He is the winner of this year’s Best Actor National Award for his Marathi film Anumati. Although associated mainly with the Marathi film industry, Vikram Gokhale has also worked in other regional film industries as well as Bollywood.
He launched his career on stage and, since then, has had a five-decade-long love affair with theatre, television and cinema. Rohini Nag in conversation with the man of the moment
What does the National Award mean to you?
I was very content that I won the award, especially because it is not a popular award but an award that is nationally recognised. It’s a proud moment.
And you shared the award with Irrfan…
(Laughs) I am happy that I shared the award with an intelligent actor like Irrfan. I don’t know what his opinion is on sharing the award with me though!
Do you think regional artistes should also be a part of the Hindi film industry to be nationally acknowledged?
No, I don’t think it makes any difference. Whether you are a Maharashtrian, a Bengali or Kannada or a Punjabi, you are part of the film industry and that’s enough. I do not feel inferior to anything or anyone. I am associated with Bollywood, whether in a small role or a big one. It doesn’t matter what regional industry I come from, whether Marathi or Gujarati or any other regional film industry. I have never felt insecure nor uplifted. If a Marathi film is shot in Mumbai, then I am a part of Bollywood.
You have acted in Hindi films and Marathi films; you’ve done theatre as well as television for almost five decades. What has your journey as an actor been like?
My journey has been full of struggle and I am very proud that I surpassed it. It was tough to establish myself. I focused, learnt and I studied on a very large scale to be an actor. I’ve read and watched wonderful films. I realised what I had to do and what needed to be done.
As an actor in theatre, I am never contended and in films, it often happens that you deliver a good shot but you feel you could have done better. However, it is the director who calls the shots.
In television, you don’t have the time to invest in what you are doing. Working for television restricts you from thinking all this. One cannot afford to give much time to the director or other actors. You have to do whatever comes your way; the TV channel calls the shots. If you don’t have much of a say in what to do, toh mazduri hai woh. (Laughs)
You have also done other regional films (Telugu film Kalavaramaye Madilo in 2009). What was it like working on that film?
I have also done a couple of Kannada films. The South Indian film industry is very disciplined and I am happy to have worked in that industry. Bollywood has a lot to learn as far as discipline is concerned.
Technically, how different is the Hindi film industry from the Marathi film industry? Is there a difference in the way they function?
Fortunately, Marathi films are attracting good technicians and actors. Technically, the scenario is very good except that it doesn’t have the huge investments it deserves. The reason is it’s a very limited territory.
In Bengal, the Bengali audience’s priority is watching Bengali films and the same applies to other regional cinema. This does not happen in Maharashtra. In my opinion, that’s because Bollywood is so well entrenched here. Besides, Mumbai is the business capital of Maharashtra and it’s a cosmopolitan city. Hence you cannot expect Maharashtrians in Mumbai to watch only Marathi films. Maharastrian film-goers are more from the rural areas and they prefer Hindi films. But when we talk about rural Karnataka, rural Bengal or rural Punjab, they prefer their regional films over Hindi.
How is the return on investment in Marathi films?
There is no recovery at all. If you want to recover your investment, you need sponsors. Then there’s the issue of saving on costs. The digital format would help save costs but filmmakers are not inclined towards the digital format.
Comment on the growth in the Marathi film industry over the years.
Since Shwaas, Marathi cinema has started experimenting and this is the path to progress. Marathi cinema is very different from what it was 25 to 30 years ago. There is just one thing – Marathi films should go beyond comic themes. Unfortunately, the Marathi audience, both cinema and theatre, has been given to understand that films and theatre are supposed to be comic. But things are gradually changing.
Marathi movies do not last more than a week at cinemas. Also, every Friday sees four to five Marathi films releasing. On an average, there are 120-150 Marathi films being made every year. And that number has gone up in the last five to six years. Also, nowadays, Marathi films can no longer be made on a budget that’s less than ` 1.5 crore.
Marathi films receive government subsidies. Do you think every Marathi filmmaker deserved them?
I am against this subsidy business. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can claim to be a film producer and demand ` 30- 40 lakh. This process is totally flawed. The government should offer subsidies only to a handful of films every year and should select only quality cinema. And I don’t mean box-office collections; I mean content.
I fail to understand how subsidies work. Who decides and on what basis do they decide which film deserves how much? We need a committee and board members who are knowledgeable about filmmaking, knowledge about directing and the technicalities of filmmaking. They should then use their discretion to hand out subsidies to only a few films every year.
Do you think mainstream Hindi filmmakers and actors should promote their respective regional cinemas?
I had suggested to Mr Subhash Ghai that he make at least one Marathi film. It is people of his stature that should make good Marathi cinema. When you’re doing well in Hindi films, you can dare to do a Marathi film once a year. Big producers and directors from Bollywood, agar ek Marathi film saal mein banate hai toh kuch bigdega nahi.
You directed a Marathi film, Aaghaat, back in 2010. When are you planning to direct your next? Do you plan to direct a Hindi film?
Yes, I am planning to direct a couple of Marathi films and a couple of Hindi films too are in the pipeline. One of them is I See You and other is Invisible Walls, which is a Hinglish film. I am waiting for a producer because all the films I am going to direct or intend to direct will be issue-based films. I cannot make a film purely for entertainment. There are those who look at the entertainment industry just for entertainment but not me. I believe that apart from entertainment, you also have to say something.
Why don’t we see you in Hindi films as often as we used to?
Four of my films are ready for release. One is with Nana Patekar, Ram Gopal Varma’s sequel to Ab Tak Chhappan. Nana and I are playing the main roles in the film. Dhuaan is another film, which tackles over-industrialisation and its pros and cons on our society. I’ve also done Ata Pata Laapata, which released last year. I do not jump at any and every offer I get. I need a very good role and good content. I have my terms and conditions.