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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Lathe Joshi, Review: Better Lathe than never

Lathe Joshi, Review: Better Lathe than never

In a rare combination of inspirations, writer-director Mangesh Joshi looks up to Satyajit Ray and Charlie Chaplin to churn out a serviceable film about a soft-spoken man who has only one skill, and his world crumbles around him when he is retrenched from his job, a victim of new technology and upgrading of a manufacturing process. Modern Times and Pather Panchali blend in the India of 2018, to tell the tale of loneliness and poverty, old age and the generation gap.

Vijay Joshi (Chittaranjan Giri) is the best Lathe machine operator in a factory, and earns himself the nickname, of Lathe Joshi. But as technology advances, he is sacked and the plant is shut down. The owner sets up newer machines at another facility and puts up the old one for sale, lock stock and barrel. This hits Joshi very hard. He has a nuclear family of a mother (Seva Chauhan), wife (Ashwini Giri) and a son (Om Bhutkar). The mother has recently undergone an eye operation and her eyesight will take a few weeks to return, yet she insists on spending half her time watching (rather, listening to) TV and chanting to the playing of a recording as audio accompaniment while she chants herself, bead chain in hand, with a target of 500,000 chants. His wife takes catering contracts and chips in her earnings. The son is an IT engineer who operates from home, repairing laptops and PCs. Though they live in a shanty home, they are not really hard-up, but in Indian society, they would be called lower middle class.

Joshi, a man of few words, keeps the loss of job a secret from his family, while hoping to convince the owners of the factory to sell him his specific Lathe machine, which he hopes to install at home. Not an easy task, for the old man who owned the factory is seriously ill and his son is in no mood to humour Joshi. Meanwhile, his wife’s business grows, and their son buys a small car to help transport the food to their clients. Although there is little bitterness in the family, Vijay keeps aloof and says little. Even he sees his son smoking secretly on the terrace where he has gone to light-up himself, he says nothing, to the surprise of boy. One day, he visits the owner of the factory, where he served for 35 years. The old man has partly recovered, and Joshi convinces him to tell his son to gift or sell the Lathe machine to him.

Silences and almost still shots abound in this Marathi language film, written and directed by Mangesh Joshi. Vijay is often a silent spectator, whether it is the sight of an ambulance carrying his former boss leaving his home, or him cycling past four wheelers, or a Lathe machine being lifted by a crane. By contrast, his mother keeps bickering, wife concentrates almost entirely on expanding her business and even gets a modern hair-cut to match the profile of her corporate clients, and his son is always trying to make money, by inflating repair job fees and buying a car for his mother, rather than a Lathe for his father. Three generations, three value matrices!

In the owner’s family, we get to see two generations. Old-man is willing to gift Joshi his Lathe, but the son retrenches all but one of the workers, and he too is put on other duties. There are no Lathe machines in the new factory, where fibre and plastic has replaced iron and steel. Though commendable in his frugality of narration, Mangesh does go overboard on a few occasions. Generation gaps and human workers facing obsolescence are burning issues of the new millennium. Mangesh Joshi, however, is content with painting a picture and watching as a bystander.

A happy ending is not what one expects in a film of this nature, but the narrative becomes repetitive and leaves us waiting for nuances, and touches, rather than anything exciting or attention grabbing. He makes his points, and then gets into variations on a theme, that are eminently watchable alright, albeit with slow but economical progress along the plot points. As a result, a length of 104 minutes allows ennui to set-in towards the end. The repeated in-film advertising plugs for ZEE TV Marathi also get in the way. That having been said, make no mistake: Lathe Joshi is a worth seeing film.

It’s a tribute of sorts to two masters: Charlie Chaplin, who could not quite cope with Modern Times and made less than a handful of talkies before retiring (Modern Times remains a Chaplin masterpiece) and Satyajit Ray, who made Pather Panchali about a Brahmin family that runs on the earnings of the father, a priest who performs worship in his clients’ homes on occasions. The priest is able to earn barely enough to feed his wife and two children, since his clientèle keeps dwindling, and he dies an untimely death.

Only four actors are billed in the media, and they comprise the Joshi family. Chittaranjan Giri, his wife Ashwini Giri, his mother, Seva Chauhan (modelled on PishiMa of Pather Panchali) and son, Om Bhutkar. All perform effortlessly. So also the fellow factory workers, the old man, his son and the neighbourhood populace. Chittaranjan, in particular, says so much without uttering a word or even getting into an expression. He could be in the running for an award.

A delay of about two years does not augur well for the release of any film, yet in this case it must be said ‘Better Lathe than never”.

Rating: ***


P.S.: Lathe definition: A machine for use in working wood, metal, etc., that holds the material and rotates it about a horizontal axis against a tool that shapes it. Efficiency is measured in millimetres or even less, often using Vernier’s Callipers.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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