Amazon Prime as an OTT throws many classical movie gems at you. One of the gems that I chanced upon was Sachin Kundalkar’s Marathi movie ‘Gandha’. The meaning of the title means smell. The movie was released in 2009 and combines three stories written by Sachin Kundalkar and his mother Archana Kundalkar.
The movie is a collage of three stories Lagnaachya Vayachi Mulgi (A Bride-To-Be), Aushadh Ghenara Manus (A Man on Medicines), and Baajoola Basleli Baai (A Woman Sitting Aside). Even before I tell you about what is there in each of the stories let me tell you that all three have two central themes and focus. They are that every story revolves around the woman characters and secondly smell as a sense resonates around all of them.
The movie transported me to former Deputy Director of National Center of Performing Arts Ashok Ranade’s workshop on creativity that I had attended many years ago. A celebrated scholar on sound, he had first done a demonstration exercise with us participants. At the end of the exercise, he concluded that we restrict our creativity as we only focus more on our sense of sight. In the process we ignore our other senses of smell, hearing and touch.
The message of the scholar, who is no more, resonated in my mind throughout the movie as the concept of smell lingered at all times. In fact it was ‘smell’ as a character that took the story forward, created a crescendo of sorts and brought the story to a twist or a turn.
The smell is manifest in many forms in three stories told in one movie. The dirty odour depicts the troubled times in which Milind Soman’s character in ‘A Man On Medicines’ is going through. The fragrance that gets Amruta Subhash attracted in a bride-to-be brings the story to a new turn. Hence, smell is nostalgic, inviting, stifling as well as tense in various stories embedded in the movie.
The story in the first movie happens in a traditional old chawl in an upper caste neighborhood in Pune. The traditional parents of Veena are eager to find a suitor for her to whom they can get her married as soon as possible. Daily prayers to Gurudutt or the three headed deity are on.
Every weekend of Veena, who works in a clerical role in an art college, is spent meeting boys who visit Veena’s house. It is here when Mangesh, a slightly elder student in the arts college, meets her. Her colleague tells her that Mangesh, with his bloodshot sleepy eyes, is a classified drunkard. However, a certain fragrance emitting from his body encourages Veena to chase him in decrepit bylanes right up to a dingy room where Mangesh works in the night along with his other family members making incense sticks or Agarbattis. The smell and the chase dispel the rumour. Their love flowers and romance blooms. Fragrance connects both of them.
The second movie ‘A Man On Medicines’ is where supermodel Milind Soman plays Sarang who is a HIV patient. Raavi plays his estranged wife from one and a half years. His parents have also estranged him. He lives in this tastefully made apartment where the only human presence is the maid who cooks for him and cleans the house. Raavi is visiting him after a year and half. He has asked the maid to cook dishes that Raavi relishes. Since the time that Raavi enters his apartment, she complains of a lingering bad smell in the apartment.
They both reminisce about their old times and good moments that they have spent together. After a few moments of impromptu laughter, singing over glasses of wine, Sarang hands over the divorce papers to her, not out of scorn but in a bid to allow Raavi to start life all over again while he lives his remaining years in peace. She turns emotional and expresses that they should give their marriage another shot. Suddenly, the dirty smell overpowers the room. The smell almost is a metaphor for the lost spark and the stink surrounding their relationship. She ransacks the house, almost like a woman possessed, till she finds a dead rat under a table. Sarang realises that he has lost his sense of smell while Raavi, who visits the house as a temporary whiff of fresh air, leaves the house while the stink and the benumbed sense of smell of Sarang, both stay on.
The third story called ‘A Woman Sitting Aside’ was my favourite. Celebrated English and Hindi theatre thespian and Marathi actress Neena Kulkarni plays Janaki, the elder daughter-in-law in an extremely traditional house in Konkan.
The setting is perfect in the coastal area of Maharashtra. It is raining cats and dogs near this multi-storied village house. There are many parallel things happening in the movie. Janaki’s husband has gone out of the village for some work. Her younger sister-in-law is experiencing delivery pains. Access to medical facilities is less and hence a local mid-wife or a ‘Dai Maa’ is summoned to help the going on.
Janaki’s menstrual cycle co-incides with the busy chores in the house and hence she has to stay away from the kitchen and the delivery room. The over-burdened mother-in-law doesn’t show any empathy and liberally curses Janaki for her inability to stay pregnant. However, Janaki is a lively woman. She is not educated beyond her school but ensures that her young nephew learns his poems well. She is anxious about her husband due to the ongoing rain and lack of any communication. However, the husband upon his return reacts in an extremely terse way with her.
Her only relief in her life is the card games that she plays with her nephew, the fragrance of the monsoon weather that she enjoys and the smell of the semolina sweet and papadums that are cooked to celebrate the arrival of a second baby boy in the family. She longs to meet her younger nephew. Here, too, smell is the only loyal friend of Janaki where the relations around her stink due to her inability to give birth.
The movie depicts women with agency over their lives as well as those with vulnerabilities. However, the central plot is that of smell. The character of smell unifies, divides as well sometimes just provides temporary solace in a torn life.