Producer Vidhi Kasliwal, writer-director Amol Gole and actor Bhau Kadam in conversation with Padma Iyer about their Marathi film Nashibvaan
Vidhi, what is it about Marathi cinema in general and Nashibvaan in particular that made you want to be part of it?
Vidhi Kasliwal (VK): I have been in love with Marathi cinema ever since I started watching Marathi films. That is when I decided that my first film as a producer had to be a Marathi film. So that is where I started. Sanngto Aika, which released in 2014, was my first film, . Bhau (Kadam) was a very big part of it. And I got a chance to work with Amol (Gole) on a documentary that we working on for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. I saw a madness and passion in Amol at the time, and I always knew he would make cinema that he truly believes in.
It was a year ago that he called and told me that he had made this film and he wanted me to see it. There was Bhau in it and he had done a wonderful job. It is a never-seen-before kind of role. His character has many layers, which he brings out through his performance. The best part is that his eyes throughout the film are like those of the Bhau we love and recognise. When I saw the film, I could see the honesty and the hard work that Amol had put into every frame. He is the writer, director and DoP of the film. The best part is that he never thinks that something is not his job or that he is of a certain level and shouldn’t do that. So, the intentions behind making the film are correct. That is why I thought it would be great for us to be part of this film. And this is our seventh Marathi film.
Amol, how did the idea of this story come about?
Amol Gole (AG): My friend Sanjeev Jha introduced me to the story Dilli Ki Deewar written by writer Uday Prakashji which was published in the year 2000. He told me the story in a nutshell. I realised that the story was relevant not just today but would be relevant even in 2060. I casually asked Sanjeev if Udayji would give me the rights to the story to make it into a film. He spoke to Udayji about it. To my good fortune, Udayji had seen Stanley Ka Dabba and Elizabeth Ekadashi, films that I was part of. So I guess he thought I was a filmmaker who was wired differently and I would make something good out of his story.
In the 10 minutes that I spoke to him over the phone, he agreed to give me the rights. An email followed and there was no talk about remuneration or compensation, but just that he was giving me the rights to the story to be made into a Marathi film. Then the journey of Nashibvaan began.
First, I thought I would get someone to write the story, but then I wanted to try my hand at it. I felt that the story would be a perfect fit for Mumbai and for municipal workers. I spent time understanding them, their working style, their hierarchy, their lifestyle… the positives and negatives in them, and started incorporating those elements into the story.
The biggest challenge for me was adapting Uday sir’s story to the film format. The story has a poetic ending, but that would not have connected with film audiences. I wanted every character to have a finite ending. I think I have been 70 per cent successful in doing that. Uday sir also read the film and liked it. That was a relief. Vidhi was also tense about that.
VK: Of course, you would be. He is such a senior writer.
AG: And if he didn’t like something, there was nothing we could have done because we had already mentioned in the film credits that the story is by Uday Prakash! As the story unfolds, the protagonist of the film becomes the antagonist. And I had to create a protagonist to replace him. That was challenging for me while writing the film. I thoroughly enjoyed that process and I think I have succeeded in doing that.
Bhau, what is it about the character and story that prompted you to say ‘yes’ to the film?
Bhau Kadam (BK): When Amol narrated the story to me, I realised it was not the story of just that BMC sweeper. It is a story that has universal appeal. The issues that are shown happen in every household, rich and poor. How a human being changes when money comes into his life is what Nashibvaan is all about. I too had to go through a struggle to make money. And as money came, I too have changed as a person. I think it is destiny that I got to do this film at this very stage in my life, a message about what I should not become as my financial position changes. Also, the film ends on a positive note. Looking at all these aspects, I decided that I should be part of this film.
But, Bhau, it must have been challenging for you, especially since comedy is your forte and this character has many shades.
BK: It was indeed challenging to play this character as I am not like this real life. I don’t even scream at my wife and I had to do that in the film as part of the character I was playing. I have never acted with an actress like this, ever.
AG: His wife has complete control over him!
BK: But then I thought I should give it a shot. I left everything to Amol. I was just a lump of clay and I let Amol mould me and shape me the way he wanted for this film. And I think he has done a good job at that.
AG: I don’t like it when Bhau is referred to as a comedian. I think he is a good actor. He is known for his work in the TV show Chala Hawa Yeu Dya. All the actors on that show have different strengths and energies. For all that variety, you need a base on which they can thrive. Bhau is that base. He can keep a straight face but still deliver punches. The reason he is able to do that – which also worked in Nashibvaan’s favour – is that his face may be blank but his eyes are filled with innocence.
