Upcoming Marathi film Kanha salutes the indomitable spirit of the Govindas during the Dahi Handi festival. Director Avadhoot Gupte, co-producers Joe Rajan and Purvesh Sarnaik, and actors Vaibbhav Tatwawdi, Gashmeer Mahajani and Gauri Nalawade tell us about their wholesome entertainer and how it will change the perception of the festival forever
BOI: What made you produce a Marathi film after your debut as producer-director of a Hindi film (Luv U Soniyo)?
Joe Rajan (JR): Since I’ve been a part of Bollywood, it was a very rare thing for me to produce a Marathi film but Pratap Sarnaik and I share a great rapport. He came up with three very good ideas, one of which was based on the festival of Dahi Handi and today it is considered as one of the biggest festivals of Maharasthra and Pratap Sarnaik is the organiser of one of the biggest Dahi Handi mandals in Mumbai.
We discussed it and when we met on Suresh Wadkar’s birthday, we suddenly felt we had to do this with Avadhoot, who is also a master in that segment of cinema since he has made Zenda and Morya. That’s why we decided that Avadhoot must come aboard this project as director. When we told Avadhoot we were doing this subject, he started to pen the story and that’s how the entire project started.
I was interested in the project because it had a very interesting subject; next because Sarnaik was involved and; third, because Avadhoot was directing this film. It was a very good package for me to be associated with this project. Then Pratap’s son Purvesh (Sarnaik) came into the picture and we worked together as a team. His inputs and my knowledge of cinema came together and we took it forward and finished it very quickly because the festival of Dahi Handi is coming up and we have to release it at that time.
BOI: Purvesh, what was your experience like?
Purvesh Sarnaik (PS): My background included hospitality and I have also worked in a political party for the youth. All of a sudden, I realised I wanted to get into the film industry and that’s when I met Joe. He has been very supportive in terms of introducing me to the industry. We also organise the biggest Dahi Handi. Obviously, my father is the coordinator but the event organiser is me.
I have learnt a lot, all good things about the industry. It was a very good experience and I never thought I would continue. As soon as we finished Kanha, I asked when we would start working for the other film.
BOI: Avadhoot, what was your reaction when they approached to you for this film?
Avadhoot Gupte (AG): There is a back story. In 2009, I was working on my second film Morya and it has a song Aala daha tharancha Govinda. Thar matlab levels ek ke upar ek toh maine gaana banaya tha Dus thar ka Govinda, Daha tharancha Govinda. Last year, there was a world record registered in Dahi Handi. I was thinking about it and it was my guru Sureshji’s (Wadkar) birthday and we had a bash at Purvesh’s place.
There, Pratapji declared that he wanted to make a film on Dahi Handi and that I would be directing it. So things clicked. That night, after I got home, I started writing the story and wrote three pages by morning. I showed Pratapji what I had written and things started rolling from there.
It was August last year because Sureshji’s birthday is on August 7 and, last year, Dahi Handi was at the end of August. We put up cameras and shot the crowd scenes right then, and all the grandeur you see in Kanha is real. Then we started working on the final script.
BOI: Can you share some details about the casting?
AG: It’s basically two mandals competing against each other, one is established and the other is the underdog. I wanted both Gashmeer and Vaibbhav as they are six feet tall and the girls are crazy about them. They belong to the new generation and it’s very difficult to get their dates. After I got these two, we began searching for the lead actress and we found Gauri. Both Gashmeer and Vaibbhav have a different kind of energy. Gashmeer is very cool and Vaibbhav is very hot. You will enjoy the chemistry on screen.
BOI: Vaibbhav, would you like to add anything to that?
Vaibbhav Tatwawdi (VT): When he approached me with the script, I was a tad sceptical because I was doing films as a solo lead and this one has an ensemble cast. The most important factor was Avadhoot Gupte because, at that time, I didn’t know the Sarnaik family. I was also wondering about this being a two-hero film. I knew that Gashmeer was a very good actor, he was an acquaintance, and then the others came into the picture and I really loved the team.
As Joe said, it’s a package deal, the script is nice, the way the film has been shot and the songs are very good, plus we have a presenter like ZEE. So it was a very tempting offer for an actor. I think I took the right decision. When I see the film today, I am very happy to see how my character has shaped up. I am very excited for August 26 and for the audience to watch the film.
