Did you ever imagine that Ventilator would do so well at the box office?
I don’t understand the box office very well but I never dreamt I would get this kind of response. I knew that the film would be liked by the audience because when you first hear the script, you always hear it as the audience would. And, at that time, I knew this would connect with the audience. The responses I am receiving is outstanding.
Can you share some of your experiences?
I have worked in the industry for more than 12 years and I am used to people asking me for an autograph or to pose with them for a selfie. But never before have people randomly come up to me and given me a hug, people of all ages, old men and young guys included. The best compliment ever is when people relate to your character.
Any emotional responses?
Lots… The film now belongs to the audience; it no longer belongs to us. People who watched the film are coming and sharing their experiences with us since they feel connected to the film. Like there was this elderly woman who came to me and held old my hand as she told me she had lost her husband a few years ago, and then a year ago, she lost her son to cancer. She had only her mother for emotional support and she too passed away a few months ago.
She was emotionally broken and didn’t know where to go, whom to talk to. After watching the film, she thought I was the best person to talk to. She told me her whole story. And when you listen to their stories, you start crying, because it is all so emotional. While growing up, children tend to drift away from their parents, especially when they start going to college. But, after watching the film, many youngsters have told me how they want to reconnect with their folks.
Going back in time a little, how did you bag the film?
It was pure coincidence as someone else had actually been cast for the role. Since there were date issues, he had to quit. So Rohan Mapuskar, who had once produced a play with my wife, asked if I could listen to a narration. I was already into the pre-production of another film, so I was apprehensive but I heard the narration, a video audition by Rajesh Mapuskar. After listening to the narrative, I knew I wanted to be part of the film. That’s how I bagged the part of Prasanna Kamerkar.
How close is your reel character to your real character?
Very. My childhood was full of struggle as I was very rebellious due to the way I was raised. Since my father was an alcoholic, we never lived with him and I was raised by my mother, who struggled to give me a proper education. So my character struck a chord deep inside me. Also, in real life, I am very emotional about the people I love. So Prasanna was close to me in many ways.
Once you were finalised, how did you start preparing for the role?
I had a barrage of questions for my director. But all credit goes to our director, who is a very silent and calm person. He was very clear about what he wanted and how he wanted it to be done. Since the Kamerkar family is huge, the first task was to understand with whom you shared a relationship and what it was like… which aunt you were close to, which brother you were close to and whom you hated.
Rajesh helped me understand the family with the help of a family tree, which we used in the film too. We did a lot of reading sessions; it was very important for me to understand Prasanna as a person… what his childhood was like, why he behaves with his father as he does, etc.
The film starts with a comic touch and then turns emotional.
Yes, and you understand why only when you watch the film, not while we were shooting it. I have barely any scenes in the first half of the film and so it was important to build my character’s graph. The emotional baggage comes to the fore in the second half. I had auditioned for three hours once Rajesh finalised me to see whether I could deliver what he wanted. What was most exciting for me was working with such a powerhouse of actors.
Which was the toughest scene to deliver?
One of the toughest scenes was the one where he realises that his friend, whom he considers a brother, has taken away everything in his political career. The most challenging scene was the confrontation with his father. As an actor, when someone reacts to your lines, it is fine, but the toughest part is when someone doesn’t react and you still have to make the scene believable. So that was the most difficult scene.
You are also a lyricist. How did acting happen?
Things just happen to me. I was born and brought up in Pune and was working as an electrician. I loved to act in plays while in school and my teachers always encouraged me. So I always believed I could act. I came to Mumbai to become a cinematographer or a director, and when that didn’t happen, I started assisting. I also did Marathi plays and must have done 18 plays, over 1,700 shows, in the last 12 years. I received my first break from Mahesh Manjrekar, who saw one of my plays and offered me a role in Pran Jaye Par Shaan Na Jaye.
So acting started happening and I was multi-tasking. Also, a few of my friends are composers and we used to create music. So while I was doing plays, I was also writing songs. From those days, my friends who knew the other side of me gave me the chance to write songs too. One of my hit songs as a lyricist is Kombadi Palali. Sometimes, I also sing.
I did Kutumb but the turning point in my career came with Tukaram. Before that, I was hosting shows and other things. I also do a good amount of comedy. But it was Tukaram that changed the perception of people towards me as it was a serious role. Tukaram was just not a saint, he was a vidrohi kavi and in a very different way. So that role brought me lots of recognition.
Then came Duniyadaari, where I played a negative role. Again, it was something I hadn’t done and neither had the audience seen me doing it. Duniyadari also featured Swwapnil Joshi and Ankush Choudhary, two of the biggest stars of Marathi cinema. I had only five scenes but yet the audience noticed my character. I know that because, after this film, while people used to pass me by, they used to repeat my lines from the film. So I would say fame came from Duniyadari. But the kind of response I am receiving from Ventilator is the first of its kind.