Shantaram’s hit musical biopic of Honaji Bala (played by Marathi stage star Nagarkar), a legendary Marathi poet from the Gawali caste in the last years of the Pune Peshwai. Known mainly for having popularised the musical dance form of the lavani in Maharashtra and esp. for his classic composition Ghanashyam sundara shirdhara, addressing a new dawn in the morning raga Bhoop. The piece later acquired revolutionary associations alluded to in the film’s anti-British discourse. Set in the Pune-based Maratha empire just before it succumbed to the British, the story shows the poet’s involvement with lavani music, which the film associates with prostitutes, winning recognition when the peshwa’s wife at the Pune court gives him an award for his Bhoop composition. His love life with Tamasha dancer (Sandhya in her debut) is intercut with the Maratha wars against the British, his music spurring on the soldiers. Shantaram contrasts Honaji’s erotic and militant poetry with the prevailing ‘decadent’ brahminical effusions. Replete with Shantaram-type calendar art compositions (when pigeons descend around Sandhya’s body in the forest) the film ends like a mythological, showing the infant Krishna and Yashoda, when his Ghanashyam composition is immortalised. Additional songs were written by the radical poet and performer Amar Sheikh, associated with the militant powada form and with the IPTA’s left wing in Maharashtra.
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