Film: Ajintha (Marathi)
Director: Nitin Chandrakant Desai
Cast: Sonalee Kulkarni, Philip Scott Wallace, Avinash Narkar, Manoj Kolhatkar, Murli Sharma. Makarand Deshpande
Caves that date back two millennia, an adivasi woman and a British major trying to replicate the murals of Ajanta form the core of the part-fiction, part-reality work of ND Mahanor. The poetic work is based on real characters who existed, but it would be fair to say that Mahanor romanticised the liaison between Paro (Sonalee Kulkarni) a Bhill woman and Major Robert Gill (Philip Scott Wallace) to create a work that celebrates the heritage site and uses the tales in the caves as a backdrop to depict what could have been the village in the early 19th century.
If anybody could have done justice to the story on the big-screen, Nitin Desai would be it. Who better than the country’s finest art director to recreate one of the richest art heritage sites? I must confess that I walked into the film with a bit of trepidation. Be it TV series or films that he has recently produced or directed, over-indulgence that leads to straying from the core story has been Desai’s problem. Having had great expectations from Balgandharva last year, only to walk out feeling underwhelmed, this time, I was keeping my expectations at the bare minimum and expecting brilliant sets alone. I was pleasantly surprised.
Paro is a young adivasi beauty that Mukhiya (Murli Sharma) desires. But she is devoted to the Lord Buddha. When Major Gill comes into town, Paro busies herself in helping him out at the site. From creating colours for Gill to becoming his muse, Paro believes that she is serving her God. Aided by Pandit (Avinash Narkar) and Jalal (Manoj Kolhatkar), Gill communicates with the villagers, but with Paro he has his own language – devoid of words and as she brings the cave paintings alive for him, Gill only feels drawn to her. Obviously, like any formulaic film, the Mukhiya comes in the way.
The story is simple, really, and the screenplay ends up making it linear and one-dimensional, not something that one would enjoy but it works for Ajintha. One does wish that the multiple dimensions of the story like a woman choosing her destiny and British Raj environment are brought to the fore. You can live with the fact that this is not a film you watch for the story, but for the beautiful art-direction captured gloriously by Rajeev Jain. The first half of the film ends up being a treat for the eyes, and you enjoy the grandeur and soak in the story, however, the second half starts falling apart — very slowly. The indulgence that works in bringing out the aesthetic beauty of the film in the first half falls apart as it begins to become an over-indulgence in emotions. The bits where Desai’s set for the caves starts to look fake, jerk you out of your reverie.
One can’t help but notice that Kulkarni flaunts her body in revealing outfits with much grace. Credit also goes to Neeta Lulla’s revealing costumes which do not seem vulgar at any point in the film. With a definitive love story that can afford to be single-layered and doesn’t have too much that needs cramming into a feature film Ajintha, unlike Balgandharva, ends up being enjoyable.
It isn’t remotely close to seeing the caves or experiencing them, nor is it comparable to Mahanor’s poetic work which gives you a much better experience of knowing Paro or Gill, but the film is a treat to watch in its own right. For this one, I’d forgive the over-acting and the dips in the pace of the film, for its beauty left me mesmerised.