Director Sanjay Jadhav and lead pair Ankush Chaudhary and Urmila Kanitkar Kothare of this week’s release Guru in conversation with Rohini Nag and Soumita Sengupta
Rohini Nag (RN): Sanjay, let’s start with you. How did you conceive the film and how did you finalise the cast?
Sanjay Jadhav (SJ): Actually, it was our dream. Ankush and I wanted to make a film like this for a really long time. We started working together 15 to 16 years ago, when we were doing television serials. I was the DoP and he was an actor and we often talked about making a film which would be hero-centric and hero-oriented. It was meant to be a complete masala entertainer, where the hero would fight, dance and romance. Then, each of us got busy with work. We did not get the right plot. Finally, Eros International came to us with the concept and then Bagpiper Soda too came on board. Finally, the dream is coming true.
Soumita Sengupta (SS): When you developed the story, did you have Ankush and Urmila in mind?
SJ: Yes, I did. We have been working together for 10 years. Both of them were in my film Duniyadari and we know each other so well that I already knew that the characters from the film would suit both of them perfectly.
SS: You mentioned that you wanted to make this masala entertainer a Marathi film. Did you want to break the mould of Marathi cinema being too realistic and content-driven?
SJ: Not really, I don’t think any filmmaker makes an analysis like this before making a film. Every story has a genre and its requirements. That’s how it happened, my story required that kind of genre.
RN: Ankush, what was your reaction when he told you that your dream project would finally start to roll?
Ankush Choudhary (AC): I was ecstatic. I had always wanted to do a film which would have a hero, a villain and a heroine. We wanted to make a film where, on the hero’s entry, the audience would whistle and clap; and the action sequences would be very enjoyable; and the songs and dance would make them happy. We wanted to make a colorful filmy film and that is what Guru is.
SJ: (Cuts in) We were very restless when we started to shoot. I remember first day of our shoot, it was a 7am schedule and I got a message from Ankush at around 5am, asking me if I was ready. I messaged back, telling him I was ready and asked him if he was. He replied, saying, ‘Bhai, sambhal lena.’ I reverted, ‘Haan bhai tu bhi sambhal lena.’ We were both very excited that we were going to do this kind of film and were dying to start our schedule.
RN: In this hero-centric film, what is your part, Urmila?
Urmila Kanitkar Kothare (UKK): Like Sanjay said, we have been working together for so many years and we both like to work with people with whom we are comfortable. I was told that I would be playing the character of Mango Dolly, who was not a typical heroine. She is a little weird and her character is a little eccentric. Like she can cry, laugh, get angry and eat, all at the same time. So this character was fun to do. As a director, he trusts me as an actor and has faith that I can pull off things I might feel that I can’t do. He always says, ‘I know you can do it and that is why I am asking you to do it.’ It was a delight to work on a film like Guru.
SS: What was the response like at the press screening of the film?
SJ: The response was very positive. I saw a lot of positivity at the screening. Ankush got the same reaction that he expects from the audience, from the members of the press at the screening.
SS: Ankush, 2015 was a fabulous year for you as far as the films you did and their box-office returns go. Guru is your first release of 2016. What are your expectations from the film?
AC: The films I did last year were very different from each other, as far as genres go. Guru is a completely different film and very filmy, which I am sure the audience will like. Daagdi Chaawl was my last release of 2015 and it was a serious film. Double Seat was college-centric; Classmates was a film you can watch with friends; and Guru is a film the entire family can watch together. It is a family package.
RN: But there must be some box-office expectations as all your films did so well last year.
AC: When we make films, we make them with the thought that the audience should like them. And the films I chose last year subjects that the audience could relate to. With Guru, we have tried to give the audience something they will enjoy.
SS: Urmila, what kind of standing does an actress have in Marathi cinema today?
UKK: I wouldn’t say that industry is totally male-oriented but I think our Marathi industry is more content-oriented. I did Mala Aai Vhhaychy!, which won a National Award in 2011. Today, it is more about the content and the package of a film that we are presenting to the audience. Similarly, with Guru, we are trying to give the audience something they can enjoy.
