawning and one-way cavern of theater and acting.

Prasad Oak, Subhodh Bhave: brothers in arms.

Ghanekar’s initial run-ins with Master Dattaram (Suhas Palshikar) and Vasant Kanetkar (Anand Ingle marvelous, and having a ball in his conflicted jousts with Bhave’s Ghanekar) are done with as much zip as much showing the actor’s belief and refusal to compromise in what he knows to be his truth and talent. As personalities clash—and the creative field is a constant match of egos and super-egos—Ghanekar and Ira look to the latter’s acquaintance, actress Sulochana (Sonali Kulkarni, understated and yet a dormant volcano) for advice. By now, the veteran actress’s daughter, Kanchan (Vaidehi Parshurami, cast perfectly, shining a vulnerable mix of immaturity on the cusp of knowing what her heart truly wants and defiance) is all crush no candy for Ghanekar.

As Ghanekar’s star waxes and wanes, his foray into movies—Sulochana nudging her mentor, director Bhalji Pendharkar (Mohan Joshi, quietly and likeably effective)—is extraordinary, as he learns the nuances of wooing the camera. In parallel, the rise of actor Dr. Shriram Lagoo (Sumeet Raghavan in a masterfully nuanced act, bouncing off the right glint of rivalry) causes Ghanekar to plunder his own goodwill and blunder into another alcoholic pit. But it is Panshikar who proves to be his pillar of strength, unmoved even Ghanekar’s facade and structure all but crumbles.

Subhodh Bhave, Vaidehi Parshurami: love is an ear worm.

Director Deshpande suffuses and infuses his story and his subject with all the tragedy that continued to haunt the actor till the end.And in knowing that he eventually wants to leave his daughter the legacy of a loving father, Ghanekar strikes out with gratitude and vengeance. Stung by his father’s lack of appreciation and more than making it up by his own high-handedness, Deshpande tracks the actor’s inevitable descent, his personal life’s orgies and extreme behavior setting the stage for his odium.

And yet, how do you define a genius, much less live your life with one? How does a shooting star find the time for life’s mundane tasks? How does he find the mind space to pay the house’s electricity bill when he’s busy electrifying audiences and showing them a light they’d never imagined before? There’s a telling shot of a glass of milk and whiskey in a scene—and you know what’s to become the actor’s choice of drink later, even he has to mix both for some time. But how does he stop his brilliance from consuming him when he’s too busy consuming fuel to fuel his showbiz surge onstage? How can he drink anything else when he’s pioneered the word kadak (strong) across tea stalls in Maharashtra to describe him and the tea that comes closest to defining his life—forever on the boil, strong, stinging, and eventually addictive?

Commercial demands trump talent. Ghanekar is no exception.

The director doesn’t attempt to answer these questions. But with Subodh Bhave, throws an unflinching light on Ghanekar’s life choices and routes. And it also Bhave’s stupendous act that is the movie’s highlight—wearing light colored lenses isn’t his impersonation of the actor; for that matter none of the cast members do a caricature. Subodh Bhave wears Ghanekar’s attitude on his sleeve, carelessly tossing back the lock of hair that falls on his forehead; he stares into the spotlight as if the center of that blinding bulb holds the energy to his character’s wattage; he swaggers with the swag of a self-centered genius, and yet shows the cracks and frailties that such talent must inevitably carry if not embrace. This is one of the finest performances in Marathi movies in recent years. And it’s a tribute to Bhave’s act that you don’t need to have dipped into the doctor’s oeuvre to be fascinated by his story. 

While the retro tracks are a delight, Ani… could have done without the newer songs that diffuse the very dramatic impact they ostensibly set out to enhance. And the movie could have just been that wee shorter to make you feel, “What? Already?” Yet, the movie haunts you—could the actor have had a different lifestyle that’d have prevented his defenestration onstage and off it, and also given his audience more time with him? But you know the answer to that already: as with vinyl-busting composer Rahul Dev Burman, such talent thrives on derailing their lives so they can plunge into unknown territories. Even if they know that their choice means that the inevitable crash is just around the corner.

LICH ratings chart

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Ani... Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar (2018) on IMDbMovie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Ani…Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s some hints of sensuality and alcohol, lots of it.

Ani…Dr. KashinathGhanekar
Director Abhijeet Deshpande  Running Time 2h 39min
Writer Abhijeet Deshpande
Stars Subodh Bhave, Nandita Dhuri, Anand Ingle, Prasad Oak, Sonali Kulkarni, Vaidehi Parshurami, Mohan Joshi, Sumeet Raghavan
Genres  Drama, History, Biopic

Watch the trailer of Ani…Dr.Kashinath Ghanekar here: