Puja Miri Yajnik
‘Utsav’ is a 1984 classical romantic film produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Girish Karnad. It stars Rekha, Shashi Kapoor, Amjad Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Shekhar Suman and others. It is said that it is based on a classical play called ‘The Little Clay Cart’ by Śūdraka, 400 CE. The story follows several characters: a courtesan, a young brahmin, a rebel, a rich nobleman and others. All the subplots come together in a superbly done climax on Vasant Utsav (spring festival). It has several interesting scenes where the characters create utter confusion and get into all sorts of trouble.
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this film was the skilfully created atmosphere. With the soft glow of oil lamps, the streets are converted into a moment from ancient India. The attention to detail; as shown in the houses depicted, costumes, carts and dances; all stand out. Here, the art direction by Nachiket and Jeyoo Patwarthan deserves a special mention. In fact, the entire technical team has done an outstanding job in creating a world that we have only read about in books: Ujjain in the Gupta period as depicted by old sculptors and writings.
The story starts in a stage play style, beginning with Vatsayana (Amjad Khan), the author of the Kama Sutra. He introduces the mood of the film and the different characters. Vatsayana spends a great deal of his time in the local brothel, thus introducing us to the beautiful Vasantsena, played to perfection by Rekha in one of her finest performances. Vasantsena falls in love with the much married Charudutt (Shekhar Suman) whilst running away from the powerful and somewhat stupid Samsthanak (Shashi Kapoor), who is the king’s brother-in-law and happens to be in love with her.
This film is quite unusual in that it touches on several delicate subjects like gambling, stealing and the art of seduction in a most matter-of-fact way. It brings to life the open-minded society, the thriving music and art, and of course, the politics of that moment in time. The equation between Charudutt’s wife and the glamorous Vasantsena, for instance, is fascinating. They both bond over their love for the handsome young man. In fact, there is a song ‘Mann Kyun Pehka’ which presents their feelings to the audience.
Also, surprisingly, there are very few films that have been set that far back in ancient India. ‘Utsav’ is thus, in a sense, quite a refreshing film, as it has created, painstakingly yet subtly, a canvas of that fascinating time; that glorious phase of Indian history. A must-watch for the period, performances and superb research. VIEWER DISCRETION: ADULT CONTENT
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.