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Beyond Boundaries

Director Omkar Ramesh Shetty, and actors Swastika Mukherjee and Neha Joshi, talk to Padma Iyer about their upcoming Marathi film Aaron, the process of making the film, the challenges they faced and their expectations from the audience

What is Aaron all about?

Omkar Ramesh Shetty (ORS): I don’t know how many times I have been asked this question but I am very happy to answer. Aaron is a very important character in the film and that’s all there is to it. That is all I can reveal at this point. The rest will reveal itself to the audience as the film unravels, or else there will be no fun watching the film.

What was the inspiration for the story?

ORS: I wanted to make a travel film as I am an avid traveller. Also, I realised that Marathi cinema does not have a travel film in its repertoire. Some Marathi films have shown Europe and the US but these were not travel stories. I thought it would be great idea to make film that would showcase Europe in a way that has not been done before. So I started writing the script focussing on travel.

But when I wrote the first draft, it was not just a travel film; it also had many emotions. There were many characters in it that were more important than the travel aspect of the story. In the end, the travel in the story is not about going to different places and enjoying new cuisines. You see the people, their day-to-day lives, and what they have to do to survive. That is the idea behind this movie. In Bollywood, everything looks classy, everyone is rich. In Aaron, we see a different Europe, not a bad one but a realistic one.

Swastika, how did you become part of Aaron?

Swastika Mukherjee (SM): I have been working in the Bengali film industry for 18 years. I did a Bollywood film with Dibakar Banerjee and I am shooting for another one now. I have always wanted to move out of my comfort zone as it was becoming repetitive. You begin to miss that push to achieve something that is completely mind-blowing and difficult. You miss that urgency which is important for an actor to grow.

Omkar and I have a common friend who is a casting director. She told me that they were casting for a film and they were looking for someone who did not look typically Maharashtrian and someone who didn’t have a Marathi accent. I went and met him. There was a board behind him with the names of the characters in the film and the actors who were going to play them, including the character for which I had gone to meet him.

He gave me the brief and I told him I was sure I wouldn’t do the film but I still wanted to read the script to see what it was all about. When I read it, I was moved. It is an emotional story and I knew that I had to do this film. I decided to convince him to cast me and not the person he already had in mind. I went back after a couple of days, fully prepared. I learnt the script by rote and I had a lot of questions as well. And I guess my questions convinced him to cast me. I became a part of Aaron and I am very happy that I did.

Neha, how about you, how did Aaron come to you?

Neha Joshi (NJ): I was the last one to be cast for the film and that makes for a very interesting story. They were shooting in Paris, and whenever an actress who was appraoched for the role found out that she would not be shooting there, she would opt out of the film! I heard about this film from Shashank (Ketkar). He said it was a nice role and would I be interested in meeting the director? When I heard the name ‘Omkar Shetty’, I was, like, now I will hear a narration in Hindi or English. However, when I met him, I was surprised that he spoke Marathi so well. Then I found out that he was from Kalyan!

I have never given importance to the length of the role. For me, if a character is taken out of the narrative, it should affect the story. So many actors have proved that. I am happy that I decided to be part of this film. There are so many beautiful, emotional scenes and moments in this film. I am indebted to my parents for giving me genes that make my face so common that I can slip into and do any role, whether it Savitribai Phule, a bar dancer, or this role.

You have shot at international locations and worked with an international cast and crew. What challenges did you face?

ORS: The two actors who play the main characters are French. Their casting was quite a challenge. For Veronica’s character, we auditioned 20-22 girls; directors, stage actors, actors who had done at least one Hollywood film… it was difficult to make a choice. For the character of Jack, we had two options. I was not sure about one of them but my first AD, who is Israeli, showed me a clip from a German film that the actor had featured in. However, in the auditions, I was not able to see that in him. But my AD told me I should take the risk and I did. It turned out that he was perfect for the part.

Everyone who has been cast, whether the French actors, Swastika, Neha, Shashank or Athrava (Padhye) who plays the kid, everyone is perfectly suited to play their characters. I cannot think of anyone else doing these parts.

SM: When I said I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and feel pushed as an actor, I didn’t want to be pushed so hard (Laughs)! When I reached the set on day one, the first scene I had was 20 lines long in Marathi. Then I heard from the unit that it was going to be shot in sync sound. I couldn’t believe it. I had learnt my lines and thought if I faltered, it could be corrected during dubbing. I asked Omkar and he confirmed that we were shooting in sync sound. At that moment, I felt that Maa Kaali’s khadag was on my neck. Immediately, it felt like an examination. I got the script in English and Hindi. All through day and night, I learnt my lines. And I used to check with everyone on the set to make sure my pronunciation was correct.

Neha, your character Sunanda seems like a very emotional person. How do you prepare for such a dramatic role? What is your process?

NJ: I cannot switch characters on and off. I have told my directors that I am not a ‘very intelligent’ actor. There is a scene in this film where I have to cry. So I do, and ten minutes after the shot, I am still crying. My process is such that I believe the situation that the character is in. I feel that I am in that situation, that this is happening to me. It may not be possible to draw from pre-set emotions because everyone may not have experienced those situations before. My personal experience can be a reference point, but it cannot be the whole thing.

Both my parents are actors; they do amateur theatre. I think a lot of my process comes from them and some of it is my own. I put myself into the situation of the character and that is my process. Theatre has taught me this.

How will Marathi audiences connect with this film, especially since it has an international feel?

ORS: The Marathi audience is an intelligent audience. They have always appreciated change and new ideas. They will connect with the content of the film and that is how the film is being marketed. If this was a Hindi film, I would not have been so confident. This is the beauty of regional cinema. Also, when I decided to make a Marathi film in Europe, I was sure I didn’t want to shoot abroad only because I could but because the story demanded it.

NJ: Irrespective of where people live, the basic emotions we all experience are the same; only the ways in which they are expressed vary. The film is in the story, it is not in Paris or in India or in the characters we play.  

Omkar, this is your first film and an ambitious one at that. How did you get a producer on board?

ORS: I was very lucky. My producer was like God. No one has seen him. He was never there on the sets. He did not interfere in anything or give any instructions. Therefore, I was able to take risks and make the film the way I wanted to. He gave me the freedom to do this. And when he saw the film, he felt he had invested in a good film. He knew his money had been spent well and that this was something he could show people.

What do you want the audience to take back from Aaron when they leave the theatre?

ORS: The audience will take back a lot but I want them to travel a lot and realise that travel teaches us a lot. In the film, you will see how the characters who travel evolve and change. I also want to show people that one should never have preconceived notions about people and judge them based on them. Relationships are all about adjustments and managing the emotions involved.

SM: People will take back a lot of happy feelings. They will love the emotional journey that they see on screen. They will see a lot of good performances, which I think is very important for a film. At the end the day, a film is good only if the audience is happy with the actors. No one ever says they loved a film but the actors were bad. This film looks good and of course the USP is the performances.

NJ: This story is about the characters and people will connect with the emotions in it. The story will also show you how important it is to do something at the right time. I try to take away something from the characters I play and give something to them as well. From Sunanda, I have learnt stability. 

What is next after Aaron?

ORS: I have written a Hindi film and there’s one more but I don’t know which one will go on the floors first.

SM: I am doing a Hindi film. Then I will be doing a show for Amazon Prime. I am also shooting a series for ALTBalaji.

NJ: I have a movie next year titled Nasheebvaan with Bhau Kadam, in which we play BMC sweepers. I am happy that people have accepted me in such varied characters. I pray that I continue to get these wonderful roles. I may also do a play very soon with a director I have always wanted to work with, Mohit Takalkar.

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