This cinematic treasure remains a hidden gem, quietly awaiting the well-deserved acclaim that is finally finding its way to it.
In the heartwarming tale, Ashish (Manas Tondwalkar) and Srushti (Khushi Hajare) navigate the corridors of the same school, sharing not only the institution but also a special connection in their hearts. Ashish’s world is painted with the love of his parents (Bhimrao Mude and Ketaki Saraf), his grandfather (Deepak Shirke), and his grandmother. Fond of Srushti, Ashish’s admiration for her transcends the boundaries of the classroom.
As they progress to the fifth grade, new schedules separate the girls and boys, but Ashish, portrayed by Om Bendkhale, finds inventive ways to maintain his connection with Srushti (Pranjalii Shrikant). This delightful rendezvous continues through their journey until Class VII. However, the plot thickens with the introduction of Yash, a new player in their lives who harbors his own feelings for Srushti.
Enter Ashish’s friend, Borya (Chetan Wagh), whose unintentional actions create a misunderstanding that temporarily strains the friendship between Ashish and Srushti. Yet, as Ashish takes it upon himself to clarify the situation, the bonds of friendship and affection are mended. The question arises: will Yash pose a lasting threat to Ashish’s love story, and what twists await as they step into the realm of college life? The narrative weaves through the intricacies of love, friendship, and growing up, promising an engaging exploration of these young lives and the hurdles that love must overcome.
If we were to peer into the intricate tapestry of human existence through the innocent gaze of a child, our perplexing planet might appear as a harmonious haven for all living beings. In this whimsical realm, discrimination holds little ground, and offences are not triggered at the mere drop of a hat or a hairpin. Conflicts find resolution through heartfelt apologies and straightforward banter. Filmmaker Ashish Avinash Bende brings this enchanting perspective to life in his semi-autobiographical masterpiece, “Aatmapamphlet,” which made its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. This quirky satire unfolds entirely through the fervent, love-struck eyes of a teenager.
Our protagonist, Ashish (brought to life by the talented Manas Tondwalkar and Om Bendkhale), is nurtured in the embrace of affectionate parents and encounters the phenomenon of ‘love at first hand’ when a charming classmate named Srushti captures his heart during the school’s annual day fete. Supported by his friends in this gallant quest for affection, their camaraderie comes at a cost – a delectable ice stick from a vendor stationed outside their school. Remarkably, this eclectic group, comprising individuals from diverse backgrounds—Maratha, Muslim, Brahman, Dalit, Sikh, Christian—defies societal divides with their unbreakable bond.
Chetan Wagh, portraying the Brahmin lad, emerges as a standout in the ensemble, stealing scenes with his captivating performance. “Aatmapamphlet” invites audiences into a world where the simplicity of childhood friendships transcends the complexities of societal stratifications, offering a poignant and humorous exploration of the human experience through the lens of adolescence.
Fuelled by the exuberance of a remarkably talented cast of child actors, “Aatmapamphlet” transcends simplicity, delving into a narrative that goes beyond its candy-flavoured, nostalgia-infused surface. Beneath the veneer of innocence, a compelling story unfolds—one rife with themes of bias, hatred, and societal imbalances.
One of the film’s most impactful scenes transpires within the confines of a classroom, where the children find themselves entangled in a brawl. As the dust settles, they collectively acknowledge the uniformity of their wounds—each one painted in the same shade of red. In a poignant pledge, they vow to stand united, transcending disparities that society seeks to impose upon them.
This poignant narrative, set against the backdrop of the ’80s and ’90s, weaves a tapestry intricately adorned with references to real events. “Aatmapamphlet” serves as a canvas for both subtle and overt commentaries on a myriad of subjects, from the ideals of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to the profound impact of Buddhism, from reflections on the Babri Masjid demolition to discussions surrounding decentralization, the Kashmir conflict, the Latur earthquake, and figures like HC Devegowda and Vinod Kambli.
In a particularly revealing moment, the film captures Ashish’s parents being ousted from their ancestral home and forced to take refuge in a shanty. Amidst this turmoil, a child astutely observes that while the locality may be small in physical area, the hearts of its people are undeniably large. “Aatmapamphlet” thus becomes more than a coming-of-age tale; it evolves into a nuanced commentary on the multifaceted journey of growing up amid the socio-political landscape of that era.
In the role of young Ashish, Om Bendkhale delivers a performance that is both innocent and genuinely captivating, becoming the beating heart of the narrative. His gang of friends, portrayed with equal brilliance, complements his character seamlessly. The ensemble cast, from Ashish’s parents and grandparents to teachers and neighbours, contributes diverse perspectives to this unfolding journey, and kudos to Rohan Mapuskar for orchestrating such fitting casting choices. The return of Deepak Shirke to the screen adds an extra layer of freshness to the film.
Riding high on technical prowess, the film excels in various aspects—Satyajeet Shobha Shriram’s cinematography captures the essence of each scene, Bende’s editing ensures a seamless flow, and Baban Adagale’s art and production design create a vivid and immersive world. It’s particularly delightful to witness Deepak Shirke’s presence back on screen, adding his seasoned touch to the cinematic landscape.
While the film excels on multiple fronts, the only aspect that falls slightly short is the hurried climax. Given its open-ended nature, an additional minute of narration detailing the “what” and “why” could have provided a more satisfying resolution. Nevertheless, this does little to detract from the overall well-rounded experience that “Aatmapamphlet” offers—a cinematic journey enriched by stellar performances, thoughtful casting, and technical excellence.
“Aatmapamphlet” emerges as an exceptionally pertinent cinematic gem in contemporary times, weaving a narrative that not only captivates but also delves into the intricacies of the ‘Us versus Them’ perspective. Through its engaging storytelling, the film illuminates the shadows of everyday discrimination that, regrettably, often go unnoticed in our conditioned societal gaze.
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Video Credit: T-Series