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Actor-producer Riteish Deshmukh, director Aditya Sarpotdar and actors Jitendra Joshi, Siddharth Jadhav and Saiyami Kher talk to Team Box Office India about their upcoming Marathi film, Mauli

Box Office India (BOI): Riteish, Lai Bhaari was your first Marathi film as an actor. From Lai Bhaari to Mauli, tell us about the journey.

Riteish Deshmukh (RD): Well, Lai Bhaari happened in 2014, but the conversation about this genre started way before that. I remember sitting with Ram Gopal Varma and discussing Marathi cinema. What he told me was that, in any film industry, and especially in Marathi, you need a hero genre. The hero genre is not actually about a star working in a film. In Hindi and some other language films, there are these actors who open big at the box office. When we look at Marathi films, it is a content-driven industry. The films have worked and given stardom to actors lately.

Earlier, we had stars who were driven actors, like Dada Kondkesaab, Laxmikant Berde, Ashok Saraf Sir, Sachin Pilgaonkar… they were huge stars and it was a glorious period for Marathi cinema. Then there was a dull phase. Then we had a great phase with the releases of Shwaas, Shala, Harishchandrachi Factory, which were critically acclaimed. Then we had films that started doing decent business at the box office, films like Balak Palak, Time Pass, Duniyadaari. Duniyadaari was a humungous success. Slowly, films started grossing big.

But coming back to Lai Bhaari and the conversation that I had with Ram Gopal Varma about the hero genre, it means that one guy becomes a hero. Once you have those hero genre films, which make certain actors heroes, then as they do more work they become stars. And for a film to open well, you sometimes need a star. I am very proud to come from a film industry that delivers content-driven cinema. But apart from content, commerce is important too. Yes when content starts working at the box office, commerce will come. But we have to face the fact that we are moving towards the way Hollywood works, where a film opens in as many screens as possible. It’s not about a film running for 25 weeks, but about a great weekend and how much you can make in that time.

We have done that in Hindi and even in the South. We are now in a space where it is not about how long a film ran but how much a film earned. So we need to make films that open big on those Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I think Sairaat showed us the way. Natsamrat gave us those numbers. However, all these films, be it Sairaat, Natsamrat or Lai Bhaari, all of them started around the same opening figures. The strength and the legs of the film made them gross the numbers that they grossed. And that is very important to understand.

When we did Faster Fene with Aditya (Sarpotdar), we discussed how we wanted to make a film about a local hero. That was the reason we created Faster Fene. We did not think of it as a one-film wonder. We thought we would grow him over a series. As a producer, you need to think about all of that. That is the reason Lai Bhaari happened. And today, when we’re doing Mauli, it is also in the same genre, but of course it is not the same film or the same person.

BOI: As a director, content is very important. So what do you have to say about what Riteish said about commerce and content?

Aditya Sarpotdar (AS): I feel it is exciting. If you look at it from a filmmaker’s perspective, what we need is to explore different genres. I want to work in different kinds of cinema, with different storylines. Having done Faster Fene and the previous films that I did, I was craving a film like this. As an independent director, when I was looking at what I wanted to do next, this was the kind of film I was hoping I would get to do in Marathi.

Given the scale that we pulled off for Mauli eventually, we needed an actor who could carry that kind of budget, justify it. That is where he (Riteish) comes in. Given the nature of the business that we are in, why would you put that kind of money on a newcomer or an actor who may not have a box office opening? You need a certain opening guaranteed to make the film hot at the box office, and then build on the content.

Whether it’s films like Faster Fene or any films in Marathi, they never open big. They start growing as days go by. Word-of-mouth and reviews are still very important in Marathi cinema, so you need to have good content. With a big actor and big production values alone, you are not going to pull in the crowds from Monday onwards. For that, you need to have a good script. So when we decided to do Mauli, the prerequisite was we should have a good script. If we were not confident about the script, then we would not do the film.

Our approach was, how will this be different from the similar films being made in Hindi? Because there will be a comparison that this is like a Dabangg or a Rowdy Rathore. So that we step away from this and make it regional, make it local, we wanted a storyline and a script that went with that.

As a filmmaker, I am not directing a film with set piece action sequences. There is a thought and there is a plan of action that is executed in the film, in the story. But we are not communicating that at the promo level because the promo has to guarantee entertainment. And that is something we rarely get to do in the kinds of films we usually make. We get to tell great stories, but not every story can entertain everyone. Films can make you think, give you a certain kind of insight. The kind of wholesome family entertainment… you rarely get to do such stuff. This is the genre I am personally fond of and get excited doing.

BOI: Aditya, what was the casting process like for this film? How involved was Riteish, given that he is also the producer?

RD: I would like to say something. This is my second film with Aditya. In Faster Fene he got exactly the cast he wanted and even for this film he has done the entire casting.

AS: That is exactly how it happened. And somehow it works that he agrees with me. There will be discussions.