BOI: Gashmeer, how were you approached for the film?
Gashmeer Mahajani (GM): Actually, Avadhoot and I had been planning to work together for four to five years but wasn’t able to find a script that would be apt for me. My character’s name is Raghu Mhatre, who comes across as a very arrogant and slightly socially inept kind of person but with a heart of gold. He is a true-blue Govinda of Dahi Handi. I am the leader of one of the two groups in the film and my group is the alpha among the other groups.
The other group is led by Vaibbhav, and the film follows the conflict between two groups that are competing against each other. But, for me, the film is the personal journey of my character. I say so because my character considers himself an athlete and is a pro at Dahi Handi, but he gets dragged into the politics of the festival. So there is an arc of realisation and revenge for my character.
Frankly, I had a few doubts about doing this role but, as I said, the character I play comes across as arrogant. But Avadhoot said that in Marathi cinema right now, I am the only actor who can pull off this character. So, as a selfish and self-centered actor, I looked at the film from Raghu’s point of view even though there are two parallel tracks unfolding and a large part of the film also unfolds from Vaibbhav’s character’s point of view. Having said that, the high point of the film is its climax. And when we sat down for the script reading, it was the climax that assured me that I had to be part of this film.
BOI: It’s not easy to be part of a human pyramid for Dahi Handi. Did you undergo any physical training?
VT: In the film, I am the head of the group, so I am not really physically involved in it as I am the one who guides them. My character has a back story. I never actually got involved but we visited places where these people practice and closely observed them. After that, my perception of the game changed. For us, it’s just a one-day game, the day people watch these guys make a pyramid and then fall apart. It’s fun for us but these people actually work like sportsmen. It’s a sport but it is not respected like other sports.
GM: Nowadays, the use of a harness is a must even in the real Dahi Handi festivals. But I think Gauri climbed up a few levels of the pyramid. There is a lot of raw action. In fact, a couple of action sequences were not even choreographed by the action director or the stunt team. We were just thrown on the streets by Avadhoot and he said we could use whatever we could find on the streets to fight. The location was the slums of Thane and the things lying around can be really lethal. I suffered a lot of injuries.
BOI: How was your experience of working with the producers of this film?
GM: I had never interacted with Joe sir before this film or even when we got on board. We recently met and Joe sir said that he initially thought I would have a lot of attitude. He explained that he meant it in a positive way and that was the characteristic they were looking for in my role. That’s what I love about him, his conviction as a producer is bang on.
As far as Purvesh goes, I am very happy that this film has got me a lifelong friend in Purvesh. He doesn’t behave like a producer as he is one of the most chilled out and calm people I have ever met.
BOI: Gauri, tell us about your character.
Gauri Nalawade (GN): I was approached by Avadhoot sir. He had taken the audition and told me on the very first day that I wouldn’t be wearing any make-up.
PS: That’s why she was sceptical (Laughs). She is making up for that during the promotions and putting on a lot of make-up now!
GN: I was sceptical because of two heroes also. My first film also had two heroes but that was a typical romantic film, a girl-next-door, sober and simple character. What interested me about this character was the no-make-up clause and, secondly, I actually underwent training for the film and reached the fifth level by getting trained with the Vile Parle girls. They trained me really well and I could shoot without the help of a dummy.
I enjoyed those days because my character is a very raw and active girl who reacts very quickly. She doesn’t think twice, whether about love, hatred or love for the game. When I read the script and realised that this was both difficult and different from my previous character, it was a challenge for me because I had to act opposite Gashmeer and Vaibbhav who have a huge image in the industry, and Avadhoot sir, who has a tremendous fan following too. It was difficult but I think I have done 100 per cent justice to my role.
BOI: Purvesh and Joe, this is your first Marathi film together in association with ZEE who previously did Sairat. How did the deal come about and how does it feel to be associated with ZEE?
JR: When we initially thought of doing this film, it was not with the intention of getting a corporate involved. We just wanted to make a good movie. Once we were confident that we had a good film, that’s when we spoke to ZEE. We asked them to watch the film and join hands with us if they liked it. It took us three to four days to convince them and we did different screenings for them and they finally agreed to go ahead with
It was a big deal for us, also because it was the next release after Sairat and a big challenge because Sairat did exceptionally well. We are very happy that we had a partner like ZEE because the release and the promotion will be very different.
