Benegal abandons his rural settings for this cinephile fantasy based on the autobiography of the Marathi/Hindi actress Hansa Wadkar. Usha (Patil, in the role of Wadkar) is taught music by her grandmother. She tries to become a film actress as a child and eventually becomes a star in adulthood, a trajectory inflected by the four men she meets at various points in her life: husband Keshav (Palekar), narcissistic male co-star Rajan (Nag), effete film-maker Sunil Verma (Shah) with whom she makes an unsuccessful suicide pact, and the landowner Kale (Puri) whose second wife she becomes. Many aspects of the story allow the question of women’s oppression to be raised although, tragically, Usha seems to end up identifying herself with the romantic cliche of the self-sacrificing heroine, defeated by the patriarchal mores that have weighed on her since early childhood (shown in sepia flashbacks). The film opens with scenes alluding to the making of Wadkar’s best-known title, Lokshahir Ramjoshi (1947). The music test which Govindrao Tembe and Baburao Painter gave the young Wadkar at Shalini Cinetone is reconstructed, a rather poignant moment since Wadkar hates the very music which elevates her to stardom. However, film history is treated with poetic licence as the story roams through some pre-WW2 genres: Bombay Talkies is evoked through Sunila Pradhan who is made up to look like Devika Rani; this is followed by quotes from Kismet (1943) and allusions to Wadia’s masked stunt films. The soundtrack uses radio broadcasts about Pearl Harbor and other events to provide historical markers.
Did you know?
The film is based on the life of Hansa Wadkar, well-known Marathi stage and screen actress of the 1940s. Read More