RD: Aditya won’t say much about himself but he has clarity as a director. I first worked with him after watching Classmates. I had not worked with him before that, but I saw Classmates and I liked it. He is the first director I approached. I met him in Dubai and said, ‘I want to work with you, as a producer. What can we do?’ And he said, ‘I have a thought. I want to make a film on Faster Fene. What do you think?’ I said ‘Let’s discuss!’ and that’s how the story happened. He was the one who said that this was the cast he wanted and in terms of that he is very clear. And how he cast, he can tell you that and he did till the very end.

AS: Till the very end, with Genelia being a part of the song that we shot. It is great that we as a team – Riteish, Kshitij and I – think alike in terms of the kind of film we want to put out. So we tried to get on the rest of the team people who thought like us. Siddharth (Jadhav), Jeetu (Jitendra Joshi), Saiyami (Kher) understood the kind of film we wanted to make when they came on board. The approach was, let us cast good actors first and then look at how they are going to help the film.

BOI: Jitendra, how did you become part of Mauli?

AS: Before he answers, let me tell you one thing about him. I nearly cast him in three of my films. In Faster Fene, he was going to play the villain, which Girish (Kulkarni) finally did. In the previous film also he was going to play a part which he didn’t. And even in Narbhachi Wadi he was going to play a part which he didn’t. Now he will answer.

Jitendra Joshi (JJ): I always wanted to work with Aditya. I will tell you why I wanted to work with him. There are very few directors in Marathi cinema who understand cinema. There are people who have the tag of director but they do not speak the language of cinema. Ajay-Atul may provide the background score for a film, but to do justice to that score and give it the canvas it deserves is a different ball game. And if you look at Aditya’s career, right from his first film it has always been an upward graph. Anyone would want to work with such a director.

It so happened that I was travelling from Andheri to my home. I was on my bike, when I got a call from Riteish bhau. He asked me what I was doing in the month of May. I knew that they were making Mauli and this phone call was either to write a song or for a role. He asked me if I could meet Aditya and Kshitij. I immediately turned my bike around, went to meet them and agreed to do the film. After Sacred Games and the Katekar character, I was not getting anything different to do. And which actor would refuse a big film, a film that will contribute to the growth of Marathi cinema?

Every producer wants to make a profitable film. Nobody decides to make an unsuccessful one. In the first phone call with Riteish bhau, he said, ‘I want to try and do something different in Marathi cinema’. Even today he always says, ‘Let us try’. When you have a director like Aditya, a writer like Kshitij, there was no reason to say no. I am getting a lot out of this film even before its release. You see, films come and go. There might come a time when I may not be in films, but the people you connect with while making a film remain with you for life. I know that if my acting career hits a roadblock, there is Mumbai Film Company where I will fit in somewhere. I have found my people. It was such a lot of fun shooting for this film.

Riteish has worked so hard on the film, the action scenes. There were times when he had to do so many retakes. I used to get frustrated, but he was so calm. So the next day when you are doing an action scene yourself, there is no way you can complain.

And it is so difficult to please this director. In the entire shooting process he told me just once ‘Jeetu, very good’!

BOI: Aditya, now you can praise him.

AS: I will, after I watch the film! (Laughs).

JJ: So this was great fun and I am happy sitting with all these guys.

BOI: Saiyami, this is your first Marathi film. Why did you think this was the perfect film for your debut in this language?

Saiyami Kher (SK): This is my first Marathi film and it is a very special film. My ajji was a Marathi actress and I knew that at some point I would love to do a Marathi film. I never really planned it. But this offer came and as Jeetu said, only a silly person would say no to it. Aditya came and narrated the film. During the narration I was convinced that it was a complete entertainer and I wanted to be a part of it. About a week later, I was on board. This is Riteish sir’s second Marathi film. And after Lai Bhaari, this is a bigger and better film. There was not a single dull moment on the sets. With these two (pointing to Aditya and Siddharth), they were always entertaining. There was also a lot to learn, especially from Riteish sir. He has been in the film industry for 20 years…

RD: (Cuts in). 20 years? Who me?

AD: 15 years; he started in 2003.

SK: I would like to thank Aditya for this film. There is a preconceived notion about me with the whole modelling, calendars and the Hindi film that I have done, that I have a very Western look. He pictured me in this character, something that no one had done in the last year and a half. I am glad that with this film I was able to break that perception.

BOI: Siddharth, you have worked with Aditya and Riteish before. How was it working in Mauli?

Siddharth Jadhav (SJ): I am very blessed that I met and worked with such lovely people who love me more than themselves. I am truly fortunate, especially with the way my career started. I was looked at as a comedy actor who could do bit roles. But slowly and steadily in this Marathi film industry, I have found so much love and acceptance as an actor.

I want to take this opportunity to praise Riteish sir. You must have interviewed people who say that there was that one person who helped them or was instrumental in making the film better. But these are not just words in his case. I met him when I was part of the Veer Marathi Celebrity Cricket League team. I say this during every interview about him – he gives respect to everyone and talks to everyone with respect. During Faster Fene I associated with him in a cinematic environment. I met Aditya and said that I want to work with you and I got the character of Ambadas. I became a part of Mumbai Film Company.

