Review: ‘Breath’

A boy faces surgery to remove his cancerous eyes in "Breath," tyro helmer-writer Sandeep Sawant's overextended but sensitive drama that steers perhaps the ultimate in melodramatic topics away from excessive bathos. Human-scale drama opened Dec. 10 in Gotham, and may find support from viewers looking for a serious indie alternative.

A boy faces surgery to remove his cancerous eyes in “Breath,” tyro helmer-writer Sandeep Sawant’s overextended but sensitive drama that steers perhaps the ultimate in melodramatic topics away from excessive bathos. Marathi-lingo film reps a regional flavor quite apart from splashier Bollywood fare. Following local autumn bow, this human-scale drama opened Dec. 10 in Gotham, and may find support from viewers looking for a serious indie alternative.

Sawant is as interested in the chasm between city culture (in Mumbai) and slower village life (in the Konkan region) as he is in the medical case itself, and he contrasts the characters of slick oncologist Dr. Milind Sane (Sandeep Kulkarni) and elderly yokel Vichare (Arun Nalawade, who also produced).

Sane is juggling phone calls when Vichare arrives in his office with grandson Parashuram (Ashwin Chitale) in tow, concerned about the boy’s poor sight. Boy’s care is up to grandpa, since the boy’s father is recuperating from an injury as a bus driver, and mother (Ashwini Giri) must tend to the home.

“Breath” is awash in procedural material that plunges the viewer into the tension, stress and time-wasting that goes along with arranging doctor and hospital visits — all of it a tad too much for Vichare’s emotional constitution.

After interludes which dramatically contrast the cool, high-tech world of the hospital with the slow, green reality of Parashuram’s Konkan village, the drama gets down to business with Sane delivering the bad news: Parashuram has cancer in both eyes, and must lose both if he’s to live.

Unable to tell the boy or mother himself, Vichare dawdles with the decision, and Parashuram’s accompanying uncle (Ganesh Manjrekar) is no help. It takes the intervention of hospital social worker Asawari (Amruta Subhash) to finally prompt getting the boy to surgery.

The drama’s basis in an actual case history is clear enough, and it can never quite shake free from all the usual associations with the true-life TV saga form. As a dramatist, Sawant shows a habit of dawdling as much as the grandfather, even repeating information from scene to scene to supposedly extend the suspense. He can’t avoid a certain predictable final twist before surgery, and the boy’s post-op return home is oddly anticlimactic.

The cast grasps the emotional stakes, with Kulkarni taking the most compelling journey from disinterested specialist to caring physician. Child thesp Chitale seldom holds back from showing Parashuram’s building anger and frustration, with a few unavoidable cute touches thrown in.

Handsome low-budget production is sharply lensed in widescreen by Sanjay Memane, with fascinating location work in the streets and sticks. In fascinating ways, Bhaskar Chandavarkar’s score mixes traditional and Western instruments (plus a bit of Mahler).

Breath

India

Production

A Kathi Arts release (in U.S. and India) of an Arun Nalawade presentation of a Kathi Arts production. (International sales: Kathi Arts, Mumbai, India.) Produced by Arun Nalawade, Rajan Cheulkar, Sandeep Sawant, Mohan Parab, Devidas Bapat, V.R. Nayak, Deepak Choudhary, Nareshachandra Jani. Executive producers, Cheulkar, Bapat, Parab. Directed, written by Sandeep Sawant; story, Madhavi Gharpure.

Crew

Camera (Film Lab Tardeo color, widescreen), Sanjay Memane; editor, Neeraj Voralia; music, Bhaskar Chandavarkar; costume designer, Neeraja Patwardhan; makeup, Anji Babu; sound, Suhas Kishore Rane. Reviewed on videodisc, Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 2004. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Arun Nalawade, Sandeep Kulkarni, Ashwin Chitale, Amruta Subhash, Ganesh Manjrekar, Ashwini Giri. (Marathi dialogue)
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