Second, today he is part of every household, he is everyone’s bhau. Seven- and eight-year-olds also know Bhau as do 70-80 year olds. Merely mentioning the name ‘Bhau Kadam’ is enough to elicit laughter. Because he is playing the role, many more people will be able to relate and connect with the story of Nashibvaan.
What is it about Marathi cinema that attracts you to it? What kind of films do you want to make?
VK: I think it is the honesty and intentions with which the films are made. I don’t think they make films to be part of the `100-crore club or anything like that. I think they make films because they want to tell a good story. That is the most attractive thing. Every film has soul and it shows. You can feel it. There are a lot of films that you make that look good on paper but here I think they are in love with the craft. I think I can say ‘we’ as I am also part of this industry now.
We want to tell human, personal stories of different genres and the hero of the film is the story. So we don’t have to chase stars but make a good story in the most effective budget. It is indie kind of filmmaking, to avoid wastage or do anything in excess. We spend only on what we want.
AG: I want to make films that can be watched by three generations without any discomfort. I cannot label films as ‘commercial’ or otherwise and I don’t want to. A story is a story. I just want to work with good people. And this is a very responsible medium. Each one has a way of looking at it, but for me it is a very responsible medium. The audience may not interpret the film as you have, so you have to be careful what you are putting out there. I personally feel that good literature and good cinema have the capacity to change lives.
Now this film has an item song but it is not really an item song. I want the audience to feel angry at Baban and what he has turned into.
VK: The downfall of Baban is shown through the song.
The film has two talented actresses, Mitaliee Jagtap and Neha Joshi. What was it like working with them?
BK: It was a wonderful experience. I also got to learn a lot from them. While working, I was always in character. So they used to wonder why I was so quiet. But during the film, they used to help me approach the character. We used to improvise and if Amol liked these improvisations, he kept them in the film.
We understood each other and worked like one big family. Of course, there were a lot of retakes because Amol is not easy to please. There was a scene in which I had to get drunk, and I ended up drinking almost two litres of cold drink before he okayed the shot. In another scene, Neha ended up eating several plates of pav bhaji before Amol was happy with the output.
VK: He is a very demanding director.
AG: At least I feed them and kill them!
Playing the character of Baban is physically demanding. Can you share some experiences from the shooting?
AG: Bhau has personally handled all the garbage.
VK: That is the beauty of Marathi actors. They go all out. For the film, Vazandar, Saie (Tamhankar) and Priya (Bapat) put on so much of weight for their roles. Not many Hindi actresses would agree to do that. Bhau has actually picked up so much garbage. Even the unit worked under those conditions, the smell, rashes on the skin.
AG: There is a scene where there are flies on the garbage. If it isn’t real garbage, would you have flies and mosquitoes?
BK: We also shot in a public toilet. I am counting the money and Amol is perched on top, taking the shot.
AG: Apart from all these experiences, the Bhau’s biggest strength is when he gets into costume, he becomes Baban. He submitted himself to the character completely. And for Nashibvaan, it is wonderful that I got Mitalee and Neha. They are always prepared to do anything. And they contributed a lot to create the graph of Bhau’s character. They gave me so many options for almost every scene. Bhau was like a tuning fork and he set the tone for the rest of the characters and finally the film.
What are your box-office expectations from Nashibvaan?
VK: I have great expectations from Nashibvaan and I can say that this is our most massy film to date. The love that Bhau gets from the masses and they will get to see him doing something else. I am hoping with this film, they realise and accept the range that he has. Of course, the box office is important and as producers we try to balance both. If we make one hit, we can make 10 more films that we really believe in.
BK: Just as Chala Hawa Yeu Dya gave me a lot of love, I hope this film gives me the same. 2019 is a good year for me and I think this film will do well.
AG: I have not tasted a hit film as a producer or a director. And Vidhi has already said that I am the writer, director and DoP. So there is pressure on me. But I feel that the film should get what it deserves.
What are your future projects?
AG: I am doing a film with Shravani Deodhar. After that, I am directing a small film titled Fatima, whose script I am writing. It is the story of a little girl and her efforts to build a school in her village.
VK: We have a couple of Hindi films in the pipeline. We also have a Marathi film that will go on the floors in May. And we are on the lookout for more Marathi films and good stories that we can tell.
BK: I have a film releasing in April, Wedding Cha Cinema, which is being directed by Saleel Kulkarni.