Speechless. That's how I felt after I watched the Marathi film Devrai. Starring Atul Kulkarni and Sonali Kulkarni, the film is a breath of fresh air after all those cheesy romantic movies. In fact, Devrai is definitely one of the best movies I have seen so far.
A joint venture of SAA (Schizophrenia Awareness Association) and K S Vani Memorial Trust, Devrai (sacred groove) is about Sheshh (Atul), who suffers from schizophrenia.
Sheshh's past is haunted by the fragmented memories of his near ones. He is a man who dwells almost entirely in an imaginary world, and he dramatises that inwardness as if nobody is watching. His journey of recovery begins with his struggle to get out of the mental condition, the struggle of the people around him and his only hope, his sister Seena (Sonali), who tries to bring new meaning into his life.
As a child, Sheshh was short tempered and reserved. He lost out academically. He grew up with Seena and cousin Kalyani (Devika Daftardar), and became attached to them. Kalyani became his lover.
Things changed when his mother forced Kalyani to leave the village. Later, Seena's marriage to Sudesh (Tushar Dalvi) and the death of his mother draws Sheshh into the world of mental suffering. Sheshh becomes paranoid. He starts to link the incidences with the forest. It becomes increasingly difficult for him to separate reality and imagination. He combines both, and gives it a human character called Devrai, and gets lost in it. Doctors diagnose him with schizophrenia.
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The highlight of the movie is Atul Kulkarni. He immerses himself as a schizophrenic so well you actually start believing in his character. Devrai consolidates Atul's status as an exceptional actor.
Devika Daftardar holds her own as Sheshh's lover Kalyani. She plays an important role in Sheshh's life as a cousin, friend and lover.
Sonali Kulkarni, as Seena, plays the under-written role of a sister who becomes the hope of her disturbed, difficult and helpless brother.
The rest of the supporting cast -- including Tushar Dalvi, Amruta Subhash, Rajesh More, Mohan Aghashe and child actor Ashwin Chitale (of Shwaas fame) -- do well.
Debu Deodhar's characteristically elegant camerawork gives the film a dreamlike look, perfect for delving into such a complicated topic as the human mind. Shreerang Umrani's music provides the right combination of the wonder of discovery and the hint of something sinister.
Writer and director Sumitra Bhave and co-director Sunil Sukhtankar (of Dahavi F and Vastupurush fame) do well.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the poetry used in the movie, written by Atul! While shooting, the actor wrote a poem that was so beautiful the directors incorporated it in the film.
The film swept popular awards for best film, director, actor and actress at the Star Screen Awards in the Marathi films category. The movie also won the technical excellence award at the International Film Festival in Kerala and the special jury award at the Mumbai International Film Festival for Atul's outstanding performance.
It is tough to depict mental problems seriously in films. Most films that deal with the subject tend to watch from a distance. But Devrai takes you inside the mind of sufferer.