July 11, 2020
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Shivaji's Diktat

A film gives new meaning to Maratha pride

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Shivaji's Diktat
Apoorva Salkade
Shivaji's Diktat
Bang in the middle of Mee Shivajiraje Bhosale Boltoy (This is Shivajiraje Bhosale Speaking), the film's protagonist Dinkar Maruti Bhosale lashes out at the Maratha legacy and Maharashtra's heroes, from Bal Gangadhar Tilak to B.R. Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar, for the insults that Maharashtrians must suffer in Mumbai. In the same dream appears Chhatrapati Shivaji, astride his horse, sword in hand, to correct Dinkar's acutely negative self-image. By the end of the three-hour film, Dinkar is proud to be a Maharashtrian and wears his Marathi asmita on his sleeve, without running down 'outsiders' and non-Maharashtrians. What's even better, he inspires other Maharashtrians to straighten themselves out.

In a politically surcharged climate that makes capital out of the Marathi manoos's seeming marginalisation and oppression in Mumbai, Dinkar's is a timely and remarkably sane voice. Amid the endless politics over Shivaji, his is a calm and wise voice. But Dinkar's voice is not really his own; he articulates what Shivaji thinks and speaks, when he appears apparition-like at key moments in the film, a la Mahatma Gandhi in Lage Raho Munnabhai.

By the time it ends, this film, running to full houses in theatres across Maharashtra, has made several significant points. Among them: migrants in Mumbai are not necessarily 'outsiders', they are Maharashtrians; Marathi-speaking citizens of Maharashtra have no reason to feel inferior; they allow politicians to claim Shivaji's legacy, they should use it to assert their own identity in a positive way. At one point, angered by Dinkar's litany of complaints against 'outsiders'—Gujaratis, Udupis (south Indians), Sikhs, UP-walas—Shivaji even admonishes his newest disciple with the words: "Do not credit outsiders for your own failures".

It's a brave and bold line, especially for a mainstream Marathi film that toplines popular actors—Sachin Khedekar as Dinkar, Mahesh Manjrekar as Shivaji—and is crafted in the commercial format. Marathi theatre and offbeat cinema have often taken a critical look at Marathi manoos, his failings and quirkiness, his inner and outer worlds. But that Manjrekar, who is also the film's producer (and closely associated with it, even though its direction has been credited to his cousin, Santosh), has eschewed the temptation to take the anti-outsider line in favour of a reasonable and sensible approach, speaks volumes for his risk-taking appetite, and that of his financiers. For example, by making Dinkar's tenants, and later allies, a Muslim "ladiez tailor" and a "bhaiyya Dubey" rickshawallah, he makes a powerful statement.

The risk has proved to be well worth the taking—the film grossed a cool Rs 15 million in the opening weekend, a figure unheard of in Marathi cinema. That the audience has underwritten its success means the rational approach has immense support. Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena 'workers', better wake up! Says Manjrekar (incidentally, a friend of Thackeray's, though clearly not a political sympathiser): "If this film changes perceptions of even two people in a positive direction, my effort is worth it.... If any political party takes it up, I will only be too happy". But with parties clamouring to assert their "Marathiness", their embracing an inclusive Marathi film is a distant dream.

The film is written to elicit claps and catcalls from a Marathi audience—which it does. And at times it settles matters of identity in a way that seems too pat, even a tad juvenile. But, as sociologist Kamala Ganesh points out, it offers the Marathi manoos a positive vision of himself, and a non-confrontationist approach to his problems. As a film, it may not be Oscar standard, but as a statement it's worth every inch of the filmroll used.
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