The team of the Marathi film Madhuri – producer Mohsin Akhtar, director Swapna Waghmare Joshi and actors Sonali Kulkarni, Sanhita Joshi, Virajas Kulkarni and Akshay Kelkar – talk to Box Office India about the film, the process of making it and their expectations from the venture
Box Office India (BOI): Mohsin, this is your debut production. Why did you think of getting into film production?
Mohsin Akhtar (MA): I have a lot of writer friends and they used to discuss scripts with me around 8-10 years ago. At that time, my friends told me I had a sense for scripts and I should consider this line of work. But I only wanted to talk about it when I was sure. So when the opportunity came and I was sure, I got into production.
Sonali Kulkarni (SK): I feel that Mohsin is a business guy and an entrepreneur, but I am very happy that he decided to be a part of filmmaking because I have rarely seen a producer go all out for the script, director and actors like he does. He has been a strong presence who was there with us, whether physically or in spirit. He has truly backed the film. I am very happy that, regardless of the timing in his life, he has finally decided to choose filmmaking as his forte. I am sure that many more filmmakers will benefit under his banner.
BOI: Swapna, were you approached to direct this film or was it the other way around?
Swapna-Waghmare Joshi (SWJ): Actually, Shirish Latkar, who has been the writer on almost all my films, was a common friend. I knew Mohsinji through Shirishji, who had written a script that Mohsinji was producing and they approached me. We discussed it for a few months but I was not sure we would be able to do justice to the subject. Sometimes, a subject may be really good but the time may not be right for me to do it. So I politely declined.
It was very sweet of him to say that if I had something else in mind, I should tell him. At that time, Shirishji, Sammeerji (Arora) and I were developing this particular concept and I discussed it with Mohsinji. He took exactly three seconds to tell me he wanted to be a part of this. That made me realise that he was very clear about what he wanted to do in life, which made it easier for me to proceed. That confidence rubs off on you. Whenever you are starting something new, you need external confidence too, and I got that from him. That was fantastic.
BOI: From the trailer, it seems like the film is a mix of many genres… comedy, drama and suspense, all blended together. What made you add so many layers to the film?
SWJ: I honestly don’t know how this story came to me. We were promoting my other film, Tula Kalnar Nahi at Lalbaugcha Raja as we had a music launch there. When I left the venue, this concept suddenly struck me. I was walking in the middle of 50,000 people and all of a sudden this concept came to me. I honestly don’t know where it came from. It was as if someone had sent it to me.
BOI: Maybe it was Ganapati Bappa who sent it to you.
SWJ: (Laughs). That could be true. I called up Shirishji and told him about it. I asked him what he thought of the story, whether or not he liked it. He said he loved the idea and we should start working on it. Then we spoke to Sameerji and we started working on it. When Bappa is on our side, everything always comes together nicely. The entire team came together effortlessly because when there are blessings that come in all forms, everything falls into place.
BOI: Sonali, you have always picked roles that carry some risk. In this film, you play a woman with a mental age of 20 years. What did you consider while saying ‘yes’ to this film?
SK: My becoming a part of this film should be blamed on the people sitting on either side of me, Mohsin and Swapna. (Laughs). I am very happy that Madhuri came to me. I would have felt terribly jealous if it had gone to somebody else. This is a very interesting turning point for me because, after working on so many projects, in a variety of stories and languages, this is a very unique character that I am getting to play. I always get roles that are meaningful and that have a lot of acting scope but, in this film, I have a lot of masti-scope.
SWJ: She just has to be herself. She doesn’t have to act (Laughs).
SK: So it was a wonderful breather for me. I have rarely come across such a fantastic script and looking at my career graph, I have never shied away from taking risks. With the help of the directors, the writers and the co-actors’ energies, I have sailed through so far. So when I heard the narration of Madhuri, the only thing I wondered was why Urmila (Matondkar) was letting this role go and giving it to me instead (Laughs). I will never forget that she let me play the role of Madhuri.
BOI: Mohsin, as Sonali said, didn’t you ever think that your wife, Urmila Matondkar, could play this role?
MA: Utna mere paas budget nahi tha (Everybody laughs). Honestly, when we started, Swapnaji and I discussed who would fit this role and only Sonali’s name came up. I have always been a fan of hers. It is like a fan doing a film with their idol. Business-wise also, I think Sonali is the biggest female star in Marathi cinema right now. You get box-office returns with her. So I tried to be a little smart in that way too. Then Swapnaji also agreed, saying that she was the best choice. Even Urmilaji agreed with me. She has watched a few scenes of the film and she still says, ‘I don’t know if I could have done this.’