If you ask me about Mauli, this is his (Riteish’s) film; he is playing the title role. But he is always concerned about our performances. As an actor he is alert about how his co-actors are doing. Very few people are like that. I have had experiences where our roles are cut or given less importance, but here it was a different experience. In such cases, the length of the role doesn’t matter, you are just happy to be part of such a project. So I am very happy to be part of Mauli, so much so that even if I wasn’t a part of this film I would have promoted it.

AD: I want to say something about Siddharth. We just assume that he is going to be part of our films and he always gives his full commitment. 

BOI: What you are saying is true. One feels that Siddharth will be in every Marathi film.

SJ: Now that you are saying this, let me tell you something. It was the character of Ambadas which gave me the confidence that I could do better, irrespective of the length of the role.

BOI: It became such a famous and beloved character.

RD: I was supposed to do it. But Aditya wanted Siddharth. I was thinking, if Siddharth refuses it I will do it.

SD: After that film I knew that Aditya was doing Mauli. We were judging a dance show together. His face would never give away what he was thinking or if he was working on something.

RD: That is why he is a director, not an actor.

(Everyone laughs).

SD: When I came on board for the film, I was offered another film. Unfortunately the dates clashed and I didn’t know how I would tell them about it. It was Riteish sir who said that was a big film, it would be good for my career and I should do it. They adjusted for me.

JJ: In addition to this I want to add one more thing. There is a scene in the film when my character Nana gets on top of Mauli. I was trying to understand how to do it. Riteish bhau was so helpful. He gave me suggestions and helped me. This made the scene so much better.

RD: I remember this scene. This is Nana’s introduction scene. He needed to be strong and treat me with disgust. But because of the love that they have for me they didn’t want to treat me badly on screen, even if they had to. We were discussing what the attitude should be. So I told him think of me as garbage. You have to order me. And after that he just did it.

BOI: Riteish, how did you juggle the roles of actor and producer?

RD: Eventually you have to segregate the two things. As an actor I may not be in conflict with my director ever. My job is to do what my director wants. I may suggest something and if he agrees, I do it. There have been times when he hasn’t and he explains the reasons for that.

As a producer I feel that we have tried to do something even bigger than what we set out to achieve. Every production will have some issues, but I guess we love and respect each other and that is how we overcome all that. At the end of it, when we look back, there are more ups than downs. And the best part is that everyone is trying to do their best for the film and not for themselves. So when Aditya is doing something, or Jeetu or Siddharth or Saiyami or me, it is all about how it will make the film better.

SK: If I could just add to this, after he finished his acting duty, he used to be huddled in his production meetings. I don’t even know till what time those meetings went on. Aditya was also there.

AS: He is superhuman. Even when he is in the US, he is accessible 24 hours a day. He should be sleeping, but he responds to messages immediately. All of us wonder how he does it.

BOI: In most hero-centric films, the heroine has nothing much to do. How does your character differ from what we usually see in these kinds of films?

SK: Even though this film is called Mauli and it is about Mauli, my character is an integral part of the film. She is not just a girl dancing around trees and not doing anything. She has a masala ka dukaan in the village. She is the voice of the village. She stands up for the village, speaks up against atrocities. She is a very secure girl of today. When Mauli comes into the village, she approaches him for help and the story begins to unfold. So she has a very important role to play. Without her part, the plot wouldn’t move forward. And I am happy that I am part of this film, which is an out-and-out masala action drama entertainer. When a film like this wants to reach out to a wider audience, it opens avenues for you as an actor as well.

BOI: Marathi audiences are critical about their films. Content-driven films have worked and the audiences expect a certain kind of cinema. What is your take on that?

AD: Having done different kinds of films, my attempt is to make films in completely different genres of cinema. One thing that I have seen in the Marathi film industry is that you have to be clear about what you are promising the audience. So how do you do it? Through your promos, trailers and posters. Once your promise is clear, when they buy tickets for the film and you deliver on your promise, then the audience is okay with whatever you give them.

It could be a commercial film like Duniyadaari or Lai Bhaari; they were successful. There is always going to be an audience that is critical. You cannot mislead them and make a commercial film and sell it off as a content-driven one. But I think every film has its takers; the numbers may be different. So when you make a film like Mauli, only when you say it is a massy film can you have that big a budget. It is wonderful that a film like Naal also did big business. So that is another side of Marathi audiences, that they like this kind of film as well. The communication of Naal was clear, the communication of Ani… Dr Kashinath Ghanekar was clear and the communication of Mauli is also clear.

So if you like massy commercial entertainers, come and watch this film. We have taken this stand from day one that we are clear about what we want to make. Even when we cut the trailer we kept that in mind. Yes, there is a social issue in the film, but that is not what the film is all about.

BOI: What do you want the audience to take back from this film?

RD: When they leave the theatre, they should buy a ticket for the next show.

(Everyone laughs).

RD: But on a serious note, as Aditya said, if you like this genre come and see this film and if you don’t like it, buy tickets to the film and then say you didn’t like it. Don’t rely on what others say.

JJ: Yes, don’t rely on two stars and three stars, you are the star. There are some films that you can watch on your mobile phone, but there are some films that have to be seen on the big screen.

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