‘Picasso’ review: a soaring, heartwarming take on folk artists

Deep interior, when there was nothing else to entertain, provoke, mull, there was story-telling and little else. Under lamps fuelled by hope and rationed living, tales of good versus evil, where the former inevitably struggled with the truth and then vanquished all pernicious forces, worked as a vulnerary. That deep interior citation is for geographical locations in India and for whatever churns inside us, turmoil and peace battling for space. 

That story-telling took the form of folk-stage—for, isn’t it always more effective to see those moral battles being played out in flesh form than in the blank foolscaps of our minds? Picasso, written and directed by Abhijeet Mohan Warang, takes a look at one such interior village in Konkan, Maharashtra, where the richest form of currency is in units of chlorophyll in the rainy season, and this is when the story unfolds. Gandharva Pandurang Gawade (Samay Sanjeev Tambe), a seventh-grade student, via a take-it-forward visual and synth-music motif by Anand Lunkad, has topped his state in an art competition, making him a contender for the next round of the Picasso Arts Scholarship. If Gandharva wins this, he gets to live in Spain for an entire year, learning from the best, coming back with a richer hue of talent palettes. 

Nilkanth Sawant and Prasad Oak: the world’s a musical stage.

There is but the dark cloud of finances that loom over this dream. Samay’s father, Pandurang Gawade (Prasad Oak) is a sculptor and moonlighting folk-stage actor who performs at the Dashavtari Natak (play based on ten incarnations of God Vishnu) in a nearby village. All of his efforts can’t make ends meet, and the reasons open up on the story’s proscenium on the evening of the play. Plus, Samay’s mother’s ailment means she (played with instinctive beauty by Ashwini Mukadam) needs sonography the very next day, which, by a quirk of Indian Post logistical hurdles, also happens to be the last day to pay his fees to enter the contest—a mighty 1500 Rupees ($20). Director Warang takes this colliding tension to narrate his look at folk theatre artists and their struggles amidst a verdure canvas of hope and reality. 

Samay Sanjeev Tambe: an innocent grit.

The cinematography by Stanley Mudda is halting, filling the screen with vantage points of a bus driver, to long shots of a swollen river, to colorful lights in the village fair that sparkle almost audaciously, strung as they are against a pitch-dark sky. But the entire drama and metamorphosis play out in the temple where the drama unfurls on stage and in the cramped green room, the agitated theatre owner (Abhay Nevvgi) spilling his angst against Pandurang. The second half of this uplifting 73-minute movie interposes mythology and real life, Pandurang playing the compromised king Muchkund, fighting temptation in the form of a seductress (played with aplomb by Nilkanth Sawant) and evil personified by the demon Hathisur (Nana Prabhu). 

Ashwini Mukadam: an instinctive performance.

Warang adds humane touches of professional jealousy in the green room, as egos and hunger for rewards ironically overtakes the tale of morality playing onstage. None of this is overdone or stretched, and there are no fire-spewing, drug ingesting villains here. The movie’s about journeymen who eke out their dry bread deploying whatever skills they possess. But more than that, it’s about the struggle that Pandurang faces, much like his character onstage—fighting temptations and inner demons. It’s also a tribute to the struggling but never-say-die clan of artists who continue performing, braving the online onslaught of filtered photos with old-school makeup brushes and paint. 

The cast is au naturel, and young Samay Tambe, playing Gandharva, brings a glow of earnestness and innocent grit to his act. Prasad Oak as Pandurang is terrific. His frame and eyes emote a million quiet words as he looks at his son and sees his own failures. And it is in his act, struggling against an atavistic state of fugue do you see that the stories that our grandparents narrated to us had more than a moral angle to them. They had hope. That one day, it’s the future generation that’ll redeem us for the mistakes we’ve committed. 

Picasso (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Picasso is streaming on Amazon Prime and rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for a serious theme.

Director Abhijeet Mohan Warang Time 1h 13min
Writer Abhijeet Mohan Warang
Stars Prasad Oak, Samay Sanjeev Tambe, Ashwini Mukadam
Genres Drama