Paresh Mokashi literally stormed his way across film circles and made a name with Harischandrachi Factory (2010), a film which brought back Marathi Cinema under the spotlight. A biopic on the father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, it highlighted the journey which saw him emerge as a filmmaker amidst all odds, in the process making ‘Raja Harischandra’, India’s first motion picture. What I liked in particular about the film was the mild undercurrent of humour in the film, despite being a period film on an important personality. No wonder that after Shwaas (2004), this went on to become the 2nd Marathi film ever to be India’s official entry to the Academy Awards. Hence I was always curious to know what Paresh would come up with next after making such an impressive debut film. It took some time before I got to eventually hear of his second outing, Elizabeth Ekadashi but when I was looking at the names of this year’s films that have made it to the Indian Panorama at IFFI-Goa, I was quite happy.
Not only was Elizabeth Ekadashi among the films at Indian Panorama, it was also the opening film as well. The trailer however drew a mixed response from me; let me clarify what I felt. While the images seemed to convey a honest tale, it also made me feel a little cautious as well. Of late Marathi Cinema has been seeing a sudden surge in the number of films made on children and with adolescence/coming of age as the theme, and most of these films like Shala, Balak Palak, Timepass, Fandry, the forthcoming Killa etc have worked critically and commercially as well. But I’ve been wondering how long would this continue and also if Elizabeth Ekadashi would also be another film in the same category. Being a children’s film the producers did well to release it on 14th November, i.e. Children’s Day. With the Zee group backing the film I wasn’t surprised that the film got a good release all over Maharashtra but seeing the film running to packed houses brought a smile on my face. After not getting tickets on Saturday, I managed to go all the way across the city on Sunday to watch the film and as I write this I am aware that the film is holding well on weekdays as well, quite impressive.
So does the film prove to be a good follow up act to Harishchandrachi Factory? Is the film working only due to the distribution and marketing strength behind it? And is the film once again about adolescence/coming of age? These were the questions that I had in mind when I set out to watch the film and at well before the 90 minute duration of the film is over I got my answers loud and clear :). Elizabeth Ekadashi is centred upon Dnyanesh (Shrirang Mahajan) and his sister Mukta (Sayali Bhandarkavathekar), and their lives which revolve around their mother (Nandita Dhuri), grandmother (Vanmala Kinikar), friends and ‘Elizabeth’. In the temple town of Pandharpur, Dnyanesh and Mukta lead a simple life along with their mother and grandmother. Due to the demise of their father, their mother is now the breadwinner in the family. Dnyanesh is a smart kid who is gifted ‘Elizabeth’, a custom made special bicycle by his father and hence Elizabeth is cherished fondly not just by Dnyanesh and Mukta, but by their friends too for whom Elizabeth is more than just a bicycle.
When the annual Pandharpur Ashadi Ekadashi is around the corner, the family hits an unexpected financial roadblock which threatens their livelihood and basic existence. Hence much to the dismay of Dnyanesh and Mukta their mother decides to do away with Elizabeth in an attempt to tide over the situation of sorts. What happens from thereon is what the rest of the film is all about. Paresh Mokashi apparently derived inspiration for the plot of Elizabeth Ekadashi from his wife Madhugandha Kulkarni‘s childhood experience of growing up in Pandharpur, especially tales of setting up of kiosks to selling knick-knacks during the bi-annual Ekdashi pilgrimages. The impact that these tales have made in the mind of Paresh Mokashi definitely seems to have been really strong, considering that not only did he go on to be inspired enough to make a movie woven around this premise, but has also ended up making it as realistic as possible.
Even if you are someone like me who has never been to Pandharpur and/or witnessed the Ekadashi pilgrimages it’s not difficult to make out that the film depicts it realistically and helping the cause was the way Paresh and his team went about filming during last year’s crowded Ekadashi pilgrimage. This speaks about the kind of commitment that has gone into the making of the film, not just from Paresh but also from the entire cast and crew, especially considering the logistical issues involved with such an activity. Hence the temple town of Pandharpur with the narrow, crowded streets and alleys and distinct houses provide not just an interesting backdrop to the film but almost assumes a character of its own in the film, giving the film an even more enhanced feeling. Needless to say Amol Gole’s cinematography is certainly one of the highlights of the film. There is nothing gimmicky about the camera work but ensuring that filming happens during the actual Ekadashi pilgrimage & keeping the crowded atmosphere in mind shows that the work was challenging, but the output that has emerged has been creditworthy.
Music by the late Anand Modak is effective and the only sing in the film,’Dagad Dagad’ is a cute little number that’s used almost like a signature tune in the film (also appears during the opening and end credits). Of course the film wouldn’t have emerged in such fantastic fashion if not for the casting which is simply spot on and effective to the core. While all the adult actors especially Nandita Dhuri and Vanmala Kinikar bring in a lot of grace to their characters, the kids are all fantastic finds and hence whoever was in charge of casting deserves a big round of applause. While Shrirang Mahajan comes across really well as the brilliant neighbourhood kid who is just not a mere bookworm, he is equally well complimented by Sayali Bhandarkavathekar who plays his sister Mukta. In fact they share wonderful chemistry among them and it’s a delight to watch them communicate among themselves, often without dialogues as well. Pushkar Lonkar as their friend Ganya puts in a standout performance. He features in some of the best moments in the film and is able to evoke a sense of humour and yet appearing natural at the same time.
And similar to Harishchandarachi Factory here too Paresh Mokashi takes care to make the proceedings look realistic and yet infuse humour in a delicate manner, being very careful not to go overboard. Considering the slightly serious premise and the backdrop of a holy town it is to the credit of the writers, Paresh Mokashi and Madhugandha Kulkarni that they have not allowed the tale to either get too heavy or come across as a religious statement in any way. In fact for all those who have been confused or worried about the film’s title I can assure you that on watching the film you will be convinced that there couldn’t have been a better title. Elizabeth Ekadashi is a neo-realist film which reminds one of Iranian Cinema in a way for the way the narrative flows, however the tale is original and definitely true to its roots. One might probably feel that the ending is a little hurried but I feel that it ends at the appropriate note. The film starts with the Ekadashi pilgrimage about to start and ends with the culmination of Ekadashi; also there is a clear arc that the tale passes through which works in favour of the film.
While there isn’t anything in the film to nit-pick on it’s a little unfortunate that in a film that’s otherwise quite a good watch for the entire family, the state of the English subtitles leaves one totally dissatisfied. While of late it’s encouraging to see many Marathi films releasing with English subtitles all over, thus giving a chance for people who do not know Marathi also to relish a good film, one expects that the subtitling would be handled with care. I have by now seen Elizabeth Ekadashi twice and on both the occasions the subtitles were all over the place, even missing for most parts of the film. While watching it the first time, to my horror I also witnessed that midway through the film the subtitles from the start were getting repeated as well. I would any day prefer the people concerned to release a film without subtitles rather than releasing it with such bad quality subtitles, which impact the viewing to an extent.
Well if you are willing to overlook the subtitles and just go with the flow of the narrative (in case you do not know Marathi) be rest assured that this is a film which will leave a smile on your face which remains for long. Paresh Mokashi has come up with a good follow up act to Harischandrachi Factory with Elizabeth Ekadashi, something that should augur well for Marathi Cinema.