Manoj Bajpayee shows that he doesn’t even need dialogue to put on a show, amidst a film about hate mongering based on religion, in writer-director Devashish Makhija’s 2018 film Bhonsle.
The film starts off with a police officer taking off his uniform, which intercuts with someone somewhere painting a Ganesh Idol. Ganpat Bhonsle (Manoj Bajpayee) is a retired constable, who is packing up things to go back to his quiet, mundane life. He lives alone, in a chawl in Mumbai, wherein a goon taxi driver, wanting to be a politician Vilas plans to organize the Ganesh Chaturthi, and in a way assert power over the other community, mainly the Bihari “outsiders”.
In one of the scenes, Vilas is seen beating up Rajendra (Abhishek Banerjee), a migrant living in that chawl making his own preparation for the festival. Vilas takes this as them trying to want to be equal and he beats him up. Banerjee’s character says that we’re from the same country but he barely cares. For him, only Maharashtrians deserve to stay in Maharashtra, and celebrate a festival which is theirs. The director uses impactful violence and emotions to depict this power struggle based on caste and region.
With Bhonsle, his attire, his stubbornness and Vilas’s constant bickering about him supporting his fellow Marathi men and women, we get an idea that maybe once Bhonsle himself was an aggressive nationalist. However, now he’s no more a cop, and hence he is tired, old and just oblivious and chooses to be the silent observer in life. We are taken into his life and made a part of it thanks to the director’s poetic visuals of his mundanity. We also understand that he has applied for extension to his job, because he knows no other life, just like any war veteran trying to return to normalcy after battling war scars.
Bhonsle is aloof with what goes on in his chawl until a new neighbour shifts in. A nurse (Ipshita Chakraborty Singh) and her younger brother (Virat Vaibhav). She knocks on the door to introduce herself but sees the door slam shut. Bhonsle, a man of very few words, minds his own business but overtime, forms a unique bond with the two, amidst a chawl where they are expected to be enemies since only one of them is a Maharashtrian.
The film, that takes place within the days of the Chaturthi, is a slow burn but doesn’t take the audience’s attention away. The director shows Mumbai in its purest form, not the romanticised notion we are used to about Marine drive and sea link and gateway etc. The chawls, the dirt, its warmest festival and Makhija’s patent dance sequence which he’s used before. The visual poetry is super evident and it’s elevated with stunning acting and the lack of dialogues aid it as well. Bhonsle doesn’t need to speak a lot, and when he does, it’s as frail as his aging body, however his stature is enough for people to fear, respect and care for him.
Performances are at their peak in this film, that aid this screenplay. The supporting cast does a brilliant job to emote the fear, aggression and jingoism that the writers have used to prove a point about an issue that has been more prominent than ever in recent times. Lalu or Virat Vaibhav is a treat to watch. His innocence behind playing the character adds on just perfectly to the cinematics being portrayed. Manoj Bajpayee, however, does it again. He proves to the viewers that he doesn’t even need dialogues to add valour to his character and he’s a bigger actor than star, and this performance proves it. A character study of a crippled old man amidst a migrancy backdrop, Bajpayee’s stubbornness and pent up look addresses it perfectly.
The symbolism and visual art works perfectly with its slow-paced narrative that is elevated by some great performance and that makes Bhonsle an interesting watch.
Watch Bhonsle on Sony LIV.