Film: Ventilator (Marathi); Director: Rajesh Mapuskar; Cast: Ashutosh Gowariker, Jitendra Joshi, Sukanya Kulkarni

Rating: ***1/2

There is a remarkably rugged renaissance reverberating across Marathi cinema. The year started with Mahesh Manjrekar’s stunning family drama “Natasamrat” about an aging actor who finds himself questioning a value system which renders a retired patriarch redundant.

As 2016 draws to an end we get another Marathi film of deep emotional worth, which challenges our long standing notions of the joint family system without the crutches of cynicism and self-loathing.

“Ventilator” is a redemptive tale on many levels. It firstly redeems producer Priyanka Chopra from the ignominy of having produced a deplorable Bhojpuri film as her production debut. Then, after last week’s Diwali bonanza “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” which completely obliterated the family support system from its protagonist’s existence, here is a film that brings back the familial fraternity with a deeply felt affection for ties that bind the Indian middle class to their God fearing roots.

Death, or its foreboding, is always an interesting point to begin a family film. Director Rajesh Mapuskar whose first film “Ferrari Ki Sawari” built an interesting premise around the idea of a stolen luxury car, is on far firmer footing this time. He lets the family tree spill out in the narrative canvas with effortless glee.

Though there are innumerable characters coming and going in the narrative, no one becomes a caricature the way Sooraj Barjatya’s cinema tends to render the joint family.

More often than not, death occurs at an inopportune time when we least expect or welcome it. Though “Ventilator” is teeming with characters, the going is never oppressive for the audience.

There is a strong bedrock of compassion in the narrative, as the near and dear ones of the dying patriarch reveal their inner demons during the family crisis.

Life, after the initial shock of the hospitalised gloom, tends to get repetitive. Mapuskar works his narration around the rhythms of tedium , dodging the inertia of impending death, with sly dialogues and slanted allusions to tensions within the family that are firmly suppressed for the sake of the solemnity of the occasion.

Happily the actors are stalwarts in their field requiring little prompting to slip into character. Some of them like Sukanya Kulkarni, Viju Khote and Sulbha Arya are familiar to Hindi moviegoers. Others are such natural-born performers that you never really feel you’re not familiar with their work.

There is a sense of lived-in familiarity about the situations . We’ve all been through the crisis of mortality in our lives.

“Ventilator” is a heart warming saga that never forfeits a tempered equilibrium in favour of a free flowing melodrama. It reassures us that the Indian middle class has not lost its quintessential values. At least, not in the movies.

This unadorned, straight-from-the-heart story of how life kicks in when death strikes, is refreshingly liberated of filmy gimmicks and crowd-wooing antics. ‘Producer’ Priyanka Chopra’s guest appearance is avoidable. Though her presence doesn’t take away from the plot’s proclivity to stay close to the middle class’ nerve centre, she is a sobering reminder of why a film like this works better without glamorous stars.

By Subhash K Jha

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