This is the era of marketing and publicity. The audience actually wants to watch good films and, if they are marketed and mounted well, there is a greater likelihood that they will work. Dada (Sanjay) is a very good example of how he devises different marketing strategies for each of his films. For Guru, we had a very innovative marketing strategy, like we inaugurated the poster of Guru outside Plaza cinema in Dadar. Ankush and I went and put it up with the help of a crane in the presence of a huge crowd that assembled to watch. So, these days, you have to come up with different ideas to grab audience’s attention.
RN: Ankush, do you think marketing boosts an actor’s stardom, not only the Marathi audience but even non-Marathi audiences, who may recognise you thanks to digital platforms?
AC: It helps a lot, especially when your film is releasing outside Maharashtra, for example, in Belgaum, Goa or Surat. Yes, we are slowly breaking barriers. We are releasing our films in Madhya Pradesh and even down South like in Bengaluru. So, yes, audiences get to know you and digital marketing is growing. Thanks to subtitles, even non-Marathi speaking movie-goers watch your film when they read good reviews and see a positive response. Audiences these days are film lovers, not Marathi cinema-goers or Hindi cinema-goers. We are also trying to make a film which appeals to a universal audience.
RN: Will we see your film being promoted in centres like Bengaluru and Indore?
AC: We will but there is no need at the moment. We do visit cities like Satara, Kolhapur, and for other states, we do radio interviews. Right now, we are targeting Maharashtra and will start targeting other states slowly.
SS: You just said that Marathi films are no longer being made keeping only Marathi audiences in mind, which was obvious with films like Court and Killa. But for an out-and-out commercial film like Guru, how do you draw a wider audience?
SJ: When we started shooting for Guru, there was a Marathi film which released, Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, which I watched with my friends. I soon realised that the cinema hall was filled with non-Marathi cine-goers and it was house full. The film was running in its third week. Half of the cast and crew were from the television fraternity. I realised that we had that kind of reach; people were aware of Marathi films, whether commercial or content-driven. And, if word-of-mouth is strong, everyone will walk into the theatre. All my films, whether Duniyadari, Pyaar Vali Love Story or Tu Hi Re, or Ankush’s Daagdi Chaawl, Classmates and Double Seat… they were all commercial films and the non-Marathi audience came to watch them in cinemas. So the language barrier doesn’t really exist today. The audience is looking to be entertained.
RN: Do you also track Hindi releases when it comes to releasing your films? Do Hollywood films also eat into a share of your films’ business?
SJ: Jab hum batting karne jaate hain, dekhte hi hain ki bowler kaun hain? Similarly, we do look at the other releases in other languages. But, so far, a good film has always worked. There are only 52 weeks and more than 400 films that release every year. And everyone needs a Friday to release their film. So there is little choice but to have films clashing with each other. We are only apprehensive of theatre availability. Natsamrat is still going strong in cinemas. Airlift and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 will release along with our film and, still, we have all got shows. Akshay Kumar has always been lucky for Ankush. Last year, all Akshay’s films clashed with Ankush’s films and the latter still did very well.
SS: 2015 was a great year for the Marathi industry as there were seven to eight films that did really well at the box office. 2016 started with a bang as Natsamrat is still going strong in its third week. How do you look at the year ahead and how would you describe 2015?
SJ: Last year was fantastic. It is a very positive sign that seven films did great business at the box office, back-to-back. 2015 was especially lucky for Ankush, who had three back-to-back hit films. It is high time we stopped saying that Marathi cinema is changing as it changed long ago and has grown a lot since then. It is doing very well and we have all kinds of films coming up. This year too, the line-up is very interesting.
AC: 2015 was an amazing year for us. In 2016, with Eros International and Bagpiper Soda entering the industry, it means business is good. When we started making Guru, we wanted to make it larger than life and we wanted a big production houses to back us. Since that happened, we were able to do justice to what we were thinking. Today, you can’t serve up just about anything to the audience; they need quality cinema to watch.