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Blossoming Anew

Team Mogra Phulaalaa – producers Arjun Singgh Baran and Kartk D Nishandar along with director Shrabani Deodhar and lead actor Swwapnil Joshi – talk to Padma Iyer about the making of the film, the dynamics of working together and more

How did the idea of Mogra Phulaalaa come about?

Shrabani Deodhar (SD): The idea cropped up basically because of these three. It was decided that we would all come together and make a film; it started with that. I was making a film after a long gap, so there was a little reservation, especially coming back after having worked in a channel for some time. But they placed a lot of confidence in me.

We were trying to gather ideas about the kind of film that we wanted to make. They told me to do what I was good at instead of diverting my thoughts because other things are working. I was comfortable talking about relationships and so that is what we decided to work with. We sat and thought. I must have bounced 20 or 30 ideas off them. It was all a collective effort and this idea came to mind.

With Swwapnil, I felt his potential as an actor had not been tapped to the fullest. He has a lot more to offer. Of course there is the image of his as well. He is a good actor and I felt we could move away from his image, because it would have been easy to do the usual. He too would have fit into it easily. I studied Swwapnil as a human being. I didn’t know him that well before. I realised that he is a very grounded person, despite his stardom. He is a Marathi boy. His basics are in place. When you know the scale of the actor it becomes easy to create a character to match that scale.

I also wanted to explore a different kind of romance, not the conventional love story. Maybe because I have also crossed that age. So this idea was discussed and everyone was on board and the journey started there.

Swwapnil, Shrabani tai mentioned that your potential as an actor had not been tapped to the fullest. A similar sentiment was expressed by Subodh Bhave in an earlier interview. What has been the reason for that, do you think?

Swwapnil Joshi (SJ): I feel that once you become a star, and this is true across India and all over the world, you are not taken seriously as an actor. In Hindi we have Bachchan saab (Amitabh Bachchan), Shah Rukh (Khan), Salman (Khan); then we have Naseer saab (Naseeruddin Shah) and Om Puri. That doesn’t mean that Bachchan saab is less of an actor. But his star persona is so great, that he is seen as a star first and then an actor. It is an image bifurcation. And even if you are star, you are acting, right?

What I felt good about was that a contemporary like Subodh, who himself is a brilliant actor, and a senior and extremely talented director like Shrabani tai, felt that there is more to me. I am very fortunate to be working with these people. She wanted to go beyond my stardom and tap the actor, which you don’t come across writers and directors wanting to do. Most people want to cash in on what you do best. Swwapnil will do a romantic film, he will get off a helicopter, the film will make `15 crore. It is great that I have earned that. But she was ready to take a risk, and someone like Subodh was constantly telling me to try something different and do films beyond my spectrum, like say a Bhikari or a Ranangan or a Fugay.

I am also very thankful that I am in a place where I am able to pick and choose. I was recently saying to somebody that with age and maturity, my mantra of success has changed. Earlier, only monetary success or box office success mattered. Now happiness is as much a success quotient as anything else. Contentment is as much a success quotient. And at that time when you have a Kartk, Arjun coming together with a director like Shrabani Deodhar to make a film with the boy-next-door guy that we know, it is a treat for an actor.

Arjun and Kartk, as producers, what was it about Shrabani Deodhar and Swwapnil Joshi that brought the four of you together?

Kartk D Nishandar (KDN): All the films that we have produced have been with Swwapnil, except Tula Kalnaar Nahi, which was with Subodh. And Swwapnil is part of the film, the company and everything. Also he goes all out to promote a film. Very few actors do that. Many have apprehensions and say that there is no need to promote for more than 10 days. But Swwapnil as an actor goes above and beyond. He has been promoting the film for the past 40 to 50 days.

Tai is like family. She is family. We have known her for 10 years. When Arjun and I started the company GSEAMS, she was the one who gave us our first show to do. We had known each other for three or four years at the time and she too was exiting the Star network. She is great person at heart. And we know that she is very dedicated. We all get along like a house on fire. We don’t how these two years went by. Arjun and I were discussing doing something with her again but she needs time. She takes at least a year to get a script ready.

Arjun Singgh Baran (ASB): Every movie takes time. It is like making a baby, and that takes nine months. You cannot say that you want to have it in six months! Everyone needs to dedicate time, from the artist to the director, and they both have. There is no other artist like Swwapnil, who gives two months before the movie and one month after. Shrabani tai has given one and half years to this movie. Of course every filmmaker will say that their movie is the best and is different. But I will say that of the five movies that we have produced, this is the best.

While talking to Sai Deodhar, she mentioned that she was keen to be part of this film. What was it that made her the perfect choice?

SD: I would not have taken her if she didn’t fit the role. I am very honest about that. I never took her in any of my previous films. She has done films with me when she was a kid. Now this film needed someone who had a certain understanding, because this role is not about primarily running around trees. I didn’t want a heroine to add to the glamour quotient. Though the film has all the elements of a commercial entertainer, I needed somebody who would understand human relationships and portray them with ease, because if you put in extra effort, it shows on screen.

Sai has years of experience. She has been acting for a long time and she is a good actor. And I am not saying this as a mother; I am strict like that. She has the maturity now, as she has seen the complexity of relationships. So somewhere the thought was there. But then again it comes to these three, because if they had not supported me on this idea of casting Sai, it wouldn’t have happened. They had the confidence that she would be able to take the role to the next level.

