Marathi film 'Shwaas' touches Indian Americans
"Shwaas", the first Marathi film to compete for the Oscars, seems to have touched an emotional chord with Indian Americans, despite cynical comments by some American critics.
At its Chicago screening, the film - a story of the medical profession's insensitivity towards patients - drew a houseful audience despite it being a bitterly cold January evening.
Almost the entire "Shwaas" team is currently in Los Angeles campaigning for the Oscars.
"You are not supposed to contact the jury members directly. That would be a disqualification," said Neeraja Patwardhan, whose husband Sandeep Sawant directed the film. "Yet, you should catch their eye."
So the group has released advertisements in Hollywood journals like Hollywood Reporter and Variety.
"It is the last push now," said Patwardhan, a costume designer by profession who graduated from the University of Georgia.
Patwardhan told the audience that included a number of physicians, that her director husband had "trained" the child artiste for four months, taking him to operation theatres and hospitals.
"For some strange reason, the child seemed to enjoy the hospital smell," she said.
The film has generally won appreciative reviews in major American publications despite the reservation of critics.
"(The film) makes several biting observations about the medical profession's brusque manner in dealing with patients," said Hollywood Reporter.
"While the film sometimes plays like an hour TV medical drama padded to reach feature length, Sawant achieves touching, naturalistic performances from a fine ensemble cast.
"The film does a fine job in portraying red tape and bureaucratic indifference without depicting any one person in a bad light. Everyone including the affable but overworked doctor is trying to do his or her job, yet has lost sight of the impact that unfeeling behaviour has on a young patient and his guardian."
The New York Times critic praised the grandeur of the film.
"Sawant does his best to balance hopeful sentiment with the depressing prospect of a child's world going dark, and he tries to infuse this simple melodrama with a sense of tenderness and beauty," the Times said.
"There are lovely, elegant shots of the verdant coastal landscape the boy has left behind (and will most likely never see again), and hectic scenes in which adults - including a kindly, harried doctor (Sandeep Kulkarni) and a sympathetic social worker (Amruta Subhash) - fret over Parashuram's fate.
"It is unusual, and strangely gratifying, to see such a small story filmed with such lustre and grandeur, not just on the big screen but in the wide, epic dimensions of cinemascope. The format seems too big for the picture, but at the same time it is somehow comforting to see such grand attention lavished on such a little boy."
Notwithstanding the appreciative reviews, some reports have noted that "Shwaas" faces a tough sell at the Oscars, handicapped partly by the competition against it and by the nature of the film itself.
The long list of its competitors includes "House of Flying Daggers" by China's Zhang Yimou as well as "The Sea Inside", the lauded Spanish biopic of quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro, starring Javier Bardem.
The New York Times cautioned that "Shwaas" might not suit the tastes of the American audience.
"It will most likely prove a bit mawkish for American audiences, who may find its subject matter better suited to basic cable programming than to commercial cinema."
The Hollywood Reporter added: "The film gets far too static, a condition not helped by melodramatic music and a tendency to sentimentalise the situation."
For director Sawant, the film's simplicity is its strength.
"Not every film can be a Bollywood film," he said. "The subject of this film demanded a simple and pure form. The main motive was to reach people by the subject, by the emotion."
Anupama Dharkar, who organised the Chicago screening, said "Shwaas" proved that "some emotions are universal".
Dharkar, whose husband is a physician, was an actress in Marathi films as well as in Gujarati theatre in the early 70s.