BOI: Avadhoot, your films have fared very well in the past and were also critically acclaimed. Did you feel any pressure while doing this film?
AG: No. I was very confident when I was doing this film. First, I did Zenda and then Morya, one was political and other was social. Later, I did Jai Maharshtra Dhaba Bhatinda and then Ek Tara. JMDB was a love story and Ek Tara was a musical.
Zenda and Morya have done really well so people and viewers say that I am very good at this subject. After taking a break after those two films and getting out the social topic when I did this film, I didn’t have to make an effort for the script and dialogue. Many scenes were conceived on the sets itself. Right from the location, to when the artistes arrived in their costumes, all of it motivated me to write and conceive more shots and change a lot of things. So I was very comfortable. After watching the final cut, I realised this is what I am good at.
BOI: Can you share some details about the music? Purvesh has also sung in the film.
PS: It was a very good experience for me. All of a sudden, Joe told me that I had to sing a song. I was super excited. I was in Italy at the time but I used to constantly call and ask when we would be doing the recording. After I came back to India, I kept calling him ki kar lo na please kar lo na.
AG: He was good.
PS: He was expecting me to finish
the song in 6-7 hours but I took just one hour.
BOI: Is this the song with Mika?
PS: Mika was supposed to sing but I sang it. As a producer, I made my job very clear, I saved money. (Laughs)
AG: We have very good music, with both Bollywood and Marathi singers getting together this time. We have Sonu Kakkad and Vaishali Sawant and myself singing together, it’s called Krishna janmah. Then we have Kailash Kher and Sureshji and Swapnil Bandodkar, my all-time favourite Sonu Nigam of the Marathi industry, he is also singing one song. Then we also have Rohit Raut and Adarsh Shinde, who are new talents.
BOI: What can the audience expect from Kanha?
AG: In Marathi, we express it in one word… tharaar, which means ‘thrill’. It’s a very realistic film and this festival is largely ignored by the masses. Hum log ko bank holiday bhi nahi hota.
PS: That’s a fact. There are thousands of Govindas participating in this, I don’t call it an event, I call it a festival. But it is ignored. It is not even a public holiday. Even when someone is injured, they don’t get any support from the government or private hospitals. Yet it is a festival that’s at par with Ganpati and Navratri. In fact, the money put out to organise a one-day Dahi Handi is more than that put into a 10-day Ganpati festival.
Right now, Gokul Ashtami wohi hai jo TV pe dikhta hai. Through this film, we are trying to show the hard work these Govindas put in for Dahi Handi, what they go through during the preparatory phase, to after the festival concludes. It’s about their success story and the hard work they put in to reach that level. We have also spoken about the political background, two political parties, one being the good side, the other being the bad. This movie is not just about Dahi Handi and the human pyramid but all the stress and efforts the Govindas experience.
JR: Earlier, when my staff used to ask me for a holiday on Dahi Handi, and would refuse but after watching this film and understanding its importance, I am going to tell them to take a holiday. This film has helped me realise just how big this festival really is.
BOI: As actors, what can your fans expect from this film?
VT: I think this film is an image-breaker for me as I have always played the boy-next-door in romantic films. So I hope the audience will be pleasantly surprised. Also, it will change people’s perception towards the game. Yes, it has been declared as a ‘game’. I think it’s been called Sahasi Khel and I hope people will start respecting these sportsmen as it takes guts to do what they do.
GM: Total masala!!! The film has action, drama, romance and adventure. It is a complete family package with a deep-rooted social message. The film will help the Dahi Handi sport a lot, so I guess after watching it, a lot of Govindas will be very happy. Everyone will look at the purity and spirit of the sport. Having said that, this is not a preachy film, it is not a documentary but a commercial, masala entertainer.
BOI: Joe, Purvesh, what’s next for you?
PS: Your first buy is never a Mercedes or a BMW; your first buy is always a domestic car. As a citizen of Maharashtra, I personally feel the quality and material of Marathi films is better than any Bollywood film. The happiness, joy and knowledge you get after watching a Marathi film is much more than what you get from watching a Hindi film. I will master the Marathi industry before I take a step forward.
JR: Marathi films are no longer just another cinema and our trailers have drawn a lot of praise. People have tweeted about them including people from Bollywood. After Sairat and Natsamrat, which have done exceptionally well, I am sure after a few years, many Bollywood actors and producers will get into this segment.