It is a different kind of love story, so everyone had to fit the bill. See, it is like a train; all the wheels have to fit. If just one wheel is off, the journey will be full of jerks. And I didn’t want that. I wanted a smooth ride, not to just zip off!

SJ: This film has its own rhythm. It is not running at the pace that current Marathi films are running at. We are not in competition with any other Marathi film, and anyway no one really is. You are competing with yourself. Having said that, the way tai has textured the screenplay, the music, the casting, and the way we have shot at real locations – there is an inherent softness to it.

Neena Kulkarni plays the mother. Swwapnil, you share a close relationship with her. How did she come on board?

SJ: Neena tai and I know each other for over 20 years now. We did a show about 14 years ago and we did it for four years. We played mother and son, but in a completely atypical relationship. She was the antagonist and I was the protagonist. So it was a mother-son battle for survival. Neena tai puts it very well. She says that the emotional investment we made 14 years ago as two people has paid off in this film. We have a fondness for each other.

Coincidentally, Neena tai and I were going through some dramatic situations in our personal lives when we did that show. So that brought us together at a different level. We were able to understand each other’s pain, we could relate to each other. Of course our scenarios were different, but just as there is no face to love, there is no face to pain. So we connected and that bond stayed.

The casting of the mother was extremely crucial to this film. This is predominantly the story of the mother’s acceptance of her son. So the four of us were brainstorming on who the mother should be. Tai was sure that she didn’t want a goody-two-shoes mom. Our mothers are not vanilla. They punish us when we are wrong. We wanted a mother who looked real. She should be such that we should be angry with her; we should feel upset with her and maybe even hate her sometimes. We all go through these emotions with our moms. But at the end of the day she is a mom and she does what is good for the family.

We wanted that, a strong woman, a vulnerable woman, a real woman! Tai thought of Neena tai and I called her. When she found out that I was doing the film and Shrabani tai was directing, her immediate response was, ‘I am doing the film’. I said, don’t you want to know the story or have a narration. She said ‘All that will happen when I come to Mumbai, but I am doing this film’.

SD: I have been friends with Neena for a long time. I was introduced to her after marriage. Our husbands were good friends. So that was also a comfort factor. And with that kind of bond, the box office you never know, but the film is definitely going to have an essence. Because we all matter to each other and it is not just about completing a job.

SJ: That is also why this is not going to be an overnight box office success. This film will be on your playlist. It will grow on you. It will stay with you for the longest time. This film is not about so many crores in so many days, it is a film that will succeed through word of mouth and its inherent positivity.

Part of the reason one makes movies is the commercials. So as a production house, how do you strike that balance between commercial success and content?

ASB: It is not just the movies that we are competing with. It is television, web series and all the content coming from everywhere. Within that, to come out with a proper movie and get revenue from it is a tough task. But because this is our fifth movie and because we are a studio and because we know how the business works, we are able to make things work. When we are talking with the director, we have a budget that we need to stick to.

KDN: And thankfully she sticks to it.

ASB: Yes, and the number of days that we can shoot. Luckily for us we got a lovely director who did that. It is a business in the end. We are in the business of entertainment. And if you are in that business, if you do it in a proper manner, everything is structured – the time the actor spends, the director spends; because if time goes up, the budget also goes up.

SD: Before we started the film, we had decided the release date. We started in February and we are releasing in June.

SJ: What she has done really well is invest time in scripting. What usually happens is, you are in such a hurry to start the film that there are then faults and delays all through production.

SD: We have not shot a single extra scene, not a single extra day, not a single extra shot. Everyone was on the same page. And they had all read the script. I think it is fundamental that the producers be part of the script along with the director.

KND: I spent a lot of time with the production on the ground, but Arjun and tai spent a lot of time with the writers. The two of them are like BFFs and they go all-out. And that is what matters. Arjun has a very good sense for scripts.

SD: And more than the sense for scripts, Arjun is like a sponge. He absorbs your shock. There are moments when you are agitated, today when I look back I feel I must have been harsh with them, but he just absorbs it and bounces back.

SJ: As a unit if you see the four of us together, you cannot bifurcate that this person has done this and that person has done that. The four of us are like one unit.

With the film in theatres, what are your expectations? What do you want the audience to take away from it, and how do you look at the box office?

KND: We have seen ups and downs. We have tried not to repeat the mistakes that we have made in our previous films. We have tried to keep it as real and as simple as possible. We know that we have given it 110 per cent. Now our fate is in the audience’s hands.

The songs have been received well and the overall verdict is that this is a family film. And that is the kind of film that Marathi audiences love. They don’t go for a lot of violence and excessive glamour. And when we have a National Award-winning director with us, what else do you need?

ASB: And Swwapnil, who has been with us from the scripting to being the producer; he has done it all.

SD: He has been extraordinary. He has worked on his body language and has been consistent. When you see him in the film, many things he has done go beyond what he has done before.

Another thing I want to reach out to the audience and say, through you, is that we need to be proud of our culture. There was a time when Marathi cinema was dominating the country. Today if we don’t hold it up as Maharashtrians, then it is a sad state of affairs. Do we have to be mimics of other people? Can’t we have our own identity? For that, and to keep cinema alive, I request the audience to come to the theatres. We are surely not going to let you down. It will be a pleasant experience that you will have.

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