SK: That’s too sweet of her.
BOI: Swapna, you have established actors like Sonali and Sharad Kelkar in the film. How did the youngsters fit into it?
SWJ: They have come on board strictly through auditions. We auditioned lots of boys, more than 50 of them, across 10-15 days. With them too, they had to come back three to four times. After that, we were very confident that Akshay and Virajas suited their roles. For a film to look good, all the actors have to be perfect. All the roles are important. And, again, they have to match up to Sonali Kulkarni.
BOI: Sanhita, you play the role of Sonali’s daughter in the film. How was your experience working with her and being directed in your first feature film by your mother?
Sanhita Joshi (SJ): It was a great experience. First, the first person who had faith in me, in terms of doing this film, is Mohsinji. He was the one who saw my short film. The first time I told mom that I wanted to act, I was in Std XII and she was very clear that I should complete my graduation first. I did that but she was still very sceptical of me.
Mohsinji saw my work in the short film and he was the first person to show faith in me, and I will always be grateful to him and his production house, Mumbapuri, for giving me this breakthrough opportunity. What more could I ask for? First, a film with Sonaliji and Sharad bhaiyya, whom I have known since I was a kid. To get an opportunity to share screen space with both of them was fabulous. I was awestruck throughout the shoot but I don’t think they ever made me feel as if they were big stars and I was a newcomer.
BOI: When you are working with youngsters, how do you interact with them? Do you feel a sense of responsibility, that you need to teach them something?
SK: Not at all. I don’t think I am eligible to share knowledge. But I feel they are a big threat, because they have energy and they are absolutely fearless. So, for an actor who has the baggage of experience, newcomers have nothing to lose. They are prepared to do anything. And if I am stuck in a bracket that I want to present myself in, I would be a very limited actor. If I keep that in my mind, that this was my look in my previous film and this was my dialogue style…
I don’t take myself all that seriously but I take youngsters very seriously. First, they don’t get tired. They are ever ready to improvise. And this generation is entirely different. I remember a time when I was really… when I talk about Sulochana tai or anybody for that matter, like Nina Kulkarni or Reema or Sukanya Kulkarni, I used to get excited that they were there! I used to feel hesitant or awestruck in a different way. Will I be able to deliver? We were always worried about that.
But, today, that fear is absent. We have so many options, so many mediums, so no youngster is going to say, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do in front of you’. They challenge you, almost saying that ‘I know my part and I can do my best. What can you do?’ And I love to take that challenge because they drive your energy and they drive the scene.
BOI: Sanhita, was there any scene that you found challenging to do?
SJ: Personally, I was trying to keep myself on my toes as I had to match up to her (Sonali Kulkarni) energy level, which I don’t think I ever can. I have looked up to her from day one. One thing that I have learnt from her is how to be focused. When she is on the sets, she is so very professional. When she walks onto the sets, she knows exactly what she is doing.
SK: (Cuts In). No, I think the director knows. How would I know? (Laughs).
SWJ: She means performance-wise.
SJ: Yes, performance-wise, she is so clear in her head. And that is very inspiring. What I learnt most from the scenes I did with her was how to be focused and how to keep up my energy, because that is what she brings to the set.
VK: Yes, it was like being the non-striker batsman with Dhoni at the crease, whose only responsibility is to not get run out.
BOI: How did Sharad Kelkar come on board?
MA: Both of us, Swapna and I, know him. I have known him for 15 years, when I started my journey in Bombay.
SWJ: And I had taken his first audition in Bombay and the first pilot he did was with me.
MA: In the script, it was always, like, ‘hot psychiatrist’.
SWJ: Since Mohsinji didn’t want to act, we had to convince Sharad (Laughs).
MA: Here, I took the advice of Urmilaji. We have a common friend, who is the co-producer of the film who also liked Sharad coming on board. Sharad has not done much work in Marathi and he had done negative roles. But she also felt that he was a fantastic choice and perfect for the script and let us get him in the picture. Sharad has not done a role like this and, secondly, his looks. The other day, my sister-in-law saw the trailer and said, ‘I don’t know how much he has charged you, but every scene is paisa vasool!’ So, as a producer, I liked that everyone was praising him.
BOI: What are your expectations from the film? What do you want the audience to take away?
SK: We are releasing the film on November 30. We are ready to set the mood for 2019. We just want to tell everyone that you have dreams and you don’t have to limit yourself by saying this is not my season, or my age, or my capacity. We want to people to dream beyond their capacities, believe in life and believe in love. Like Mohsin said, we are bonded by love. We support each other. Come fall in love with Madhuri and we will make you fall in love with life.