Samantar (Marathi, MX Original,9 Episodes)
Starring Swwapnil Joshi, Tejaswani Pandit
Directed by Satish Rajwade
Rating: ***(3 stars)
The writing is clearly on the prowl. Watching one of Marathi cinema’s leading actors Swwapnil Joshi fight blind faith and superstition for 9 episodes as he travels across rural Maharashtra in search of his spiritual doppelganger who holds the key to his future, is a physically exhausting experience.
Just watching Swwapnil Joshi huffing and puffing across the rugged hinterland, chasing trains buses and spirits, I was left breathless. How many kilos did this hard-working, always-dedicated actor lose in transit? As Kumar Mahajan, Swwapnil is forever-grumpy, sullen and a wretchedly unhappy man. Nothing good happens to him. Near-catastrophes stalk him like a persistent lover. Braving through, rain, slush and bleak stretches of unwelcome greenery, the calamitous character is well played by Joshi. He could have smiled a bit more, though.
This series, dotted with simulated suspense and crowd-induced tension, gives Joshi a chance to be in every frame. Whether that is a good thing or bad depends entirely on how much of Kumar Mahajan’s travel woes you can take in your stride. He, the poor actor, isn’t making any effort to entertain us. He has too many problems to handle. For beginners, a script that goes nowhere, because it goes all over the place.
The performances are specifically melodramatic. The actors are given the brief—Mysterious Astrologer, Faithful Bestfriend, Cranky Boss, Mysterious Stranger—and they go at it like a game of dumb charade gesticulating and exaggerating the emotions to the edge of hysteria, while the background music whips the emotions into a bloody mess.
While watching the series I was occasionally swept into Kumar’s tough journey. But the script is clearly an exercise in travel travails. As Joshi huffs and puffs from one rural town to another, he builds a case for travel phobia for the lower-middle-class. The plot is a one-note travelogue with breaks for Swwapnil Joshi’s Kumar to squabble with his wife (Tejaswini Pandit) who clearly isn’t getting the point of her husband’s frequent out-of-town excursions.
In the last episode, we see Joshi grab his startled wife into a ferocious smooch. This out-of-character move is clearly a celebration of the no-censorship freedom on the OTT platform rather than a demand of the script.
The confrontation, finally with Kumar Mahajan’s Spiritual Other is profoundly disappointing. To suggest that human destiny could be tied to another man is to suggest that we are not responsible for any of our own actions. Just for the sheer relief of moving away from other urban-elite OTT fare, and moving into the great big outdoors, Samantar is worth a dekko.