There was a time – and a generation – when there existed a concept called “favourite uncle” or “favourite aunt”; “favourite cousin” even. Today, the “uncle”, “aunt”, and “cousin” have dissolved into nodding acquaintances and been replaced by a far more embracing and intimate group – “video game”, “website”, and “app”. The echt family structure of today is more fissile than fusion, and while communication modes are galloping generations ahead, the generation and relationship gap, like it or not, is keeping pace. With technology surpassing emotions, how do you keep family relations alive and relevant?
In Ventilator (Marathi), director Rajesh Mapuskar (who also wrote the screenplay) beams in a beautiful ray of familial relationships on to the screen that refracts right into your heart. Produced by Priyanka Chopra and Dr. Madhu Chopra, this project propels its way right amongst the top of the Marathi (and Indian cinema) movies that are a must watch this year. Mapuskar introduces you to the vast and scattered Kamerkar family, who receive news of Gaju kaka being admitted to the hospital in a critical condition, and put on the ventilator. The director superbly connects the dots in the family and with the crisp efficiency of the high-speed data packets that enable us to talk (but not communicate) with each other, follows the news as it breaks into the humdrum cycle of everyday life. Gaju kaka’s son, Prasanna Kamerkar (Jitendra Joshi) admits his father to the hospital, and you realize Prasanna’s in politics, and with him is his trusted confidante and worker, Sai (Nilesh Divekar). The news travels to Dada (Sanjiv Shah), Prasanna’s cousin, who then conveys this to another cousin, Raja (Ashutosh Gowariker), the latter a famous film director, and who’s also guilty of not having kept in touch with the family. It is through Raja’s eyes, primarily, that the prism of Ventilator unfolds, exploding into myriad and complex layers of relationships and issues, including his own.
The first half of the movie is a seemingly fugacious snapshot of the Kamerkar family – swooping into family members as they receive the news and react – but actually a microscopic look at families and how each member’s life spins into an orbit of panic, guilt, anger, or catty curiosity. Mapuskar the writer and director wrap these subplots into a riotous web of gags and reactions that are funny, mad, maddening, and absolutely crackling. And as the movie bounces along, you also slowly begin to fathom and peep into the underlying family politics and cracks in the Kamerkar family. And you wonder if the laugh and chortle that you’re emanating is in sheer delight or in connecting your own family stories, happy in the thought that no one else around you in the cinema hall knows about them. And that’s the beauty of Ventilator – it connects to each and every one in the hall, and also makes connections between strangers – and those connections are the loud laughter and the quiet sniffles in the hall. Yes, there are those too. And you get a chilling preview of it when Gowariker’s Raja walks into the ICU for the first time. The clinically blue tinted shot, the mildly beeping monitors, and the curtained segregations give you instant heebie jeebies, reminding of you – if ever, heaven forbid you had to – of your walk through the ICU to see your loved one. The movie also has a lovely interval calling card, as another relationship bubbles up and spills into a confrontation in the second half.
Director Mapuskar and casting director Rohan Mapuskar get in a splendid ensemble of actors, each one cracking their respective roles with such aplomb, there are times you’re not sure who to look at on the screen. There’s Jitendra Joshi, magnificently simmering, fighting to stay afloat in his political party, seemingly uncaring about his father’s fight to stay alive. Look at him when he realizes he’s been beaten at the political game by his own; his eyes blaze anger and helplessness simultaneously. Or, when he speaks to his father in the ICU – his most cathartic moment and also his most agonizing, all superbly delivered in halting, heart-breaking monologue. There’s Sukanya Kulkarni-Mone as Sarika, Prasanna’s sister, who delivers a lovable, absolutely believable performance as a daughter who will fight to make sure her father’s chances aren’t blown by switching off the ventilator. Look at Shashank Shende as the wily, creepy politician – absolutely tops. Then there’s Sanjiv Shah who’s the unofficial stage manager for Raja – he’s so every day, real-life, watching his relatives with that rare combination of humour and calmness, you want to ask him for advice about your problems too. Also look at Usha Nadkarni as Gaju’s sister, who, when she breaks down in the ICU, breaks your heart too. Sulabha Arya plays the role of the suffering wife and mother with grace and restraint. Then there’s Achyut Potdar, ever effective as always, though his raspy voice made me worry about his health. Or, revel in Nikhil Ratnaparkhi’s turn as Pritam – he’s a bundle of comic energy, not going over the top, but pushing you over the cliff in laughter- there’s a hilarious scene of peeing on the roadside that makes him and the audience scream. And the next split second, when the audience roared with laughter, I couldn’t even hear what he was saying – must check it out again (as if I needed an excuse to see the movie a second time). As Raja, Ashutosh Gowariker is a masterstroke of casting and acting – he’s polished, dignified, and very low-key, delivering what, one hopes, is a rally of sorts for him in the acting arena. Satish Alekar plays his father, Bhau, and is another stand out performance, so natural that he could be your father having his stubborn way. There’s also Swati Chitnis revelling in her performance as the business-minded aunt; Namrata Awate Samberao who’s going potty over the toilet she wants to get installed; Vijay Nikam as the dry-humoured, laconic Subhash Kaka, who looks down at every relative around him – don’t we all have that one in the family? And the slimy part that Nilesh Divekar that plays so well; the earthy Nandan that Rahul Solapurkar enacts ; or the fuming father of a dim-wit that Abhijeet Chavan cracks with frustrated energy; the irrepressible Viju Khote matchmaking in the hospital; Bhushan Telang in the hospital on his 25th wedding anniversary – all simply terrific. There’s more of the acting talent, and each one of them makes Ventilator a must watch.
Rohan-Rohan’s music score is a winner too – Ya Re Ya is beautifully melodic, steeped in the vigour of the Ganapati procession, sung by Rohan Pradhan. And of course there’s Baba, sung by Rohan Pradhan in the movie scene – shot in slow motion, and also, to me, the only dramatic contrivance in the entire movie – but, also extremely charged and moving. The duo’s background score is very good – note how they use the insistent beeping of the monitor in the score to indicate there’s something serious coming up. Or, in the scene where Jitendra Joshi realizes he’s been betrayed, they use the manjira absolutely brilliantly, building up the tension with insistent, regular clinks.
Ventilator, then, is an eye-opening, entertaining look at families, relationships, and how lives crash into turmoil when a loved one seems to be slipping away forever. It’s also a telling look at how families are drifting apart, to meet only – as Usha Nadkarni’s character says – in weddings and funerals. Amidst all this, there’s also a shot that Mapuskar screens toward the end, showing two characters in a bus, finally breaking down an unspoken barrier of anger and resentment. He bathes that scene in resplendent sunlight, that’s sure to warm your heart and melt some glaciers in your eyes. That’s truly the beauty of good cinema as it is of life and families. Ventilator, amidst the madness and drama also teaches us an irrefutable lesson: if we use the ventilator of love and patience every day, every moment, our relationships – and us – can breathe easy.
Director Rajesh Mapuskar Running Time 2h 23 min
Writer Rajesh Mapuskar
Stars Ashutosh Gowariker, Jitendra Joshi, Sulabha Arya, Sukanya Kulkarni-Mone, Viju Khote, Sanjiv Shah, Rahul Solapurkar, Shashank Shende, Achyut Potdar, Usha Nadkarni, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Swati Chitnis, Satish Aalekar, Namrata Awate Samberao, Vijay Nikam, Nilesh Divekar, Abhijeet Chavan
Watch the trailer of Ventilator here: