Shirdi Sai Baba was, is and will always remain special. And with good reason.
Here was a saint who was so much more. He believed in the dictum of “Sabka Maalik Ek” (God is one, and religions are just routes to Him, and do not teach hatred), and “Shraddha Saburi” (Faith and Patience) were his credos. Sai Baba was an adopted child, acquired extraordinary holy and spiritual powers with his simple lifestyle and years of hard work, ‘tapasya’ and ‘sadhana’ and transformed the lives of his followers that spanned multiple faiths.
He would cure very ill people with just a touch, some “udi” (holy ash) and more, and these miracles have been witnessed by “rationals” as well of men of medicine and skeptics again and again in the then-tiny hamlet of Shirdi in Northern Maharashtra. For good measure, he even supported the freedom fighters in the early 20th century against the British. He taught lasting lessons on humanity, common sense and social upliftment (such as widow remarriage, Hindu-Muslim unity and other prevalent taboos and evils), fighting against everything regressive and retrograde.
The MX series, getting the advantage of 10 episodes totaling about five hours, describes his story in great detail and in a vivid way, right from the time he was adopted to the time he took ‘Samadhi’. The series is largely based on a book, “Shri Sai Satcharitra” written by Govind Raghunath Dabholkar, but it is Sujata S. Sabnia’s screenplay that holds the show tight. Many films have been made on the saint, but none have the depth of this show that also teaches us so much more than the stories that are more famous about Sai.
Technically fabulous (especially the cinematography by Prasad Bhende, the outstanding production design by Aman Vidhate and Sujata Sharma Virk, the make-up by Vikram Gaikwad and the costumes), the series has a magnificent background score and songs composed by Shailendra Barve. Ajit Bhairavkar’s direction is seasoned, sensible—magnificent. The script is the true winner of the show alongside the direction, and Ashish Mhatre and Apurva Motiwale are equally excellent as their editing brings to life an often non-linear saga in a manner that is concise and, more important, to-the-point.
Raj Arjun towers as the saint in the series, the minutiae in his work transforming his performance from excellent to terrific beyond description. His compassionate eyes, the tiny nuanced gestures made with his hands, the lines he speaks, and the tonality of his voice bring out the saint so well it is impossible to imagine this actor as the man who essayed the despotic Muslim father in “Secret Superstar” (2016) and—more recently—the Army subedar in “Shershaah.” Here is an actor with not just a phenomenal range but also immense dedication and incredible commitment.
Mohammed Samad, the boy who was so effective in “Chhichhore,” gets top billing over all others (except Raj Arjun) as the young Sai and is, for his role, absolutely superb, especially in his confrontationist scenes with the religious fanatics.
The supporting cast is mixed, and while some necessary hamming comes from some artistes (like Manoj Kolhatkar as the doctor), we have excellent turns from Rohit Phalke as the revolutionary, Gulki Joshi as the dancer, Akash Sinha as the criminal, Gyanendra Tripathi and Vartika Tiwari as the couple in love, and Deepak Damle as Mahalsapati—in particular.
Overall, this is a brilliant piece of work with negligible flaws that can be watched again and again.
Produced by: Bobby Bedi
Directed by: Ajit Bhairavkar
Written by: Sujata S. Sabnis & Ajit Bhairavkar
Music: Shailendra Barve
Starring: Raj Arjun, Mohammed Samad, Gulki Joshi, Akash Sinha, Manoj Kolhatkar, Rohit Phalke, Asheesh Kapur, Meera Sarang, Asmita Aajgaonkar, Monty Barath Bapa, Atharv Phadnis, Saurabh Kunde, Devika Daftardar, Rajendra Shisatkar, Deepak Damle, Sharve Date, Raymond Francisco, GyanendraTripathi, J. Brandon Hill, Gary John, Vitthal Nagnath Kale, Atul Kaswa, Prasanna Ketkar, Gouri Konge, Romi Siddique, Avinash Soni, Mohit Tiwari, Vartika Tiwari, Chirag Vohra & others