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Sant Tukaram ( The Movie) Part III

Sant Tukaram ( The Movie) Part III-- Gayatri Chaterjee

There is another triptych in this tradition is: bhagavan, bhakta and pad (here abhang). The song is background music for the title-card and for the shot with the image of the God. In the third, the sant sings the song (in lip-synch-Pagnis sings his own song). The abhang (known to several members of the audience) also iconic does not begin the story, only creates an ambience and situates the audience in the tradition within which the story is to unfold.
The song is continued in the voice of the next character, Salomalo, but now sung differently. Music director Keshavrao Bhole has described how he borrowed from the Sangeet natak mode and created for him a dramatic, ornamental but show-offish style of singing. Here the iconic element is totally broken. The camera begins to move; the scene has many characters; the process of editing bring in several shots; and there is also dialogue inserted and added on to the singing. Bhole had written: the story begins with Salomalo-the false devotee. In dramatic terms, Salomalo is the villain; in terms of the tradition of Bhakti, he is the agent positioned in the narrative to provide obstacles in the path of the bhakta. In episode after episode, he will do this: he will bar Tukaram’s entry into the temple; send the local prostitute Sundara to lure Tukaram astray; invite the Brahmin Ram Shastri so Tukaram’s books are thrown in the waters of Indrayani. When none of this works, then he will appeal to Shivaji Maharaj, who will tempt Tukaram with rich clothes and jewellery-and failing, who will become a disciple. Seeing a Hindu king thus ‘unable to protect Sanatana dharma’, Salomalo will go to a ‘vidharmi raja’, the Sultan of Chakan. When that too fails, Salomalo literally-in this case visually-slinks out of the narrative, exiting the frame (right of frame) never to return again.
If this shows, how extraordinarily well the film episodes are constructed and placed one after the other-we do not have space in this article to go deeper into any-let us note: this is not all. It is my opinion that the charm and durable impression of the film in the minds of its audiences result from several factors and one of it is the amazing discursiveness carried by the individual episodes and their overall structuring.
The first time Salomalo appears it is as if there is a serious disturbance of the calm (shanta) mood, set in by the first two iconic shot and the singing of Pagnis. The Salomalo sequence is ‘wiped off’ with a cinematic wipe and the Tuka-image (and singing) is brought back. This ‘wipe’ is also meant to bring in completely a different ‘topic.’ Now we see a different kind of Bhakti and the business of singing songs. Tuakaram’s wife, a devotee of the local (more grass-root level) Goddess Mangalaai, sings an ovi, songs women in Maharashtra traditionally sang while at their daily chore. Her devotion, her firm conviction about and love for her God and everything else she has brought with her from her natal family are made to contrast with Tukaram’s devotional mode and level of attainment. And so, it is Jijai with who the first two miracles of the film are attached. But at the same time, Jijai is not put in any oppositional binary with Tukaram. Her characterization will run parallel to that of the Tukaram character. Not only is this one of the very rare films in India to portray so extensively and so durably a religious system co-existent with the more mainstream (bhakti and sanatan) ones, but what is most amazing is Jijai is not shown to convert to her husband’s religious belief. In the context of India and its multiple religious systems and beliefs co-existing over centuries, such a representation needs more discussion, but we must here stop with the amusing observation that often a vast section of the audience has always been (and this is so since the first release of the film) taken in more with the representation of Jijai than that of Tukaram.
After the introduction of the wife, we see our hero in his room, sitting alone and writing his verses. Next, he is in the temple; and he is asked never to enter the temple again. Tukaram bids a tearful farewell to Panduranga. After this, we see him on a hilltop engaged in singing and meditation. So, the three locations where we see Tukaram initially in the film is: the house, the temple and the seclusion of nature. These are traditionally the three places designated for meditative worship. After this, the new location for the sant will be his work place. New, from the point of view of tradition, for it is known Tukaram had become a religious person after he gave up his worldly duties (before that he had been a farmer, a grocer and also the local moneylender-a task his family was entrusted by the rulers). The narrative woven in 1936 injects a thoroughly contemporary element in the life of Tukaram; he becomes a daily-wage worker. Had Tukaram remained a popular revered sage singing and meditating in the temple there would be no story, no drama; ‘traditional’ elements alone would not have produced such an effective film narrative. Tukaram enters the narrative-dramatic arena, as he goes out in the world, takes up a job, interacts with family and the village-community. This film is so remarkable, not only because it, as shown in the beginning of the paper, illustrates Bhakti in Maharashtra, but also because it is thoroughly modern. It brings forward a contemporary motto, expressed through the English proverb ‘work is worship.’ We must not forget, every narrative-literary work or cinema reveals the time it is created.

Gayatri Chaterjee